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American Football Series: Part 2 – Water and Electrolytes

Football season can take place on some of the hottest days of the year, which can challenge players to maintain their hydration. However, it’s critical athletes prioritize their hydration around activity, because a drop in hydration can mean a drop in performance. Don’t sweat it – we’re here to help. Continue reading to learn more on how to hydrate appropriately to help stay cool this season.

Work Hard, Sweat Harder

The average healthy adult loses variable amounts of water and electrolytes naturally each day through metabolism, ventilation, urine, feces, skin and sweat. However, football players can lose even more water through increased respiration and added sweat. They are more inclined to have high sweat rates or be heavy sweaters, because they tend to be larger, well-trained athletes who run intense, long drills under the scorching sun in loads of protective equipment. Consequently, players can lose substantial amounts of water during their activity – potentially liters of sweat of each hour. The amount a player sweats will differ, but the harder the work the more they will sweat.

Sweat loss is a critical element to consider for football players, because sweat loss is closely linked to their hydration status. Generally, the more a person sweats the more water and electrolytes they can potentially lose. This is true because sweat is largely made up of water. Beyond water, sweat also contains varying amounts of electrolytes – mainly sodium and potassium. These two minerals help support hydration or regulate fluid balance. It’s critical to replenish fluids and electrolytes as needed, because as dehydration can likely impair athletic and mental performance, cause muscle cramps, muscle fatigue, heat exhaustion and more.

Water + Electrolytes + Carbohydrates

A waterboy may argue high-quality H20 while a coach may encourage electrolyte-based fluids. Start with cold water first. Water is essential and works in many ways throughout the body. It’s the most abundant molecule in the body – making up about 60% of total body weight. It’s nearly found in every cell and muscle. Therefore, it is important to replenish water losses to help keep the body functioning optimally. Now, there are many different types of water available today from glacier to alkaline. Keep it simple and pack any type of pure cold water. Water is the number one hydration tool to help maintain hydration.  

When it comes to electrolytes – it’s important to consume a healthy, well-balanced diet that incorporates proper amounts of sodium and potassium. Begin with a food-first approach, because a well-balance varied diet can help support a football player’s level of electrolytes. However, sometimes athletes may require additional electrolyte support. Electrolytes-based beverages or sports drinks can come into play on days when players …

  • Experience excessive sweat losses
  • Train longer than sixty minutes
  • Engage in high-intensity activity
  • Train in extremely hot and/or humid environments

If activity goes for extended periods lasting greater than an hour, then football players may also need extra fuel from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a nutritional source to help replenish glycogen stores  – giving players  fuel to sustain activity, complete a pass or score a touchdown. Look for beverages that contain about 5-10% carbohydrates or read the ingredients list for simple carbohydrates such as sugar.  

Never Overlook Hydration

Hydration is just as important as nutrition and training. It can easily be overlooked when you’re deep in the game, but always keep hydration top of mind when on the field. Don’t override hydration and let dehydration sink in. If fluids get too low, then it can be challenging to rehydrate quickly. Therefore, it is important to hydrate proactively before, during and after activity.  

  • Before: Hydrate before you hit the field (16-20 oz. water at least 4 hours prior)
  • During: Hydrate with water as needed. If activity lasts greater than an hour or experience excessive sweat loss, then consider adding in electrolytes. Find opportunities to take in water either during breaks or when on sideline. 
  • After: Rehydrate to counteract fluid lost through sweat. Consume electrolyte-based beverages as needed or consume meal/snack with electrolytes.

Many elements can challenge a football player’s hydration, but there are many things that can be done to help maintain balance. Hydration is not a one size fits all. Each athlete will have different needs. Create an individualize plan that factors in all the elements of the day. To better understand your personal needs, then you should consult with a sports nutrition registered dietitian. Check out part three next on ‘pre, intra, and post season nutrition.’