Need-to-Know on Dehydration

by Anita Nolan | Last updated

Dehydration can seriously affect a player’s health and performance. After all, the body is made up of about sixty percent water, and players can lose as much as three quarts of water in a single game.

Dehydration means your body doesn’t contain the amount of water and fluid it needs to function properly. It can be caused by either not drinking enough water or other fluids, or by losing fluid, usually through vomiting or diarrhea. For younger players, a reduction in body weight during exercise by as little as two percent can cause dehydration, especially in the heat.

The body needs water for all its functions, including digestion, proper absorption of nutrients, turning food into an energy source, muscle building, transport of nutrients, elimination of waste products and toxins, and regulation of body temperature.

The better the body is hydrated, the higher the level of performance that can be maintained. In fact, proper hydration can be a relatively easy way to improve performance.  It requires little more than a conscious effort to drink sufficient fluids.

Many players equate dehydration with thirst, but there is a difference.  You can satisfy thirst with a drink.  Dehydration, on the other hand, is chronic and can affect physical and technical performance.

Electrolyte Balance is Important Too

When your body sweats, it loses electrolytes as well as water.  Electrolytes keep the fluids in balance between cells.

The following minerals are considered electrolytes: sodium, potassium, phosphate, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, and calcium.

Dehydration can cause an electrolyte imbalance, but there’s the possibility of too much of a good thing as well. Taking in too much water or fluid can cause your body’s electrolytes to be diluted.

Electrolyte imbalance (either due to dehydration or the excessive consumption of fluid) can cause the similar symptoms: thirst, headaches, dizziness, confusion, muscle pain, cramping, or twitches, dry mouth, and dark urine. Several of these symptoms are similar to those for dehydration.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Low or no urine output.  (Concentrated urine is dark yellow.)

Little or no tear production

Dry or sticky mouth

Lethargic, Tired

Noticeable thirst

Irritability

Decreased Performance

Nausea

Headache

Muscle Cramping

Dizziness

There are a few circumstances specific to soccer that put soccer players at risk for dehydration and heat-related illness. These include:

  1. Limited stoppage time.  Even when there is stoppage time, players don’t use the opportunity to drink.
  2. Games are sometimes played in high temperatures and humidity.
  3. Players tend not to drink enough, especially at tournaments and during summer camps.
  4. There’s often little opportunity to get out of the sun, even between games.

In addition, younger soccer players are more susceptible to dehydration than non-athletes or adults for several reasons.

First, younger players are easily distracted when they should be resting and rehydrating. (Ever notice those U-10 players running around between games?) They’re also less inclined to notice when they need to drink.

Younger players also don’t lose as much heat through sweating, and they absorb more heat when it’s hot, because their body-mass ratio is larger than that of adults. The smaller the child, the faster they absorb heat. The increased body heat increases the chances of dehydration.

Suggestions for Preventing Dehydration

  1. Players should wear light colors, if possible.
  2. Players should be well hydrated before starting physical activity. To hydrate, players should drink twelve to fifteen ounces of fluid about a half an hour before starting a warm up. Avoid fruit juices, soda, and caffeinated beverages (including iced tea or coffee drinks) prior to a game.
  3. While playing, drink as possible, even if you don’t feel thirsty. During each 15-20 minutes of play, a child or teen should drink about five ounces of fluid if they weigh less than ninety pounds.  They should drink closer to ten ounces of fluids if they weigh more than that.
  4. Once the game is over, drink water or a sports drink every fifteen to twenty minutes for the first hour. If the player is in a tournament, and/or playing on a hot, humid day, they should drink a sports drink that replaces electrolytes.
  5. Continue to drink throughout the rest of that day and into the next.

Monitor for Dehydration

A simple way for players to monitor their hydration is by checking their urine.  If it’s about the color of lemonade (pale yellow) they’re probably pretty well hydrated.  However, if it’s darker, similar to the color of apple juice, they player is probably dehydrated.

Tips to Deal with Dehydration

Should a player become dehydrated, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Rest the player in a cool place
  2. Have the player drink a sports drink that contains electrolytes
  3. If the player has more serious symptoms, it’s best to call 911 or get them to an emergency room.

It’s best to be proactive to prevent dehydration.  It’s easy to prevent.

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