Can Dehydration Impact Your Performance During Exercise?

Waterlogic & Stadia Sports
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Can Dehydration Impact Your Performance During Exercise?

In this article, Waterlogic cover everything you need to know about drinking the right fluids at the right time to ward off the ill-effects of dehydration, suggesting the optimal way to hydrate during events like running, hiking & trekking, and extreme sports. We also discuss the symptoms of dehydration, ensuring you know when it’s time to take that extra sip of water; or when you need to replenish lost electrolytes with the specific foods and energy drinks that help you take minerals onboard. It can take anywhere from 24-48 hours to properly rehydrate post-exercise, so consider installing a bottleless water dispenser at work to get your body back to peak.

Did you know the average person loses up to 1.5 litres of fluid per hour through sweating during exercise? That’s the equivalent of two large water bottles. This level of dehydration can adversely impact your sports performance causing issues such as:

  • cramp, muscle spasms and soreness;
  • more rapid fatigue;
  • problems with your concentration.

The International Olympic Committee says dehydration impairs performance in most events; whether you compete in endurance, team sports, power events or sprints. As internal water levels go down, your blood becomes thicker, which forces your heart to work harder. Moreover, dehydration makes it harder for your muscles to access fats and burn them as fuel, forcing them to rely on a limited supply of sugars.

Your muscle cells are around two-thirds water. They simply must have water to function, so it’s vital you rapidly replace any fluid lost during exercise to maintain both your energy and performance levels. Your electrolyte balance is equally critical. When you sweat, you lose minerals such as sodium, magnesium and potassium, and this loss is the main cause of painful cramping.

However, if you drink the right fluids, you will maintain consistent performance without falling victim to the symptoms of dehydration. Read on to discover how a lack of fluid will impact you in different sporting contexts – such as running, trekking, and extreme sports – and learn how much fluid you must take on to avoid suffering any ill effects.




Can dehydration impact performance during exercise? Stadia Sports Tips for Hydration when Running

Two-percent loss of body weight can significantly reduce running performance, as muscle cells struggle to produce energy and muscle contractions slow. You may feel fatigued; your legs get heavy and you quickly run out of steam.

Runners should always carry a water bottle when exercising and, if headed on a longer-distance run, consider packing a sports drink as the sodium helps the body to absorb water. When home, drink plenty of fluid and replace potassium with foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, or yoghurt.

For lighter runs lasting up to an hour, water will suffice during the activity, preferably sipping little and often. That’s because hydration is a core element of good performance, whether going out for a light jog or taking on a marathon. When you run, you breathe harder and sweat more; so, you rapidly lose liquid. Marathon runners are advised to carry sports drinks to avoid hyponatremia (sodium imbalance) and to maintain sufficient glycogen levels.



Can dehydration impact performance during exercise? Stadia Sports Tips for Hydration when Hiking and Trekking

These activities are of relatively low intensity, however, are likely to last many hours. Common signs of dehydration during endurance activities include dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Prolonged dehydration can lead to muscle breakdown, kidney issues, even heatstroke in extreme conditions.

If hot or humid, or at altitude, hikers should aim to drink one litre per hour. Additionally, eat bananas for potassium, drink both water and orange juice to balance sodium, and beware the signs of dehydration.



Can dehydration impact performance during exercise? Stadia Sports Tips for Hydration when doing extreme sports

If you climb, ski, run ultramarathons, or are a triathlete, you likely spend time at altitude, in the ocean, under a burning sun, or scaling ice caps. These activities require mental awareness as much as physical ability. Thus, dehydration can be lethal in such instances.

Two-percent body mass loss caused by dehydration also impacts short-term memory, motor speed, information processing ability, coordination, as well as concentration. So, when in high-risk environments, such symptoms could be fatal. As a rule of thumb, studies suggest that 250ml of water 30 minutes before exercise with half a litre of fluid within 30 minutes of finishing can prime your body for high-intensity exercise.

Post-exercise rehydration is integral to recovery. Experts advise drinking 50-percent more fluid than that lost during exercise, spreading the additional consumption over the course of a couple of days. It can take between 24-48 hours to rehydrate.



Can dehydration impact performance during exercise? Stadia Sports Tips for Hydration


Drinking too much fluid is as dangerous as not drinking enough, as over-hydration creates an electrolyte imbalance and can lead to hyponatremia. The most common method is checking the colour of your urine. If you take a pit-stop from your activity and your urine is an unhealthy shade of brown, it’s time to top up. If it’s a light-yellow, then you’re OK to restart.

The more prescient advice comes from one study that simply suggests drinking when you feel thirsty, however this could mean you’re already dehydrated. Former tennis world number one, Andy Murray, uses an Osmolarity Check to monitor his hydration and mineral levels; this uses urine analysis to measure mineral concentration and highlights his hydration.


For exercise less than one-hour, regular water is enough to hydrate. It is only when you exercise at a higher intensity, you may require a specialist sports drink to replace lost sodium, potassium and magnesium. Should your exercise call for a sports drink, Web MD advice states you should ideally look for those with 14g carbohydrates, 28mg potassium and 100mg sodium per 225ml.

Extreme athletes such as triathletes and ultra-marathon runners face challenges; headaches, nausea, and confusion. Arid desert terrain, or freezing mountains, are not uncommon while in cold environments, hydration prevents hypothermia by maintaining blood volume. Above 15,000 feet, thinner air increases breathing rates and causes dehydration, so drinking little and often is the best advice up high.



Can dehydration impact performance during exercise? Stadia Sports Tips


Listen to what your body may be telling you. This includes paying attention to dehydration symptoms, or any changes whilst staying active. If dehydration is severe, it might be life threatening. If you’re in a situation where your dizziness is intense, or you have other signs like strong thirst or a headache, you may need to seek medical help to get some IV fluids.

Whatever the weather and whatever the sport, make sure you take care of yourself physically. For more health and wellbeing tips, visit our sport and fitness blog.

9 months ago