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Hydration and Gymnastics: How Staying Hydrated Impacts Your Performance


You have probably been working extremely hard perfecting your performance fueling strategy this summer. Trying to build balanced meals, performance plates, and add in fueling snacks.


But did you know, adequate fueling is just one component to performing your best and allowing your body to recover. It is also critical to focus on your hydration!


That’s right! Hydration may seem simple and easy to do (just drink some water when you're thirsty...right?), but did you know that hydrating properly also requires some strategy and attention to detail?


Many people put all their energy into building performance plates and remembering to snack during practice, but forget that hydration is a key component to fueling too! 




Why is hydration so important for a gymnast? 


The human body is made up of anywhere from 60-70% water. Water is essential because every cell, tissue, and organ in your body is not only made up of water but also needs water to perform necessary physiological functions. Some important functions that the body needs water for:

  • To carry oxygen and nutrients around the body to cells and muscles

  • To regulate blood pressure

  • To regulate body temperature

  • To protect the heart

  • To prevent you from getting sick, as it flushes out the harmful bacteria and toxins that can accumulate

  • To help you recover by removing the byproducts of exercise that build up in the body

  • Helps run the gastrointestinal system, making sure you are able to use and get the most out of the food and the nutrients that you eat


How much water do I need?


The general rule of thumb is to drink about half of your bodyweight (in ounces) of water each day. For example, a 100lb athlete needs at least 50 ounces of water a day to be appropriately hydrated.


HOWEVER, as an athlete, you will absolutely need to drink more than this on days you are exercising, as this recommendation does not take an athlete’s increased activity level into consideration, which will also increase their fluid needs.


Everyone has differ hydration needs - how much you need do drink during a workout can depend on your personal size, activity type, amount of activity, weather/climate, how often you are outside, and what kind of sweater you are (Heavy/salty sweating vs lighter/non-salty sweat). A gymnast will likely need 8-16 oz of fluid in the two hours leading up to training, an additional 8-16oz per hour of training, and then up to 24oz 


Is water the only factor for stay hydrated for practice?


Staying hydrated not only means drinking enough fluid daily as well as before, during, and after workouts, but also involves maintaining the balance of fluid throughout the different parts of the body. This process also requires energy from carbohydrates (aka sugar) and electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals in your body that help maintain that fluid balance. Those that play a role in hydration are mainly sodium, potassium, and chloride. Electrolytes help maintain the right balance of fluid inside and outside your cells. Your body will experience fluctuations from things like eating or drinking, urinating, sweating, and breathing. 



This is why it is important to drink not only water, but also replenish with carbohydrates and electrolytes, which are often found in sports beverages like Gatorade.


There’s a big misconception that sports drinks are “too sugary” or “have too much sodium”. And while this may be true for a less athletic general kid or person, these drinks were specifically designed with athletes in mind. The sodium and sugar are included for a specific reason, due to their impact on fluid balance that allows the body to function properly and perform its normal physiological processes. 


How can I consume enough electrolytes? 


Sports beverages like Gatorade, Powerade, Liquid IV, and Skratch are great and easy ways to get key electrolytes and some carbohydrates all in one product! If sports beverages aren’t your cup of tea, you can try eating salty snacks like pretzels or goldfish crackers that will give you a boost of sodium as well as bananas, kiwis, or cantaloupe for some potassium. 


What does Dehydration look like? 


As opposed to hydration, dehydration occurs when you lose fluid quicker than you are able to replace it. The main consequence of dehydration is that the body does not have enough fluid to carry out its physiological functions. 


It is important to be aware of the signs of dehydration, including:

  • Thirst

  • Feeling tired and having low energy

  • Dry or sticky mouth 

  • Not peeing a lot

  • Dry cool skin

  • Headache

  • Muscle cramps

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Rapid heartbeat


The color of your urine can also tell you a lot about whether or not you are dehydrated. The goal is for your urine to be a pale yellow color, like lemonade. The more dehydrated you are, the darker yellow your urine will be.



Being dehydrated can have a significant negative impact on how you perform in the gym. This is because dehydration can cause you to feel tired and have less energy, as well as giving you headaches that can make it difficult to focus, and muscle cramps. You may also experience decreased endurance, which can make it difficult to make it through a routine or finish a tumbling pass. 


Is it possible to over-hydrate or drink too much water?


Believe it or not, it is possible to drink too much water. You may notice that when you drink more, you end up having to use the bathroom more. Usually, the main concern with over-hydration is not actually drinking too much water, but more so not consuming enough electrolytes along with it to help with the fluid balance in the body.  Hyponatremia is a dangerous consequence of drinking too much water, which occurs when there is not enough sodium in the blood. This can cause headache, thirst, dizziness, fatigue, mental confusion, and nausea. If you refer back to the urine color chart above and notice that your urine is clear (like water), you likely need to add electrolytes during your workout.


How can a gymnast maintain hydration status?


You may be feeling overwhelmed with all of the information you’ve just learned about and wondering what products are best for hydration. Will any product labeled as a “Sports Beverage” work? Simple answer - not all products are created equal! Hydration doesn’t have to be complicated! You don’t need to buy a ton of fancy products that claim to boost hydration. 


There are many different types of drinks a gymnast could choose to help with hydration as well as other fueling goals. All of these drinks are a part of many of our lives and play an important role at different times.


Water 


Water is great to drink at any time of day and should be your “go to” beverage. It is the easiest way to get fluids into your body! If you don’t love plain water and find it difficult to drink it all day long, try infused water, flavored water, decaf and herbal teas, or even sparkling water (although bubbles right before or during practice might lead to an upset stomach, or can simulate the feeling of fullness during a meal and result in under eating). 


Milk 


Milk is a powerhouse beverage for athletes! Not only is it great for hydrating, but it also contains Carbohydrates, Protein, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Potassium. Remember, not all non-dairy milk alternatives are equal substitutions, so be sure to read the nutrition label before making the swap! 



100% Fruit Juice


100% fruit juice can also be a strategic and beneficial drink for gymnasts. In addition to hydration, fruit juice can be a low-volume way to increase the amount of energy of any meal or snack because it contains quite a bit of carbohydrates. Additionally, fruit juice can also be a good source of important micronutrients. Orange juice is an excellent source of Vitamin C and is often fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D to promote bone health. Tart cherry juice and pomegranate juice are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin, which can help boost recovery. 


Unfortunately, fruit juice isn’t the perfect solution because it is lacking the fiber that the whole fruit contains. Because of this, fruit juice should not be used as a substitute for the color section on your plate. Fruit and vegetables should still be included at every meal and snack to ensure you are getting all the necessary nutrients that you need as a growing athlete! 


Electrolytes and Sports Drinks


Electrolyte drinks (fluid + electrolytes) can be used strategically for gymnasts in many situations, including before an early morning practice, during practices lasting more than 2 hours where you may or may not get a snack or meal break, practicing in hot and humid temperatures, of if you're a heavy sweater, salty sweater, or get frequent muscle cramps. 


Sports drinks (fluid + electrolytes + carbs) can be useful when you don’t have time for a snack at practice or you notice a drop in your energy after 90 minutes and you need some quick carbohydrates and electrolytes. This is a great option to not only replenish lost electrolytes, but also top off on energy, without causing possible GI distress that sometimes occurs when eating during training. 


Outside of intense exercise or long periods of time spent in the heat, it is more likely that you will have the opportunity to replace your electrolytes and carbohydrates with food.


The main takeaway?


Performing your best in the gym this summer (and all year long) will mean making hydration a priority and part of your fueling strategy. Make sure to have a drink with each of your meals and snacks, and a bottle to sip on in between. And during your practices, try getting a sip of a drink every 10-15 minutes and utilize sports drinks and electrolytes when necessary.


When you skip meals, don't drink throughout the day, and don't make performance fueling a priority, you can't expect to get the most out of your summer training. It's not just about giving 100% when you're in the gym, but also making what you do outside of the gym a priority. This is the best time of the year to start learning more about nutrition and implementing fueling strategies that have you feeling and training your best.




The Fueled Gymnast Academy is the is the simplest way for busy gymnast (and those who feed them) to learn the ins and outs of fueling their body as a high level gymnast so they can


  • have more energy, reduce the risk of injury, and perform their best

AND

  • feel confident and empowered to make their own food choices (and not just have someone tell them what they have to eat)





Fueling your body doesn't have to be a guessing game. And you don't have to figure it out on your own.

Comments


Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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