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You know that staying hydrated is essential for your overall health, but do you know what happens when your body becomes dehydrated?

Dehydration in athletes can happen quickly. If you sweat a lot during intense exercise, you lose a great deal of fluid. If this loss of fluid is not properly replaced, it may affect your athletic performance, but more importantly your health.

Continue reading to understand how improper fluid levels can affect athletic performance and overall health. You’ll also learn how to best stay hydrated.

Dehydration In Athletes: Can Dehydration Affect Athletic Performance And Endurance?

Water plays a major role in helping muscles contract properly and keeping your core temperature where it should be. While sweating during exercise helps keep your body at a safe temperature, it can also lead to dehydration.1

tired athlete | LCR HealthResearch suggests that losing an amount of fluid equal to just 2.5 percent of your body weight during high-intensity exercise can affect your physical and mental performance. If you lose 5 percent or more, that can substantially decrease your performance capacity.2

In one study, researchers looked at healthy men in an effort to determine the effect of hydration on exercise performance. One group had normal hydration levels. The second group had lost between 2.5-5 percent of their body weight in fluid loss. The men then performed several different types of exercises. According to the results of the study, the dehydrated men became fatigued faster than those who had proper hydration levels.3

Additionally, dehydration can increase the thickness of the blood. It can also weaken the veins, reducing how much blood enters the heart. When less blood enters the heart, less blood comes out, resulting in decreased athletic performance. Dehydration can also break down glycogen, which can lead to muscle fatigue.4

How Can Severe Dehydration Affect Your Health?

The health consequences of dehydration go far beyond decreased performance and fatigue.

Dehydration causes the cells inside the body to dry out.dehydrated woman | LCR Health When this happens, they begin to malfunction. If you only have mild dehydration, you might notice an increase in thirst and a decrease in sweat production. You might also have a reduction in your urine production.5

Severe dehydration can lead to devastating consequences, including organ damage. The cells in the brain are at a particularly high risk of damage due to serious dehydration. If you have just worked out or trained particularly hard and you feel light-headed, confused, or faint, get to a doctor as quickly as you can.6

In severe instances, heat stress caused by severe dehydration can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, hyperventilation, heat stroke, and even more major health issues. This is why it’s so important to hydrate before, during, and after high-intensity exercise.7

Hydration During Exercise: How Much Water Do You Need To Maintain Proper Hydration Levels?

In order to stay properly hydrated, you need an amount of fluid equal to the amount of fluid you lose through sweat when you exercise. Typically, to maintain proper hydration levels, you will need to drink between 7-10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during your exercise routine.8

Water is typically best even before you start an intense exercise routine – drink 16 ounces two hours before. Afterward, you may want to replenish with electrolytes.9

The amount of water needed for proper hydration may vary from person to person. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to keep hydrated.

Water Vs. Sports Drinks With Electrolytes: What Is The Ideal Kind Of Fluid To Drink?

man drinking sports drink | LCR Health

Exercising for more than an hour can lead to a substantial loss of electrolytes.10

Why are electrolytes important? They affect the ability of your muscles to function as they should. You’re probably familiar with the following electrolytes:

  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Potassium
  • Sodium11

If you’re running low on electrolytes, it can lead to headaches as well as muscle cramps.12 That will make it nearly impossible to perform just about any kind of physical activity.

The Problem With Sports Drinks

There are many sports drinks that line the shelves of supermarkets today. But, while these drinks might do a good job of replenishing your body’s electrolytes, they are loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners, dyes, and other potentially dangerous ingredients.

So how can you replenish electrolytes without all the empty calories and harmful ingredients? Coconut water is an excellent natural option. It has high levels of potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Just make sure you’re not buying a sweetened version.13

lemon water | LCR HealthYou can also make your own electrolyte drink with a few ingredients that you probably already have at home.

Simply combine:

  • 1 cup (8 ounces) of water
  • 2 Tbsp of lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt (a teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium, so you’ll only need 1/20th of a teaspoon)
  • Stevia, monk fruit, or another natural sweetener

Severe Dehydration During Or After Training? Know When To See Your Doctor

Even if you take precautions, you can still suffer from dehydration after an intense workout. Knowing the signs of a problem could make the difference between a minor issue and a major – potentially even life-threatening – situation.

Bottom line? If you want to perform at your best, make sure you always stay hydrated. If you have concerns that you aren’t getting enough fluid, talk to your doctor. They may have recommendations to support your health as well as your athletic success.

Learn More:
Finding A Workout Program For Former Athletes To Get And Stay In Shape
10 Easy, Low Impact Exercises
7 Simple Exercises to Help Strengthen Muscles