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Young sports team drinking water

The Importance of Proper Hydration Before, During and After Exercise

By Deborah Fischi, ATC

Although many high school athletes participate in off-season conditioning to prepare for upcoming tryouts and practices, there is always a concern for dehydration and muscle cramping. Athletic trainers try to educate families and stress the importance of proper hydration, sleep, nutrition and, most importantly, paying attention to one’s own body. Athletes often ignore signals their body is giving them, choosing to "push through it" out of concern for appearing weak or looking like they are trying to get out of practice. It is extremely important for athletes to be honest with their athletic trainer about any symptoms before an injury or other health issue occurs.


It all starts with proper hydration. How much water should you be drinking prior to activity? Water intake is critical. Water regulates your body temperature and lubricates your joints as well as transporting nutrients to give your body energy and keep you healthy. If you’re not properly hydrated, your body will not perform at its highest level. A good way to determine your hydration level is by checking the color of your urine. If it is light yellow or almost clear you are considered well hydrated. If your urine is dark yellow or even brown this is a sign of dehydration.

How much do you need to drink to be properly hydrated? There are several factors to consider, including heat, humidity, sweat rate and length of time of activity. The following is a guideline from the American Council on Exercise on how much water to consume before, during and after exercise.

  • 17-20 ounces of water 2-3 hours prior to exercise
  • 8 ounces of water 20-30 minutes before exercise or during your warm-up
  • 7 -10 ounces of water every 10-20 minutes during exercise
  • 8 ounces of water within 30 minutes after exercise

It’s important for athletes, especially during preseason workouts, to measure how much fluid they lose in each session to get a good indication of how much water replacement they actually need. This is done easily by stepping on a scale before and after each workout, noting the amount of weight loss. It is recommended that athletes should drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost during activity. It is very important to replace fluid lost during activity. Not replacing water may lead to dehydration. If an athlete is participating in a high intensity activity for a prolonged period of time (more than an hour), replacing fluid loss with a sports drink is helpful as it also replenishes electrolytes. Just remember to steer clear of sports drinks containing high levels of sugar.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration:

An athlete with any of the following signs or symptoms should be removed from activity. These symptoms should be carefully monitored, but will often resolve by drinking water, sitting in the shade or taking off equipment to cool the body.

  • Dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin (no longer sweating)
  • Rapid heartbeat

Severe dehydration can result in muscle weakness, mental confusion and even loss of consciousness. If this occurs, call 911 immediately for further treatment.

Muscle Cramping and Treatment

Cramping occurs when there is a tightening of the muscle causing pain. Stretching the muscle will often bring relief. Cramps are frequently quite painful and the athlete may need help. One of the best ways to help resolve a cramp is by massaging the muscle while it is stretched. Drinking plenty of water is also advised. If cramping is severe, quick doses of sodium or potassium can also help. This can include items such as mustard, pickle juice, bananas or salt packets, if available. If severe cramping continues, the athlete should be seen by a physician. Athletes prone to muscle cramps should make an extra effort to hydrate before and during activity.

Education and prevention can go a long way in keeping athletes healthy, injury-free and on the field, playing the sport they love!

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.