The Impact Of Dehydration On Sports Performance: What You Need To Know

We all know that staying hydrated is essential for overall health, but did you know that dehydration can significantly impact an athlete's performance?

In this article, we will delve into the importance of hydration for athletes, discuss the causes and symptoms of dehydration, explore its effects on sports performance, and offer tips for staying hydrated during exercise. A female runner crouching since she is out of breath - The Impact Of Dehydration

Whether you're an athlete or simply enjoy working out, understanding the link between hydration and exercise is vital.

So, let's get started!

The Importance of Hydration for Athletes

The Role of Water in the Body

Water is a vital component of our bodies, making up around 60% of our total body weight.

It plays a crucial role in several essential functions, including digestion, nutrient transport, waste elimination, joint lubrication, and temperature regulation.

As you can see, staying hydrated is especially important for athletes, and even more so for older adults during exercise.

For athletes, maintaining an adequate level of hydration is critical for optimal performance and overall health. 

To understand more about how staying hydrated can boost your fitness, consider reading this detailed article on hydration and athletic performance.

Hydration and Thermoregulation

During physical activity, our bodies generate heat, which can lead to an increase in core temperature. 

To maintain a stable temperature, our bodies rely on the process of sweating to dissipate the excess heat.

As the sweat evaporates from our skin, it cools us down, helping to regulate our body temperature. However, this process also leads to fluid loss, which can result in dehydration if not adequately replaced.

Related: The Role Of Hydration In Preventing Cramps During Exercise

Dehydration: Causes and Symptoms

Common Causes of Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when fluid losses exceed fluid intake. For athletes, the primary cause of dehydration is insufficient fluid replacement during exercise, leading to a decrease in total body water.

There are several signs of dehydration you should look out for to ensure that you maintain your peak performance levels.

Factors that can contribute to dehydration include high-intensity exercise, hot and humid conditions, inadequate fluid intake, and prolonged physical activity without sufficient breaks.

Recognising the Symptoms

Common symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Dark yellow urine.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.

It's essential to be aware of these symptoms and address them promptly to prevent further complications and performance decline.

Effects of Dehydration on Sports Performance

Decreased Endurance

Dehydration can lead to a decrease in blood volume, which in turn reduces the oxygen and nutrient delivery to working muscles.

This reduction can lead to early-onset fatigue, decreased endurance, and reduced performance in both aerobic and anaerobic activities. In addition, did you know that dehydration can affect muscle growth?

Impaired Cognitive Function

Mild to moderate dehydration can negatively impact cognitive function, including attention, reaction time, and decision-making skills. 

The effects of dehydration on mental performance during workouts can be quite significant, and for athletes, this can result in poor judgement, slower response times, and an increased likelihood of making errors during a competition or training session.

Increased Risk of Injury

Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, which can increase the risk of strains and other injuries.

Additionally, a decrease in joint lubrication due to fluid loss can lead to joint stiffness, pain, and an increased likelihood of injury during physical activity.

Slower Recovery Times

Adequate hydration is crucial for proper recovery after exercise. Dehydration can slow down the removal of waste products from the muscles, prolonging the recovery process and potentially increasing the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Strategies for Preventing Dehydration


To ensure you start your exercise session well-hydrated, aim to consume 500-600 ml of water 2-3 hours before activity and an additional 250-350 ml of fluid 30 minutes before starting.

Hydration During Exercise

During physical activity, aim to drink 150-250 ml of fluid every 10-20 minutes to replace sweat loss. 

You can refer to this guide on the best ways to hydrate for different types of exercise to ensure that you're hydrating effectively.

Post-Exercise Rehydration

After exercise, it's essential to rehydrate by consuming fluids equivalent to 150% of the weight loss experienced during the activity.

This can help replace fluid losses and promote recovery. Consuming beverages containing electrolytes can also help to replace the minerals lost through sweat.

Choosing the Right Hydration Solution

Sports Drinks vs. Water

For most athletes, water is sufficient to maintain proper hydration during low to moderate-intensity exercise lasting less than an hour. However, for longer-duration or high-intensity activities, sports drinks containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can be beneficial in replenishing fluid and energy stores. 

For a variety of hydrating drink options, you can explore this article about delicious and hydrating drinks for your workouts.

Electrolytes and Their Importance

Electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, are vital minerals that help to maintain fluid balance, muscle function, and nerve signalling.

During prolonged exercise, athletes can lose significant amounts of electrolytes through sweat, which can contribute to dehydration and decreased performance.

Consuming a sports drink with added electrolytes can help to replace these losses and support optimal performance.

In Summary

Dehydration can have a significant impact on sports performance, leading to decreased endurance, impaired cognitive function, increased risk of injury, and slower recovery times.

By understanding the importance of hydration and implementing strategies to maintain proper fluid balance, athletes can optimise their performance and overall health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I'm dehydrated during exercise?

Monitor your thirst, urine colour, and signs of fatigue or dizziness. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's essential to increase your fluid intake.

How much fluid should I drink during exercise?

Aim to consume 150-250 ml of fluid every 10-20 minutes during physical activity. Adjust your intake based on factors such as exercise intensity, environmental conditions, and individual sweat rate.

Is water sufficient for hydration, or do I need a sports drink?

For low to moderate-intensity exercise lasting less than an hour, water is usually sufficient. For longer-duration or high-intensity activities, sports drinks containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can be beneficial in replenishing fluid and energy stores.

What are some signs that I need to drink more fluids during exercise?

Signs that you may need to drink more fluids during exercise include thirst, dark yellow urine, fatigue, dizziness, headache, and muscle cramps.

Pay attention to these symptoms and increase your fluid intake accordingly.

Can I drink too much water during exercise?

Yes, it is possible to drink too much water, which can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels). To avoid this, aim to drink fluids containing electrolytes during prolonged or high-intensity exercise and listen to your body's thirst cues.

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