Dehydration caught up to NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month. Toward the end of the race, Hamlin began feeling ill and was later treated for dehydration.
Hamlin’s case is an example of the essential role that proper hydration plays in sports performance and the danger that can result from not drinking enough fluids. Athletes pay close attention to nutrition and exercise, but hydration is easy to overlook.
“Maintaining adequate hydration is just as important as proper training and nutrition to achieve your top performance,” says Dr. Steven Chudik, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.
Hydration needs vary from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is to divide body weight in pounds by two and drink that many ounces of water daily. For example, a person weighing 160 pounds should drink about 80 ounces of water a day.
When it comes to fueling up for a sporting event, practice or training, Dr. Chudik recommends sticking to water and sports drinks, and staying away from energy drinks, which contain potentially dangerous stimulants.
After a vigorous workout or sporting event, Dr. Chudik says that the best thing to reach for might be low-fat chocolate milk rather than water. A number of studies have shown that drinking low-fat chocolate milk after a workout aids in recovery and improves future performance.
“Other benefits of low-fat chocolate milk not included in studies are cost and availability,” says Dr. Chudik.