Recognizing And Preventing Dehydration In Athletes

Author(s): 
By Mark A. Caselli, DPM, and John Brummer, DPM

How To Determine Hydration Status

   One should evaluate the hydration status of athletes before starting any rigorous sports activity. Athletes should begin all exercise sessions well hydrated. A recent study found two-thirds of the pediatric athletes evaluated were dehydrated before practice.    There are several ways to approximate hydration status. Assuming the athlete is properly hydrated, pre-exercise body weight should be relatively consistent throughout the entire exercise session. One should determine the percentage difference between the post-exercise body weight and also determine the baseline hydrated body weight. The post-exercise weight should be no more than 2 percent less than the pre-exercise weight.    A simple method to determine hydration status is to compare urine color (from a sample container) with a urine color chart. A light “straw” color (1 or 2) is indicative of being well hydrated while a dark color (5 or 6) represents significant dehydration. Measuring urine specific gravity with a refractometer is less subjective than comparing urine color and can also be used. For color analysis or specific gravity, midstream urine should be collected for consistency and accuracy. Since body weight changes during exercise give the best indication of hydration status, one should determine an athlete’s weight and urine measurement before the exercise session and then determine their weight after exercise to estimate fluid balance.    All athletes participating in sports requiring weight classes such as wrestling or rowing should have their hydration status checked at weigh-in to ensure they are not dehydrated. A urine specific gravity less than or equal to 1.020 or urine color less than or equal to 4 should be the upper range of acceptable on weigh-in. Procedures such as taking diuretics, exercising in rubber suits or in a sauna to reduce body weight can produce dramatic dehydration.

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