At the end of each practice, coach Eric Moore issues a stern warning about drinking to the Center Grove High School football team.
His message is always the same:
Water or sports drinks or both, it doesn’t matter. He wants players to drink early, drink often and drink intentionally to avoid the performance pitfalls of running on empty.
Hydration is that important.
“You can’t talk about it enough. You can’t tell the kids enough to drink, drink, drink,” Moore said, echoing a growing refrain of coaches in all sports. “We end every practice with hydration information. I even discuss this with the youngsters in our summer football camp series.”
In an era of heightened awareness about nutrition and advanced training techniques as they relate to performance, the importance of proper hydration is sometimes overlooked. Although most athletes understand the benefits of weightlifting, aerobic conditioning and a sound diet, they sometimes are less in tune with hydration as a vital part of the equation.
Dehydration, the loss of more fluids than the body takes in, can be just as detrimental — or worse — to an athlete’s performance. Fatigue, cramping, lethargy and headaches are among the common effects of dehydration.
In extreme cases, it can be fatal.
But the good news is, dehydration is easy to avoid by being mindful and proactive. Staying hydrated not only reduces health risks, it boosts overall performance.
Most experts recommend consuming fluid daily, in the form of water or non-sugary, noncarbonated sports drinks, half of one’s body weight in fluid ounces — an ongoing challenge for athletes who can lose 2 percent or more of their body weight through perspiration during intense activity, particularly in hot, humid conditions.
To stay hydrated, Lindsay Langford, a sports dietitian at the St. Vincent Sports Performance Center, advises athletes to carry a water bottle throughout the day and to drink periodically throughout the day, whether thirsty or not. She recommends water during the day and sports drinks, which replace electrolytes lost during sweating, just before, during and after a workout or competition.
“You need to drink about half your body weight in fluid ounces,” Langford said. “If they they lose more than 2 percent (of body weight), for most people that could be two to three pounds, that can decrease power output. It definitely decreases your performance.
“So, if you’ve got two players, one’s well-hydrated and one’s dehydrated by
2 percent, well, who’s going to be the better athlete, if they’re evenly matched?”
Moore knows the answer. And a sign hanging in Center Grove’s locker room provides a constant reminder for players.
“Our trainer has a poster in the training room that sums it all up: ‘There is no trophy given for first person cramping,’” Moore said. “When you cramp, you are done for that contest. Just ask LeBron James. Hydration is such a simple thing, (but it) might have cost the (Miami) Heat a championship.”
Moore was referring to Game 1 of the recent NBA Finals, when James sat out the final four minutes of a close game that was won by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
Whether dehydration was the precise cause of King James’ infamous cramping episode is not known. But cramping is among the many debilitating effects of dehydration, which is why local coaches have become more assertive in recent years making sure athletes take steps to avoid it.
Staying hydrated is a message Center Grove girls cross-country coach Wes Dodson constantly delivers.
“It’s essential,” said Dodson, who recommends his athletes consume 64 ounces of water before a workout, then 16 ounces for every pound lost during a workout. “When you’re dehydrated, you can’t run at your potential, and your time will suffer by huge amounts, and sometimes kids can’t even finish (races).”
To make sure she finishes races and finishes strong, Center Grove junior cross-country runner Annie Gillum has a little trick to remind herself to drink up throughout the day.
“I just usually prepare myself a cup of water in morning before school to make myself drink more,” said Gillum, who makes a point to drink continually throughout the day. “We talk about how you need to stay hydrated every day, because if you don’t, your running’s going to be so much harder on you.
“You’re not going to be able to perform as well as you should, so we talk about it as a team a lot.”
Hydration is a familiar topic on the Whiteland Community High School football team, as well.
Each day before practice, every Warriors’ football player downs a bottle of water donated by parents. Moreover, coach Darrin Fisher posts a sign reminding players to not only drink up but monitor hydration by the telling sign of urine color — the lighter, the better. Or as Langford at St. Vincents advises, “Look for light lemonade, not apple juice.”
The best time to hydrate is before you become thirsty. If you wait until then, it might already be too late.
It’s a mantra Moore never tires of repeating.
“What most people and athletes don’t get is, when you start cramping and you start feeling so bad, weak and feeling like you have little strength, it’s too late (to recover) for that game,” Moore said. “If that happens, we make sure they are not in practice or game situations. They now just rest, hydrate, rest, hydrate continually.
“Trojan football players can be seen daily walking around with their gallon water jugs to class and down the hallway. That makes me feel good and confident that what the coaches and trainers are saying are being reinforced by the parents at home.”