"I didn't bring water."
I'll drink water when I've earned it."
"I don't need a break right now."
Sound familiar? If you've heard an athlete speak these words or are looking for some guidelines on water consumption, please read on. The implementation of the information in this post is non-negotiable. I hope I've made it clear before now that your success as a pitcher extends far beyond what we work on in 60-minute lessons, and it's time I back that up.
I know I'm a South Carolina transplant, but Columbia didn't earn the title, "Famously Hot" for nothing. When I step outside and immediately break a sweat (Ok, I'll admit, I tend to sweat more than the average individual), I KNOW that my pitchers are facing an uphill battle... unless they prepare.
Whether it's an hour-long session in a covered space or 20+ hours for a weekend travel tournament, you, as the athlete, have to be accountable and aware of your hydration needs. Not sure where to start? I've got you covered. The first bit of this post is some background info and complications that can arise from lack of hydration, and I'll wrap up with tips you can implement immediately. Just like in lessons, I can only give you the information. It is your job as an athlete with goals to take action so you can perform optimally as well as maintain health and safety.
Your body produces sweat as a means of cooling down in hot environments. Your pores release sweat, and sweat evaporates, which decreases your body temperature in times of need. Operating on a system of checks and balances, your body doesn't just magically produce sweat-- it takes from available fluid, and that's where hydration comes in. A situation that creates excess sweating decreases the total fluid available for all of your body's processes.
Dehydration causes an increase in overall body temperature, decreases the ability to sweat to cool it down, and it also can decrease the volume in your body that the heart pumps (this volume then gets oxygenated and transmitted to all of your organs and systems). This means less blood is being pumped for each heart beat and can cause an increase in heart rate, decrease in arterial pressure and can continue on to cause major issues.
When you're dehydrated, which can occur in less than 60 minutes of an activity, it is scientifically proven that your athletic performance suffers. Your muscles fatigue more easily, and your ability to perform physical activity decreases by up to 48%! Yikes! Early dehydration indications include: thirst (Really! Your body is resilient. If you feel thirsty, you are already slightly dehydrated. Pay attention, and drink appropriately!), flushed skin, muscle cramping, fatigue, and disinterest (that last one may be difficult to identify in teens... Kidding!). If hydration is not addressed, these symptoms may worsen to include: dizziness, headache, chills, nausea, and shortness of breath, which are related to heat exhaustion. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and needs to be addressed immediately. Look for mental status changes, convulsions, vomiting, and a core (rectal) temperature of 102.2° F or higher.
No fun, right? Let's prevent these things from happening and escalating. First off, let's look at things that affect hydration and what we can do to start on the right foot. Obviously, we can't control the outside temperature (or even sometimes the inside temperatures) or humidity. We do, however, have control over the clothes we wear, our overall hydration status, the type, intensity, and duration of the activity, and our preparation.
From that list, I've compiled 4 tasks to ensure appropriate hydration.
1. PRE-Hydration. Yes, BEFOREhand. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends consuming 500-600mL (that's about 1 standard 16.9oz water bottle) of fluid 2-3 hours before the activity. They also recommend an additional 200-300mL of water (half a bottle) 10-20 minutes before initiating the activity. Plain ole' water is preferred. Guess what? If you're heading into a weekend tournament, you need to start hydrating at least 24 hours ahead of time! This doesn't just include water-- what you eat plays a role on hydration status as well. Packaged foods and takeout/fast food contain significantly higher amounts of salt than foods without labels, so those are more likely to have you already dehydrated. Please take this into consideration! How do you know you're in a good hydration state? Look at your pee! Really. It should be the color of lemonade. If it's darker, that's a sign that you are under-hydrated. Even if you sat on the couch all day and marathoned some Netflix without physical exertion, you can still be dehydrated. Bottom line: Check your urine. Prepare appropriately ahead of time.
2. Dress for the Occasion. This one's easy. Light colors, light weight, and loose-fitting are preferred.
3. Pay Attention During Activity. As I stated, your body knows what's up. The general rule is that every athlete will benefit from trying to match water consumption with sweat loss. This means that if it's extra humid, and you're sweating more than usual, you need to drink more water (how much more? Check your urine!). Obviously, we aren't going to measure your milliliters of sweat loss, but you have to be aware of if you're sweating more. Athletes can handle approximately 1 Liter of water per hour of activity in a heat environment. As you may know, trying to drink too much too quickly can also create nausea. Keep it consistent, and keep it cold! Take breaks when you need them, and don't feel shame! You are prioritizing health as you should.
4. After Activity. It's actually best to drink a beverage with sodium in it. Sweat and urine production creates a loss of electrolytes that are essential to proper body function, so we need to maintain safe levels. I don't prefer Gatorade (I know, don't hate!) because of the high sugar content, but natural coconut water (I've found some at Aldi, Kroger, Public, etc) has a great balance of electrolytes. It can be an acquired taste, but you can blend in some fruit ahead of time (my favorite is watermelon). Otherwise, I would actually recommend a pinch of sea salt in your water bottle. This helps you retain more of the water, and it also triggers you to drink more.
You've made the decision to take your sport and position seriously, and it's time to extend that beyond lessons. To perform your best, you have to respect your body and hydrate appropriately. Water, water, water. Sodas do not hydrate you (that includes Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew... you get it!). Avoid beverages with added sugar. I'll add some links below with good options!
As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions, and thanks for letting me help!
Casa, Douglas J. (1999). Exercise in the Heat. II. Critical Concepts in Rehydration, Exertional Heat Illnesses, and Maximizing Athletic Performance. Journal of Athletic Training. Retrieved from: www.nata.org/jat
Casa, Douglas J., Armstrong, Lawrence E., et al. (2000). National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training Retrieved from www.nata.org/jat