Hydration in soccer: don’t run out of juice
Aug 21, 2015
Athletes who remain well hydrated consistently perform better in practice and games, have improved stamina, and may be better in “getting into the zone” as they aspire to take their game to the next level.
The Importance of Staying Hydrated
As soccer teams and pick-up players embark on training for the start of the fall season, there is one thing that is guaranteed: the dreaded humidity and heat of the summertime. Because practicing in the hot summer sun with excessive humidity can lead to significant fluid losses, replacement of lost fluids and electrolytes is critical to not only ensuring optimal performance, but preventing the medical dangers associated with dehydration.
Heat related illness can lead to devastating consequences as temperatures and humidity climb. Cramping, nausea and dizziness can be the end result of not maintaining proper hydration when practicing during long hot summer days, not to mention while playing in actual competition. The progression of heat related illness--from heat cramps to heat exhaustion and finally to heat stroke--where the body cannot sweat to cool itself, can be lethal, and lead to kidney and liver damage if not treated promptly by effective cooling methods.
Maintaining proper hydration may very well be one of the most important aspects to performing well and ultimately avoiding injuries, not to mention preventing development of a heat related illness. Athletes who remain well hydrated consistently perform better in practice and games, have improved stamina, and may be better in “getting into the zone” as they aspire to be the epitome of next-gen athletes.
Just as foods are vitally important as fuel for optimal energy and performance, so is the proper amount of hydration. So what can players do to protect themselves from becoming dehydrated and make sure they stay at the top of their game?
Principles of Hydration
To begin with, how much fluid you actually lose by sweating is generally estimated by calculating body weight prior to and after competition. As a general rule, 1 lb of weight lost after activity is the equivalent of 16 ounces of fluid, or about a pint. In terms of kilograms, 1 kg of weight lost is the equivalent of 1 liter of fluid lost. It’s not unusual for a player to lose 3 percent of body weight while working out in the heat and humidity. In an average player that weighs 150 lbs, this can translate up to 4.5 lbs or 2 kg lost. Data from studies indicates that the loss of 1-3 percent of body weight can have a negative effect on performance (decreased speed, power, and decision making), with losses greater than 3 percent potentially leading to the spectrum of heat related illness with attendant cramping nausea and dizziness.
Studies of teams in the UEFA competing in the heat have found that muscle power was diminished in players who were dehydrated, especially in those players who had greater than 3 percent loss of body weight. Performance was noted to be improved when matches were played in cooler climates in players who were well hydrated. In fact, dexterity in skills such as passing and dribbling are often compromised when players are dehydrated and much improved as fluids are replaced.
Pearls of Fluid Replacement
To begin with, its important to understand that standard sports drinks often have an excess of sugar which can actually lead to dehydration. Sports drinks with lower sugar content, but containing sodium and potassium, are safer when consumed in moderate amounts prior to and during practice and competition. It’s also wise to avoid caffeine, since it may also contribute to dehydration.
Its a good idea for players to take in about 500-600 cc (20 ounces) of water or a balanced sports drink about 2-3 hours before a game or practice. (A typical sports drink contains about 20 ounces). Players should consume cool fluids (water or balanced sports drinks) during periods when play is stopped as well as during half time.
After a game, it’s quite important to continue the rehydration process, consuming between 500-1000 cc of fluids within 30 minutes of match or practice completion. (It’s recommended to replace fluids at 1.5 the amount of weight lost through sweating.)
It’s important to consume adequate amounts of water before games and practice, with the caveat of avoiding over-drinking which could lead to a condition known as hyponatremia, or a low sodium or salt concentration in your blood stream.
Hyponatremia is quite serious, as it could lead to seizures, brain edema or swelling, as well as fluid overload in the lungs (non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema)
The Bottom Line
Training staff and coaches need to remind players to rehydrate before, during and after matches as well as during stoppage of play and during halftime. It’s also important not to overdrink at the same time, as the risk of hyponatremia during prolonged periods of play and practice could become an issue. That said, most players fail to drink adequate amounts of fluids, especially in the summer heat. Preventing dehydration can actually improve performance, maintain alertness in order to avoid injuries, and prevent the dangerous consequences of heat related illness.