Strategize to avoid dehydration

Fluid replacement is probably your most important nutritional concern as an athlete, according to registered dietitian and Gatorade expert consultant Jackie Berning. Approximately 60 percent of your body weight is water. As you exercise, your body loses fluid through the skin as sweat, and through your lungs when you breathe. If you aren't able to replace these fluids at regular intervals during exercise, you can become dehydrated.

Berning said that during dehydration, a smaller volume of blood circulates through your body. Consequently, the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat decreases, and your exercising muscles do not receive enough oxygen from your blood. Soon exhaustion can set in, and your athletic performance can suffer.

"Your body is like the radiator of your car," said Berning, a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a nutrition consultant for athletes for more than 20 years. "If you don't put enough fluids in the body, you're going to overheat."

Berning emphasizes that proper fluid replacement is the key to preventing dehydration and reducing the risk of heat injury during training and competition. The American Dietetic Association and American College of Sports Medicine also promote research suggesting that the best way to help prevent dehydration is to maintain body fluid levels by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after activity. Berning recommends this sample hydration strategy:

Before exercise

Freely drink beverages during the 24-hour period before an event, even if you're not thirsty. The goal of drinking before exercise is to prevent dehydration. However, athletes should not drink in excess, and should aim for a fluid intake that prevents weight loss during exercise but also avoids weight gain.

Drink 2-3 cups of fluids two to three hours before exercise. This allows time for adequate hydration and excretion of excessive fluid.

Drink 1-1 1/2 cups of fluids 10 to 15 minutes prior to the exercise or competition, especially if it is a long event.

During exercise

Drink 6-12 ounces of fluids every 15-30 minutes.

Fluids that are flavored and cooler than the environmental temperature promote fluid replacement.

Sodium should also be included in the beverage in amounts of 0.5 to 0.7 grams of sodium per liter of water to replace sodium lost in sweat.

Drink enough fluids to maintain weight during the exercise bout.

When performance is priority, fluid replacement beverages should contain 6 to 8 percent carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose levels.

After exercise

Drink 3 cups of fluids for each pound lost during the exercise.

Restore weight before the next exercise period.

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