Why it is important for an athlete to avoid dehydration

Published on 14/02/2009

AL Gondi

I wish to take this opportunity to pass my condolences to the families who lost their

loved ones during the disasters in Nakumatt supermarket and Molo.

Last week we discussed the role of water and its effects on the concentration and digestion of food due to lack of space. However it is important in sports.

Excessive sweating during exercises causes loss of body water and soluble minerals. This in effect reduces physical performance capacity. It is therefore necessary to replace fluids during and after exercises. Water comprises between 4O per cent and 6O per cent of the total body mass.

About 62 per cent of total water body mass is in the cells and 38 per cent is outside the cells. In cold climates about 2.5 liters of water is required per day while in hot climates 3.5 liters. Note that water intake can be in several forms as tea, coffee, etc.

During exercises, the body loses fluid through the skin as perspiration and as water vapour in air expiration. The amount of fluid loss will depend on the temperature, humidity, and altitude. This can range up to 0.5 to 1.2 liters, but if the climate is too hot the fluid loss can exceed 2 liters per hour.

Body mass

This causes dehydration. If dehydration exceeds 2 per cent of body mass then there will be a measurable reduction on physical performance.

As has been discussed before, severe dehydration is potentially fatal. An athlete that exercises while dehydrated makes the body temperature to rise quickly leading to heat stroke and risks of death. In long distance running with high temperatures the athlete may lose up to 8 per cent of body weight which is equivalent to 13 per cent of body water mass.

This can occur even in short distance running where losses of between 2 per cent to 45 per cent have been noted. In addition there is electrolyte loss with water in the course of sweating.

The electrolytes mostly lost are sodium and chloride and small amounts of potassium and magnesium. The body therefore needs to replace water loss more than electrolytes.

There is a mechanism that controls thirst but this is not sufficient to maintain hydration during and after exercises, therefore more fluids should be consumed.

Might lead

Water loss replacement should be done with sodium replacement. If an athlete replaces water and not sodium this might lead to low plasma sodium that can lead to confusion, disorientation, and even fits.

It is also useful to add carbohydrates to drinking water as it increases energy supplies which will consequently enhance high intensity endurance performance by maintaining blood sugar concentrations.

Depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise as well as the weather temperatures the composition of drinks should be adjusted in accordance with the needs of supply of fuel and water which really depends of an individual.

Clinicians and coaches should establish a pattern of fluid intake during training as this will allow individual athlete to develop personal pattern of fluid intake for re-dehydration.

The athlete will subsequently get used to the sensation of fluid in the stomach especially the athletes training in cold climates when exposed to hot temperatures.

Lastly it is important to note that water conducts electrical currents. If water is used in the hydrant to stop fire spreading it actually increases the spread and intensity of fire. There should be some foam.

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