The Impact of Dehydration on Sports Performance

The Impact of Dehydration on Sports Performance

The summer heat is upon us, and of course that means one thing—it’s time to adjust how you keep hydrated during workouts or game time. If you don’t, you’ll feel the wrath of the negative impact of dehydration on your sports performance.

As an athlete, you spend untold hours of your time studying your game, practicing, training, and learning how to nourish your body. Why? To enhance your performance when it matter the most—during the heat of competition. But, your level of hydration also has a significant impact on your sports performance. Remaining well-hydrated is critical throughout the year, but the need reaches a pinnacle in the hotter summertime months.

What Causes Dehydration?

First, lets take a quick look into the factors that cause dehydration. The primary underlying cause is fluid loss during your physical activities via sweating. Sweating—perspiration—is the body’s natural method of cooling itself down when it’s hot. This function stems from the eccrine glands and apocrine glands (aka sweat glands) and are triggered into action by the autonomic nervous system when you are overheated from exertion, high temperatures, consuming spicy foods, or a bad case of the nerves.

You might be wondering how sweating cools you down, exactly. Here’s how it works. The sweat glands release the moisture onto your skin, and it acts as a little splash of cold water that cools you as it evaporates. 99% of sweat comes from your body fluids, and 1% comes from your fat cells. This means that your body is pulling the water to produce sweat away from your other organs to keep you cool.

As an athlete, it’s vital that you remain in tune with your body and mindful when you are perspiring so that you can implement the steps to rehydrate your body. Failure to drink plenty of water can lead to negative consequences.

Other, although far less likely, causes of fluid losses during sports can include the following:

  • Breathing heavily
  • Vomiting
  • Spitting

Know the First Signs of a Dehydrated Body

Knowing the primary indicators of a dehydrated body is a key to maintaining proper fluid levels.

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Lethargy, sleepy, or tired
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Less urination
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Changes in blood pressure

While it’s critical to be able to recognize these early symptoms of dehydration, it’s even more desirable to prevent the condition by replenishing your fluids before, during, and after your competition or workout.

Decrease in sweat production

When we have sweated heavily during a workout or game and not taking in sufficient water, you cannot produce additional sweat. This indicates a lack of available fluids and places you squarely at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a condition that’s triggered when your body overheats. You will sweat pervasively, draining your body of much-needed fluids. You might also feel faint, dizzy, or nauseated. Muscle cramps are likely. Left untreated, the condition can become a precursor to the more severe Heat Stroke.

Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke stems from your body becoming overheated. It’s especially likely to happen during the summer and after significant physical exertion. Your body temperature may rise to 104°, or even higher. You would likely lose consciousness. Heat stroke is a life-threatening complication that can cause irreversible damage to your heart, brain, muscles, and other organs.

Increased strain on your heart

When you dehydrate, your body responds by retaining more sodium in your bloodstream. This causes the blood to become thicker, challenging your cardiovascular system as it struggles to pump that thicker blood through your system. This reduced blood volume elevates your blood pressure, increasing the strain on your heart. In a worst case scenario, this condition can even lead to a heart attack.

Loss of electrolytes

You may have heard of electrolytes, and you know they are essential. But do you know precisely what they are? Electrolytes are nutrients that hold negative or positive charges and conduct electrical activity in your body. They assist your body in fluid maintenance, muscle activity, and neural functions. The primary work in maintaining electrolyte balance is the job of your kidneys which know when to excrete excess electrolytes or conserve them when necessary.

The main electrolytes in your body are chloride, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. When you lose large amounts of these vital nutrients to sweat, your body cannot maintain fluid balance, your kidneys become confused, and your performance will rapidly deteriorate.

Take a look below at our quick rundown of the symptoms of electrolyte shortages below. These are why your coaches and trainers urge you to replenish your fluids and intake electrolyte supplements, especially during the hottest months. If you don’t replenish, you will have decreased ability to perform at best. In an extreme case, you can prompt permanent kidney damage.

Top Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling fatigued or lethargic
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Stomach cramping
  • Headaches or feeling in a fog
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Confusion or irritability.

Increased glycogen consumption

Glycogen is a form of a carbohydrate that your muscles and tissues store to use as energy. It’s particularly crucial for athletic performance. However, when you are dehydrated, your muscles begin to consume more glycogen than usual to compensate, especially during prolonged periods such as long workouts or during a rapid-paced game. This depletes your stored glycogen rapidly. Once this happens, your muscles become fatigued and temporarily weakened. During this time, you will not perform up to the standards that you worked so hard to attain. Post-game, you will feel extremely depleted, with sore and aching muscles that can even range to painful.

Don’t Leave Proper Hydration to Chance this Summer

This summer, don’t leave proper hydration to chance. You have worked too long and hard to attain your current performance level. A serious case of dehydration can undo all that hard work in one fell swoop.