Advice about hydration can be baffling - How much do we need to drink? Do caffeinated drinks count towards our daily fluid intake? Is drinking to thirst the best way of monitoring hydration? Make light work of hydration, and get the most out of your fitness and sport performance with our simple guide to hydration in sport.

Why is hydration important?

Almost two thirds of our bodies are made up of water, and this fluid is vital for many bodily processes essential to life, yet hydration status can sometimes be overlooked. Hydration in sport is especially important during physical activity, because during exercise our body warms up as a result of a number of processes that occur in order to generate energy for muscle contraction. Consequently, our body responds by implementing cooling mechanisms to help control a rise in core body temperature, and in doing so helps to protect our organs. This includes increasing the amount of blood that is circulated to the skin’s surface to release internal heat, as well as sweating.

Most of us can lose up to 1 – 2 litres of fluid via sweat per hour of exercise, the upper limits being reached during endurance exercise in the heat. If this fluid is not replaced, we run the risk of being dehydrated, which can affect our body’s ability to effectively cool. Dehydration can lead to physiological strain such as dizziness and impaired exercise performance, making our workouts feel much harder. Also, cognitive function can be affected, resulting in reduced decision making abilities in sports such as football, rugby or tennis.

Extra attention to hydration status needs to be given during the summer months, as the heat will exacerbate fluid loss. This is especially apparent during hot or humid conditions and to a greater extent in those with a higher body mass. However by staying hydrated our core body temperature remains at a normal level, and we can keep our body cool.

So how much is a healthy dose of hydration?

Although drinking to thirst can sometimes be a good indication of hydration status, it shouldn’t be relied upon, especially if you exercise during the day.

Drink little and often:

European recommendations suggest that for the days that we aren’t losing too much fluid in the form of sweat, i.e a day off from the gym, men should aim to consume around 2 litres, or 4 x 500 ml bottles per day. Women on the other hand need to drink slightly less, about 1.6 litres, equating to about 3 x 500 ml bottles of water/day.

Remember to drink little and often to encourage your body to absorb fluid, rather than gulping down large volumes at once, as this will just make you need to pee more! When exerting yourself, hydration in sport comes into play. You’ll need to up your water intake according to the exertion levels you’re going through. There’s no exact figure here, but ensure you are replacing the fluids lost.

Also take into account any fluid you consume through tea, coffee and soft drinks, as any type of fluid contributes towards your total daily intake requirements.