Athletes In Training: Hydration, Performance and Injury


Hydration is paramount to performance and energy during activity and life. When sweating during exercise, the fluid loss causes a reduction in plasma, the liquid medium of blood. As a result, the heart must work harder in order to circulate less blood and therefore less oxygen. It can affect performance and even lead to collapse. The most extreme conditions for dehydration occur when exercising in air that is hot and humid, because  the sweat accumulates around the pores, making it harder for the body to regulate its internal temperature. In order to avoid dehydration drink a glass of water within half an hour of exercise, or during warm-up. Drink 4 to 8 ounces of water for every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise, or every 3 to 4 miles of running and drink plenty of fluids after exercise. In hot, humid weather, wear synthetic sports fabrics designed to wick moisture away from the body, leaving pores open and cooling the body.

The main advantage of sports drinks and mixes is that they enhance the flavor of water and thus encourage the consumption of adequate amounts of fluid. The nutritional value of sports drinks is another matter; many of them do contain small amounts of electrolytes like potassium and sodium. However, it’s unlikely that these electrolytes need to be replenished, even after a long and grueling workout, if the body is healthy.

Many sports drinks also contain carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars, such as sucrose and fructose. These may provide some quick energy; however, the main concern when exercising is dehydration, not nutrition; and since carbohydrates will slow the absorption of water from stomach, sports drinks are not advisable during a workout. As for post-exercise replenishment, sports drinks are satisfactory. Sports drinks that contain protein or amino acids have no proven benefits; taken before or during exercise, they may, in fact, create stomach problems.

High altitudes have a lower volume of oxygen available in the air, which means the body must work much harder to supply itself with fuel during exercise. Even an altitude change of 2,000 feet above the level of normal activity the body is used to can bring with it such symptoms like enhanced fatigue, breathlessness, a small increase in heart rate and headaches. When vacationing at high elevations, allow 24 to 48 hours to acclimate; keep activity levels moderate; drink plenty of water; and avoid fatty food, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes, all of which can further interfere with the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. Advanced altitude sickness, which is rare under 8,000 feet, includes disorientation, severe breathless, hallucinations and coughing up blood.

For the average individual, the benefits of lifelong physical activity far outweigh the risks. However, it’s inevitable that at some point, that some type of minor, nagging pain will occur.

There are 3 categories of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs commonly used for the treatment of pain: aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. All three provide pain relief, but only aspirin and ibuprofen reduce inflammation as well, they are referred to as NSAIDs, thus actually speeding the healing process. Aspirin, however, is more likely to cause a bad stomach. If aspirin or ibuprofen is being used for its anti-inflammatory effect, then it will be necessary to build up a certain level of the drug in the body over several days of consistent consumption in order for it to work as an anti-inflammatory. If this is the desired effect, take the drug regularly, not just when the pain is acute.

With severe ruptures and contusions, avoid anti-inflammatory drugs for the first 48 hours, unless otherwise directed by a physician. During the initial stages, the drugs can actually increase bleeding by reducing the blood’s ability to clot. Corticosteroids can only be administered by a doctor and can dramatically decrease inflammation, and in some cases, such as bursitis, may resolve the condition completely. These drugs are potentially dangerous, though, so they should be used sparingly and only occasionally. If overused, they can actually weaken the tissue, leading to further injury.

Ice or cold therapy is an excellent remedy for pain and inflammation. It increases blood flow to the injured area by initially slowing down blood flow and constricting the blood vessels; the brain then perceives that area of the body as cold and sends more blood there to warm it up. Cold therapy has the added benefit of numbing the area, therefore decreasing pain. Keep a cold gel pack on the injury for up to 20 minutes and apply 2 to 4 times daily.

Heat also increases blood flow, but does so by opening up, or dilating, the blood vessels. It should not be used in the first 48 hours following an injury, as the dilation of the blood vessels can increase the active bleeding in the area. Heat can be applied in the form of an electrical heating pad, a hot bath, or a warm towel. If using range of motion exercises to rehabilitate an injured limb, precede the exercises with 15 to 20 minutes of heat, which relaxes and loosens the muscles and tendons.

Alternating cold therapy and heat as part of rehabilitation cycles fluids through an injured area. The cold therapy reduces the swelling and clears the area of fluids that have been sitting around in the affected limb or joint. The heat reintroduces fresh blood to help speed healing. Alternating between cold therapy and heat at home using one bucket filled with ice, and one filled with warm water. Immersion is effective because it bathes the entire joint and allows for movement while the joint is submerged, alternate between hot and cold for a 15 to 20 minute period.