The body needs water for every function, including digestion, the proper absorption of nutrients, turning food into an energy source, muscle building, as a way to transport nutrients, eliminating waste products and toxins, and regulating body temperature. The better the body is hydrated, the higher the level of performance that can be maintained.
If your body loses too much fluid, you become dehydrated, which can cause you to feel tired or cramped. Severe dehydration can cause heat stroke and possibly death.
Many players equate dehydration with thirst, but there’s a difference. You can satisfy thirst with a drink. Dehydration, on the other hand, is chronic and can affect physical and technical performance. When your body sweats, it loses electrolytes as well as water. Electrolytes keep the fluids in balance between cells.
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.
How Much to Drink
The typical advice for an average person is to consume at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day. That amount varies with the size of the person. Activity level, weather, and athletic performance also affect the amount that should be consumed.
In general, an athlete should increase the eight, eight-ounce glass rule by about 15%, and by more than that if they train at high temperatures and/or high humidity.
Keep in mind that hydration is just as important during cold weather as hot. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry about dehydration.
What To Drink
Hydrating with water is usually the best choice, but sports drinks do have advantages in certain circumstances since a good sports drink contains carbohydrates and glucose, which provide energy and helps prevent muscle fatigue.
There’s no need to drink sports drinks when hydrating in the days leading up to a tournament as the carbs will be wasted. And frequently consuming sports drinks can cause cavities, so it’s best to save them for games or periods of extreme exertion.
Another possibility is to dilute sports drinks with water in a two or three to one ratio.
As to other fluids:
Juice is fine, but in moderation.
Soda isn’t a good choice, since the carbonation can cause an upset stomach, and the carbonation and excessive sugar content can actually cause dehydration. Avoid soda in the days leading up to a game or tournament. Caffeinated beverages (these can include iced tea, colas, or coffee drinks) should be avoided as well.
Milk is heavy on the stomach and should be avoided prior to a game.
When To Start Hydrating
The best way to stay well hydrated is to increase fluid intake several days before a game or tournament and continue for a few hours after the match is over.
A good rule of thumb is to increase your fluids daily in the two to three days leading up to a game or tournament. On game day, take in fifteen to twenty ounces (depending on your age and size) over a two to three hour period leading up to the game. Drink about eight ounces in the half-hour leading up to the game. Be sure to drink during the game, taking sips when possible. Don’t drink too much at once or you could feel weighed down or uncomfortable.
After the game and especially between games at a tournament, hydrate with a sports drink to replenish your energy. Drink plenty of water for a couple of days after the tournament.
A Word of Caution
While you might think that if eight glasses of water are good, eight gallons would be better, that is DEFINITELY not the case. Over-hydration, or water poisoning, is a real possibility for those who drink any liquid to excess.
This can be fatal, and is the result of osmotic imbalance (the imbalance of fluid on the inside versus the outside of cells) and a drop in electrolytes. The condition usually occurs when individuals consume large quantities of water but don’t take in adequate amounts of electrolytes during periods of extreme exertion. In periods of extreme exertion, drinks containing electrolytes can be a good thing.
Quickly drinking large amounts of any liquid—even water—can be dangerous.
Planning Drinks for a Tournament
While bottled water and energy drinks are available at the club snack stand during a tournament, they’re expensive. Players who bring or buy bottled water tend to take a few gulps and toss the bottle to the ground when they reenter the game. When they come out again, it’s impossible to tell which bottle is theirs so they grab another. This can get expensive. Teams can easily go through two cases of bottled water in one game on a hot day.
As an alternative, take a refillable insulated water bottle as well as a two-gallon insulated cooler filled with water. Freeze large blocks of ice in plastic containers and put those in the jug along with plenty of ice cubes. This allows your child to refill their water bottle numerous times over the course of the tournament. The water stays cold, you don’t have to pay for bottled water, and he won’t have to fill up at the hotel. (Hotel water and ice can have an off taste.)
Some say that lukewarm water absorbs more quickly than cold, so experiment and see whether cold water is more refreshing or if you get a better pickup from water that isn’t chilled.
Properly hydrating can be a relatively effortless way to improve your level of play.