Hydration while playing sports seems to be one of those topics that we all know we need to do it, but we don’t know exactly how to do it or why. This blog will hopefully provide some clarity to that confusion along with more insight into the Gatorade vs water debate.
Why is hydration important while playing sports?
Most researchers agree that becoming dehydrated will impair physical performance and players will begin to show ill effects after about a 2% decrease in body mass due to fluid loss. This can be seen with measured effects such as a decrease in motor skills, an increased reaction time, and poor temperature regulation. When these effects occur during play the athlete’s performance in his/her sport will undoubtedly begin to suffer and it will begin to become increasingly difficult to play to the athlete’s capability as more fluid loss occurs. Researchers are also beginning to study the cognitive effects of dehydration in athletes. High levels of dehydration can cause confusion, dizziness, and irritability and there is some evidence that low levels of dehydration can cause the mental aspect of the athlete’s game to suffer.
How should athletes hydrate?
First off, it is important to be hydrated before starting the activity. This begins the day before or even earlier to make sure the athlete is hydrated prior to the competition. The U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine state that male adults should drink about 3.7 liters of fluid each day and female adults should drink about 2.7 liters per day. It is important to remember that fluid can come from food and beverages and does not mean just water. Once engaged in competition and beginning to sweat, most researchers recommend replacing lost fluids through sweat by drinking about 1 liter of water per hour. This can be altered by more or less fluid intake depending on if the athlete is excessively sweating or sweating less than normal.
Gatorade vs Water
The short answer is that you can’t really go wrong with either. Both are sources of fluid and will hydrate an athlete which will offset dehydration effects. Much of the research results seem to be mixed on whether Gatorade or water is the better option and it seems to me that if an athlete was sweating profusely and thereby losing enough electrolytes through sweat as to have an actual electrolyte imbalance to alter performance, then Gatorade is the way to go. If the athlete is sweating moderately or less, save your money and drink water to replenish fluids.