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American Football Series: Part 1 - Hydration

It’s that time of year – we’re talking about good old American football. Tackles, touchdowns and ice-cold victory showers! Every position from the quarterback to the running back can help secure a triumphant win. However, a valuable position that can aid in a team’s success is the waterboy. That’s right – the waterboy. Although often on the sideline - the waterboy holds a significant responsibility to help keep players properly hydrated. Hydration is a key component to help support goals that is just as important as overall training and nutrition. If you or someone you know plays football, then read on to learn how dehydration can impact performance and what to do this football season to stay cool.

Dehydration Can Impair Performance

Dehydration occurs when the body fluid falls below body’s needs. This can result from an inadequate intake of water or excessive water losses such as through sweat. In fact, it has been shown that as little as 2% dehydration can result in a decrease in performance. The body can experience a multitude of signs depending on the severity of dehydration including:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Flushed skin
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Premature fatigue
  • Labored breathing
  • Increased perception of effort
  • Decreased sweat rate
  • Muscle cramps

How Much A Player Sweats is Closely Linked With Level of Hydration

American football is a demanding high-intensity contact team sport that can you leave players dripping sweat. During a game, football players can sweat several liters. The degree of sweating rate and electrolyte concentrations can vary considerably, as a result of many individualized factors. Elite athletes can lose upwards of several liters of sweat per hour. Now that’s some serious sweat! Sweating is the body’s natural response to help regulate body temperature. How much a player sweat rates can vary significantly. Check out the different conditions that can potentially impact the amount of water you lose.  

  • Intensity and Duration: The harder and longer you train - the more you sweat and the more water you lose. High-intensity and long-duration activities can cause sweat levels to rise. Football players may have a high sweat rate and experience significant water losses during training and game day. In addition, depending on the position, each player contributes different amounts of power, strength and distance. If you’re a wide receiver than you may cover more distance than a linebacker. If you’re a defensive back, then you may use more power in tackles than perhaps the quarterback.
  • Body Size: The human body has millions of sweat glands. However, the larger the players body size the greater the number of sweat glands. Therefore, a larger player generally tends to sweat more than a smaller player. Body size depends largely on a player’s position. For example, linemen are generally larger whereas backs and receivers are smaller to get open for a pass.
  • Environmental Conditions: Football season kicks off in the later summer, which can be some of the hottest times of the year. Players sometimes have to endure temperatures as hot as 90°F. The high temperatures can increase sweat losses and high humidity can negatively affect the body’s ability to release heat.
  • Fitness Level: Well-trained athletes generally sweat more than less fit people. This because athlete’s actually become more efficient at regulating body temperature, therefore the body can initiate cooling mechanisms faster.
  • Clothing: Football is a contact team sport; therefore, players are required to wear a lot of protective equipment and padding to help protect the body from physical impact. A player’s uniform includes arm sleeves, hip and tail pads, helmet, neck rolls, thigh, hip and kneepads, shoulder pads, gloves, and more. All this protective equipment worn can retain heat, which makes it more challenging for sweat to evaporate and cool the body.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Increased physical activity generally increases the need or water. Therefore, it’s extremely important to hydrate appropriately around training and game days. The challenge is that there is no set standard for hydration recommendations. Hydration needs are highly individualized and depend on a multitude of factors as mentioned above. However, below are some general guidelines to help stay hydrated -

  • Before: If you’re showing up dehydrated, then you may already be at a disadvantage. Players often only consider hydration during and after activity, but it’s extremely important to hydrate appropriately before training and/or the big game. However, that doesn’t mean you have to hydrate excessively beforehand. Instead, aim to hydrate with about two to three cups (16-24 ounces) of water about four hours before and then sipping on water fifteen minutes prior. Plan accordingly as too much water leave you spending more time in the washroom than on the field.


  • During: A football game is only sixty minutes, but can last up to three hours. Football practices can vary considerably as well. However long, be prepared to hydrate during as needed. It can be challenging to recognize thirst during activity. Therefore, consider proactively sipping on water early on and at regular intervals in attempt to consume fluids at a rate sufficient to replace water loss. Be mindful of conditions that day and plan ahead by preparing sufficient ice-cold water.  


  • After: It’s important to hydrate appropriately following activity to help replace the water lost via sweat. You can estimate sweat loss by weighing yourself before and activity. Be sure to factor in fluids consumed during activity as well. Aim to drink about two to three cups (16-24 ounces) of water for every one pound of body weight lost.

Hydration is Key

Pack a water bottle and get ready for the ice-cold cooler showers, because victory is in your future. Rather you’re going to practice or entering the field for game day – remember that hydration is a key piece to that can help elevate your performance. Tackle your sport with a sensible hydration plan and remember to drink up and stay cool with adequate hydration before, during and after activity. To better understand your personal needs, then you should consult with a sports nutrition registered dietitian. Check out part two next on ‘H20 and sports drinks.’