hydration in sport

Importance of Hydration in Sport: Hydration Strategies For Athletes

By Danny Webber
Danny Webber is a SENr registered practitioner, an ISAK certified Anthropometrist and a UK Anti-Doping accredited adviser.
| Updated on July 12, 2023

Water is an essential constituent of the human body, making up approximately 60% of its whole composition.

The deficiency of water in the body is called dehydration. Dehydration will result in a dip in physical and mental performance for any athlete. Because of this, hydration effects on sports performance isn’t to be overlooked.

All cells, organs, and tissues are primarily comprised of water, making it vital to correctly function all physiological processes in the body.

Water transports nutrients and oxygen into cells and regulates body temperature (thermoregulation), acts as a lubricant and shock absorber to protect joints, the brain, and fetus during pregnancy, support digestion & removal of waste products, and is also required to break down food so we can use it as energy.

  1. What is the best fluid to drink?
  2. Why is Hydration Important in Sports?
  3. Proper Hydration for Athletes: Hydration Effects on Sports Performance
  4. Benefits of Staying Hydrated
  5. How to Reduce Injury Risks With Proper Hydration?
  6. How Much Water is Too Much?
  7. Recommended Water Intake?
  8. Hydration Before Exercise
  9. Why is it important to drink during exercise?
  10. How to Rehydrate Quickly During Exercise?
  11. Hydration in Sport (Hydration During Exercise) - Role of Sweating
  12. Measuring Sweat Rates
  13. How to Rehydrate Quickly Post-Training?
  14. The Effects of Dehydration on Sport Performance
  15. How to Stop Dehydration?
  16. What About Sports Drinks?
  17. What About Other Fluids Like Energy Drinks, Coffee, And Pop?
  18. Hydration for Athletes: Take Home Points
  19. FAQs

What is the best fluid to drink?

Water should be prioritised at all times during the day. Athletes who train for more than an hour a day and during the summer months when it is hot should consider including electrolytes in their drinks to replace sodium and other vital minerals lost in sweat to maintain hydration.

During long training sessions and competitions, athletes may also need to factor in their carbohydrate demands to maintain sustained energy levels throughout, which can be done by consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink.

Why is Hydration Important in Sports?

With proper hydration, your body will be able to perform its best. Water lubricates your body so you can regulate the body’s temperature through sweat and joints so that you can move better. Hydration for athletes is essential to maintain normal blood circulation because this aids the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to every working muscle in the body. To stay hydrated, it is good to practise carrying a bottle of water around, especially during training.

Proper Hydration for Athletes: Hydration Effects on Sports Performance

To satisfy the demand for water for bodily functions, fluids (typically drinking water) should be consumed regularly throughout the day.

If you don’t drink enough water, you will likely become dehydrated. In this instance, the body cannot perform at its best, and severe dehydration can cause serious health problems, even death.

Everybody’s body shapes and sizes are different, but it’s typically recommended to consume 1.5 – 2 litres of water each day to stay hydrated.

Many factors can influence hydration status and must be considered to apply suitable hydration strategies to prevent dehydration.

As previously mentioned, your body utilises body water to function and metabolise energy food. Still, other additional stressors that may accelerate body water losses include physical activity/exercise, environmental temperatures, illness, and different dietary practices will also play a part, e.g., high/low carbohydrate intake.

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of hydration for athletes, we’ll now move our focus to how hydration is influenced by exercise.

Benefits of Staying Hydrated

Staying hydrated comes with various benefits for bodily functions. Critical reasons are that it helps regulate our body temperature, keeps joints in minimal friction, delivers nutrients to cells, proper organ functions, stable sleeping cycles, maintains brain function, better performance prevents constipation, and many more direct and indirect benefits.

How to Reduce Injury Risks With Proper Hydration?

Staying adequately hydrated is the key to prevent injuries caused by muscle fatigue which in turn leads to increased chances for injury. It’s optimal to hydrate throughout the workout phases to compensate for sweat lost in the workout to prevent excessive dehydration.

Also, Learn about foods to speed up muscle recovery.

How Much Water is Too Much?

The average person should drink 2-3L water a day at a minimum, plus approx 500ml-1L fluids for every hour of exercise.

Drinking excessive amounts of water without additional electrolytes, i.e. sodium can cause electrolyte imbalances and reduced concentrations in blood, called hyponatremia.

If untreated or during extreme conditions competing in endurance & ultra-endurance events in hot conditions can result in death.

Recommended Water Intake?

While there are no official guidelines for drinking water, it is recommended you drink from 2 to 3 litres of water drank little and often throughout the day, plus 500ml-1L per hour of exercise.

Hydration Before Exercise

It is recommended that you drink 400 to 500ml of water two hours before any form of exercise. During exercise, you lose plenty of fluid through sweat to regulate body heat. To replace fluid through sweat, we need to drink sufficient water.

Why is it important to drink during exercise?

During exercise, athletes will typically lose anywhere between 0.5-3L per hour through sweat. Losing 2% body weight due to dehydration can significantly impair exercise performance, making drinking during exercise essential during prolonged, high-intensity exercise, especially in hot climates.

How to Rehydrate Quickly During Exercise?

This can depend on training duration, but water is still the first point of call. This will be sufficient for short (less than 60 minutes) training sessions, but as training increases, and if you’re training multiple times per day, water alone may not be enough.

Sweat contains electrolytes (such as sodium) and water, so simply drinking only water when sweat rates are high during prolonged training could be susceptible to hyponatremia, an imbalance between body water and sodium levels causing a diluted effect.

In this instance, drinking a solution containing water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium & magnesium) is important to correct that balance.

Electrolytes aid absorption across the intestine, retain body water in cells and are also involved in muscle and nerve function.

Carbohydrates may also be required during high-volume training, but without adequate hydration, they will not be adequately absorbed. This is a likely cause of GI distress so before you start with the gels, ensure you’ve got enough fluids on board.

An ideal solution for hydrating before, during, and after training is Hydra+ as it contains the required amount of electrolytes when mixed with 500ml water.

The discount code is 20NX for 20% off.

It also contains a small number of carbohydrates that are sufficient to fuel your training and boost brain and muscle function without unwanted GI problems.

Hydration in Sport (Hydration During Exercise) – Role of Sweating

During exercise or any physical activity, which can include daily chores like gardening or hoovering, our core body temperature will rise.

When this occurs, our body will automatically respond by trying to maintain a level of homeostasis by cooling itself down (thermoregulation).

So, there is a great importance of water for athletes. By doing this, the body will start to sweat, allowing water to be evaporated from the skin and release heat.

During prolonged periods of exercise, sweat rates can increase and lead to dehydration if fluids are not consumed to alleviate this deficit.

This will ultimately impair exercise performance and, in severe conditions, can be hazardous to health.

A loss of just 2% body mass of water can be detrimental to physical performance, so maintaining a good level of hydration by replacing fluids lost by sweating with appropriate fluids is advantageous to promote performance.

Measuring Sweat Rates

Calculating your sweat rate is a practical and important technique for getting the most from your nutrition to maximise performance. Weighing yourself before and after training and measuring how much you drink during that session is all you need to get a good estimate.

Sweat rate calculation:

Pre-training weight = 75kg

Post-training weight (before showering & dry off any excess sweat) = 73kg

Change in body weight = 2kg

Fluid intake during training = 1 litre

Training duration = 2 hours


  • Fluid loss (L) = pre-weight (75kg) – post-weight (73kg) = 2kg
  • Total sweat loss (L) = change in weight (2kg) + fluid intake (1L) = 3kg
  • Sweat rate (L/hr) = total sweat loss (3kg) ÷ training duration (2hrs) = 1.5 L/hr

How to Rehydrate Quickly Post-Training?

As you’re calculating your changes in body weight during training based on the amount of water lost, you can use this data to rehydrate for optimal recovery.

Drinking 1.5 times the total body weight loss is recommended, and this should always contain sodium to promote fluid retention. Otherwise, it will be passed out in the urine.

Hydra+, along with sufficient water in the hours after training, is a good strategy to rehydrate.

The discount code is 20NX for 20% off.

But, when considering other nutritional requirements after training, your body may also need protein and carbohydrates.

Milk is a natural source of protein, carbohydrates, and sodium and is more effective for hydration, protein synthesis, and glycogen replenishment than commercialised sports drinks. So if you have milk to hand, then this could be your best choice.

Another factor to consider is the weather. When training in hot conditions, sweat rates will be greater in the body’s attempt to cool itself.

Therefore, it would be prudent to include more fluids with added sodium during and after training.

The Effects of Dehydration on Sport Performance

Dehydration increases your chances of underperforming through various cardio strains and thermal strains of heat illness.

The effects of dehydration include:

  • Reduced blood volume,
  • Reduced sweat production (thermoregulation),
  • Reduced cognitive function and concentration,
  • Increase in overall body temperature,
  • Increased time to fatigue,
  • Increased rate of muscle glycogen use.

How to Stop Dehydration?

So, how does dehydration affect sports performance? The first point of call before doing any exercise, or more importantly, competing if you’re an athlete, is ensuring that you begin in an optimally hydrated state.

Turning up dehydrated puts added pressure on your body to supply muscles with nutrients and oxygen, meaning your heart needs to work much harder to meet that demand resulting in premature fatigue.

A very easy way to determine how hydrated you are is by checking your urine.

Colour, volume, and smell are good indicators of hydration status – dark colour, small amounts, and strong smells can all signal dehydration.

Monitoring hydration status should be a key part of your training! See the urine colour chart to manage your hydration practices.

Hydration for athletes

During exercise, you should attempt to replace some of the water lost through sweat, but this should never be done at the expense of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort.

Therefore it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to consume similar amounts to that lost during exercise, as this can be at rates of anything between 1-2.5 litres per hour!! (See below).

You’re better off drinking to thirst during training. With regular hydration monitoring strategies, you can estimate your body’s sweat rate during such exercise and transfer appropriate drinking habits into a competition.

What About Sports Drinks?

Sports drinks might contain a lot of added sugar which can be counterproductive, and if you’re doing only moderate amounts of exercise, then simple drinking water is the best for your workout plan.

However, if you are doing intensive exercises or training, you might want to consider taking sports drinks that contain carbs and electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which you lose while sweating.

You would ideally want your sports to drink to have fewer calories and more electrolytes.

What About Other Fluids Like Energy Drinks, Coffee, And Pop?

Water is the best for all kinds of exercises, and it does well for any physical activity. However, energy drinks and sports drinks claim to improve energy levels, increase resistance and endurance, and improve performance.

Energy drinks may contain caffeine which helps to promote alertness for improved energy levels and sports performance during intensive training and competition.

Caffeine has been shown to increase energy and fight muscle fatigue amongst adults. In conclusion, you might benefit from moderate consumption of either sports drinks or caffeinated drinks like coffee before training.

Also, Learn about Is Diet Coke Better Than Regular Coke?

Hydration for Athletes: Take Home Points

hydration planning

    • Hydration is vital for health as the body is 60% water.
    • It helps in nutrient & oxygen transport, energy metabolism, thermoregulation, joint & organ protection, digestion & renal function.
    • It is important to regularly drink fluids to maintain hydration, particularly during exercise, and recommended to assess your sweat rates if physically active.
    • Just a 2% reduction in body weight from dehydration can negatively impact performance.
    • Include electrolytes like sodium in drinks during long training sessions for optimal rehydration strategies.
    • Consume 1.5 x total body weight loss after exercise to rehydrate properly.
    • Be aware of weather conditions and remember to drink more in the heat.

Also, Learn: Is Caffeine a Diuretic? 


Do athletes need to care more about hydration than normal people?

Staying hydrated is vital for athletes who undertake larger than normal volumes of training, and therefore must drink a lot more fluids to match that loss through sweat.

Dehydration impairs performance and therefore must be avoided to maintain training intensity. Normal people who go to the gym and exercise frequently also need to prioritize hydration.

How do you measure hydration status?

Athletes can measure their hydration status by analyzing their urine color and frequency of urination. Urine should be a clear, straw-like color to show good hydration levels, and going more frequently, whereas a darker yellow color, stronger smell, and going less often suggest dehydration.

Athletes can also measure their sweat rates by weighing themselves before and after training, and factoring in fluids consumed to track how much they have sweat, and how much they need to drink during/after training

Which drinks can cause dehydration?

Drinks that are classed as diuretics, mainly alcohol and caffeinated drinks over ~350mg, may be linked to dehydration.

How reliable is the urine color test to analyze the hydration status?

A urine color test is a very reliable and practical way of assessing hydration status. Some foods or supplements including B vitamin drinks/supplements and fresh beetroot can discolor urine so just be aware of this and think about the frequency and the volume of your urine as to whether you are hydrated or not.

Should every athlete measure sweat rates during exercise?

Monitoring sweat rates are a great way for athletes to determine the correct amount of fluid they need after exercise to rehydrate.

Athletes will generally sweat more in hotter conditions and climates, therefore needing to drink more to rehydrate during and after training.

Having a sweat patch test done during training helps to accurately analyze your total sweat and sodium losses so you know how much and what type of drinks you need to consume to stay fully hydrated to maximize performance.

Will drinking too much water affect sports performance?

Water is important for hydration but you can have too much of a good thing, meaning that drinking too much water can be detrimental to sports performance.

Drinking too much water can create an imbalance between the amount of water and sodium in your body, which can lead to Hyponatremia.

Athletes will be okay only drinking water for shorter training sessions, typically 1 hour or less. Beyond this, the addition of electrolytes could help maintain fluid/sodium balance in the body.

How does dehydration affect performance?

Dehydration causes:
1 ) Premature fatigue
2 ) increased heart rate
3 ) impaired thermoregulation
4 ) reduced concentration and cognitive function
5 ) greater reliance on muscle glycogen for energy
6 ) higher RPE
7 ) joint stiffness

What are the best drinks for hydration besides water?

Sweat is made up of water but also contains vital electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Consuming drinks or supplements that contain these electrolytes helps to rehydrate better than water alone.

Cow’s milk, orange juice, and rehydration solutions like Diuralyte are better hydrated than water alone.

Should athletes replace water with sports drinks?

Water is irreplaceable. Sports drinks can be beneficial if you use them to complement water instead of using them to substitute water.

The main ingredient of sports drinks is water, but the addition of electrolytes and carbohydrates make them a good energy drink during intense training sessions.

How much should I drink before training?

Drinking enough fluids to ensure your urine is a clear color and you are well hydrated before training is key. A good rule of thumb is to drink 400-600ml two hours before exercise.

How much should I drink during training?

So long as you are well hydrated before you start training, you can drink to thirst for sessions less than 2 hours long.

On the other hand, some sports like cycling and triathlon that require strategic hydration strategies for their events will need to practice these during training to match their measured sweat rates.

How much should I drink after training?

Measuring the changes in your body weight during training will give you a good idea of how much to drink to rehydrate.

Weighing yourself before and after training to calculate your weight loss (e.g. 1kg), you should aim to drink 150% of this (e.g. 1.5L) in the hours after training to replace lost fluids and allow for the additional sweat lost as your body continues to cool itself.

How much water should I drink a day?

This will be different for everyone based on their body weight and activity levels, but a good daily target is to consume 30ml per kg of body mass, plus an extra 500ml-1L per hour of exercise.

What does hydration mean in sport?

When playing sport it is important to stay well hydrated. Drinking enough water before exercise so you’re starting well hydrated is key, but also replacing the water lost through sweat by drinking during and after exercise helps maintain hydration status, to maintain energy levels and performance.

What is hydration and dehydration in sports?

Hydration is ensuring the body has sufficient water to do its basic everyday functions properly i.e. transport blood around the body. The body loses water throughout the day through sweat, breathing and urinating, so it’s important to drink water regularly to replace this, especially during exercise when sweat rates are increased, to prevent dehydration.

Do sports drinks help with dehydration?

Sports drinks contain electrolytes like sodium which can help the body to better retain water when exercise lasts longer than 90 minutes.

How much water should an athlete drink?

Athletes should aim to drink approx 0.3L per kg of body weight at a minimum, plus 500-750ml per hour of exercise.

How can hydration influence sporting performance?

Being hydrated helps the body to cool down more effectively. It also lubricates joints, supports brain function and aids the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles, all of which are impaired in a dehydrated state.

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