Hydration needs and strategies for athletes are highly variable, depending on factors such as the type of activity, duration, temperature, and the individual’s weight and height. So, it’s important for athletes of all kinds—whether you are a pro, a weekend warrior, or a kid playing ball—to find the right approach and products to meet your individual needs.*
Proper hydration regulates body temperature and helps you cool efficiently, minimizes muscles cramps, and improves your ability to quickly recover from training. Even just a small amount of dehydration can negatively impact performance. According to research, over 50% of all athletes—from youth to professional sports—start their activity insufficiently hydrated. Starting exercise without proper hydration and experiencing additional fluid and electrolyte loss through sweat means many athletes are:
“Do not consider a meal or snack complete without fluid. Also, make sure you’re taking small sips frequently throughout the day. It is the best way to help the body absorb the fluids.” Christine Dziedzic, Professional Sports Nutritionist
When and how much should I drink? Nailing down a hydration routine that works takes some trial and error, but everyone needs a place to start. Below are some sports hydration strategies to try as you explore what’s right for you.
Athletes want to be well-hydrated while avoiding the “sloshing” sensation that can come with too much fluid at once. Here is a checklist to see if you’ve hit the sweet spot:
Did You Know?
For every 20 minutes of play, a young athlete should drink about 10 gulps of water. (1 gulp = ½ oz. of fluid)
Water is efficient, easy, and usually the best bet for hydration. Plain water, water flavored with fruits and herbs, and sparkling water are all great options. However, sparkling water should be avoided before and during activity as it can cause bloating and discomfort.
Athletes can also consider their individual needs and determine if it would be appropriate to enhance their hydration and support performance with these common nutrients and ingredients:
Protein delivers amino acids the body uses to repair and rebuild muscle after activity. It also has been shown to offer energy and help you feel full between meals. Timing and amounts of protein needed will depend on your activity and goals but having 20-30 grams per meal and enjoying a protein snack or hydration option within 45 minutes of activity is a good starting point.
“A smoothie with whey protein is my go-to solution to start each day with a protein-packed breakfast!” Trish Kazacos, RDN, CDN, Wegmans Nutritionist
While in many cases it is recommended that we limit or avoid added sugars, they can actually play an important role for athletes. Both naturally occurring and added sugars (which are carbohydrates) can provide quick energy if needed right before or during activity. Additionally, sugar helps with rehydration following activity by “shuttling” fluid and electrolytes into cells. Just monitor your tolerance—particularly before or during activity—as an overload of sugar could cause some stomach discomfort and affect performance.
Did You Know?
Chocolate milk is a favorite post-activity beverage for many athletes, offering carbohydrates which may help replenish energy stores and the protein shown to support muscle repair.
Many sports beverages offer different vitamins to quickly supply the body with nutrients, some of which—such as vitamin C—have an antioxidant effect that could be helpful for repairing tissues that were damaged during activity. Use caution, particularly with youth athletes, to avoid hypervitaminosis. This is a condition of high levels of vitamins which can lead to various symptoms (including toxicity). It is a myth that a high intake of water-soluble vitamins does not pose any risk.
Electrolytes refer to minerals that are involved with fluid balance in and outside of our cells. Sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium are the main electrolytes when it comes to hydration and fluid balance. In addition to regulating fluid balance, electrolytes have been shown to help prevent or lessen muscle cramping, as they are involved in electrical activity and muscle contraction.
For athletes, the main goal is to replace electrolytes lost in sweat. This can be done by following a healthy pattern of eating, but for long (>1 hour) or vigorous activities where excessive sweating is experienced, a sports drink or electrolyte replacement option might be appropriate.
Did You Know?
Studies suggest that caffeine may increase alertness and delay fatigue. And contrary to popular belief, caffeinated beverages can help you hydrate (particularly if you are used to consuming caffeine). However, keep in mind that excessive amounts:
Caffeine is not appropriate for athletes <18 years old, so youth athletes should stick to non-caffeinated beverages.
When snacking, include something you missed at a meal like fruits and veggies, or a dairy food like yogurt or a cheese stick.
Protein promotes satiety and helps support sustained energy levels.
Nuts & Trail Mix
These are a source of plant protein and healthy fats to support optimal energy.
Fruits & Veggies
Natural sources of carbohydrates and antioxidants support an active lifestyle.
Whole grains are a source of carbohydrates—our body’s main source of fuel.
Video Recorded August 15, 2023
*This content is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended as, or to be used as, a substitute or replacement for medical advice, medical nutrition therapy, or individualized nutrition counseling. Individuals should work with a qualified health care provider and/or certified sports nutrition specialist for individualized advice and recommendations.