Keeping Hydrated

As an elite athlete, you need to pay attention to all aspects of your game. Hydration is one critical component to good preparation that is sometimes overlooked. 

Good hydration habits not only help a player to perform better on the court, but also help to reduce the risk of heat illness. 

Adequate water intake should be the principal focus of maintaining hydration, but certain sports drinks can offer you a great advantage over consuming water alone.

What should I look for in a sports drink?

- Sports drinks should focus on the primary nutrients that are needed before, during and after play: Water, Carbohydrates and Electrolytes.
- Choose a sports drink that tastes good, so you will want to drink it!
- Choose a non-carbonated sports drink.
- Carbonation can make you feel full, so you don’t drink as much.
- Choose caffeine-free sport drinks, to minimize dehydration.

Key Factors for ultimate hydration and performance

1. Water

All sport drinks contain mostly water. You can catch up on your fluid loss from sweating by drinking a combination of sports drinks and water. Most players can comfortably drink about 1 to 1.5 litres/hour during play.

- One way to measure how much fluid you have to replace after play is to weigh yourself pre and post match.
- Here’s how to figure it out… for each 1kg weight you lose after activity, you have to drink about 1.5litres of fluid.
- Use a set of scales to monitor your fluid loss. Remember to weigh yourself in the same (dry) clothes before and after play, for the most accurate measurement.

Sweat = fluid loss = dehydration = heat illness.

Dehydration leads to a decrease in performance.

- As little as 1% loss of body weight can significantly affect performance. A loss of more than 3% of body weight is dangerous. This can lead to life-threatening heat illness and heatstroke.
- When you feel thirsty, you are already 1-2% dehydrated… when it may be too late to catch up!

Drinking too much water or too much low-sodium fluid can lead to problems also. Low blood sodium can occur by a lot of sweating and drinking too much water. Symptoms can range from fatigue, nausea and headache to muscle cramps, seizure or even worse. Drinking water alone is not enough for adequate re-hydration. You also need to drink a proper sports drink, with the right amount of Sodium.

2. Energy (Carbohydrate)

Energy needs should be provided by carbohydrate-rich foods during regular meals and snacks. A sports drink can provide additional energy on court that will help you to perform at your best.

During play look for a sports drink that provides:

- About 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per litre.
- Primary carbohydrate is sucrose, glucose or a glucose polymer.
- This will give you quick energy because this amount/type of carbohydrate will empty from the stomach quickly and will be absorbed into your bloodstream rapidly.
- Note: more than 70-80 grams of carbohydrate per litre, or fructose may make you feel bloated and is not desirable.
- Electrolyte replacement: sodium and chloride

After play, you can drink a sports drink as listed above.

3. Electrolytes

Sodium and chloride (salt) are the most common electrolytes lost in sweating.

- Potassium, magnesium, and calcium are also lost through sweat, but in much smaller amounts, and it is unlikely you would have a deficiency in these minerals.
-With adequate salt intake, your body can better hold onto water, and you will maintain hydration better.
- The best treatment for heat-related muscle cramps is adequate salt and fluid intake, not potassium or any potassium-rich food (such as bananas).

4. Other ingredients

The other ingredients found in some sport drinks, such as amino acids, herbs, chromium, various vitamins, carnitine, or lactate, are non-essential nutrients, and may actually reduce your performance and negatively affect your health.

How much sports drink and water is enough?

- You should bring about three 0.5 Litre bottles of sport drink and at least two 0.5 litre bottles of water on court for EACH match. Alternate between drinking sports drink and water on EVERY change over.

- In hot and humid environments, you should bring additional bottles of sport drinks and water on court for matches. You will be sweating more, and will have more fluid losses to make up.

Should I add salt?

- If you have experienced heat-related muscle cramps or heat illness, add about 1 packet of salt to each 0.5 litre of sport drink for play.

- For hot and humid environments, all players may add 1 packet of salt to each 0.5litre bottle of sport drink.

- If you don’t like the taste of salt in your drink… you can add extra salt to your food, try drinking tomato juice, adding soy sauce or canned soup to your diet.

- Salt tablets are NOT recommended. These are supplements and anti-doping precautions apply. Check any supplements with IDTM before you take them.

Keep it simple: Eat a varied and balanced diet and choose a sports drink that provides water, carbohydrates and electrolytes rapidly and effectively.

- Many recovery drinks provide up to 200 grams of carbohydrate per litre, and are okay to drink soon after activity.

- Other ingredients may be included in post-match drinks. Be careful about consuming any particular nutrient in excess or any ingredient whose effectiveness/safety is not proven.

- Ensure you obtain your sports drink from a reputable and specialised company.

- For questions about any product information, check with IDTM.

The information provided within this Physically Speaking topic is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice.  If you have any health or related questions or concerns, please contact your medical advisor.

Reproduced by kind permission from the WTA Tour.