In our part of the universe, summer is hot and that makes sports hydration a critical issue for both safety and athletic performance. Training in the summer, especially in a non-air conditioned facility, should give coaches, parents and athletes some concern both about the dangers of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat illnesses, dehydration and the potential decrease in practice performance from lack of hydration. While dehydration is the major concern, during the summer, proper hydration/drinking habits apply to practice year-round.
Dehydration = Decrease in Athletic Performance
Gymnasts should know how important sports hydration is to get the most out of summer practice. Being more than two percent dehydrated can cause a measurable and noticeable (more likely noticed by the coach, than by the gymnast) decline in performance. While gymnastics practices are not as high on the risk list for fatal dehydration as some other sports, many gymnastics coaches do have their gymnasts run more in the summer than much of the rest of they year, so gymnasts should know that dehydration is potentially fatal and that lack of hydration will decrease their performance.
Develop a Summer Hydration Strategy and Plan
To keep fluids handy and avoid dehydration, gymnasts could just carry a water bottle in their gym bag (to carry around with them to each event), store one in their gym locker or drink from the gym water fountain. But to improve performance, they may want or need more than an occasional drink of lukewarm water. Here are some hydration strategies and products so that gymnast’s can create their own individual hydration plan and workout to their fullest potential all summer long (and avoid the risks and dangers of dehydration).
Drink Every 15 – 20 Minutes on Schedule, Not Just When Thirsty
While coaches cannot control hydration before and after practice, they can certainly make sure proper hydration happens during practice. Many gymnasts, especially female gymnasts will say they are not thirsty. Gymnasts should drink every 15 – 20 minutes during practice whether they are thirsty or not. Coaches should insist upon it.
Young and Pre-Teen Gymnasts Have Special Fluid Needs
The most important part of a young gymnast’s diet may not be what they eat. It can be what and how much they drink. Drinking water or sports drinks before, during and after sports is even more important for young children and pre-teens because they have special fluid needs as compared to teenage gymnasts. Because gymnasts are often small and have little body fat for energy, parents and coaches should be making sure they take precautions to prevent dehydraton, heat stroke and heat illnesses and make sure their gymnasts follow recommended sports hydration guidelines.
Sports Hydration – Critical to Cooling Down
Cooling the body is one of the most important functions of water and hydration. As a young gymnast works out, their muscles generate heat, raising their body temperature. When their body gets hot, it sweats (some gymnasts sweat more than others). Sweat evaporating is one of the cooling processes of the body. It is possible that if a gymnast does not replace the water lost by the process of sweating by taking in more fluids regularly, that their body’s water balance will be upset. This can cause their body to overheat and potentially dehydrate.
Drink Before, During and After Practice
To keep from becoming dehydrated during summer gymnastics practices, gymnasts should drink fluids before, during and after practice. Whatever drink gymnasts choose, they should drink it cold and in frequent small amounts. This proven strategy ensures the fluids will be absorbed more quickly ensuring they are well hydrated. Dehydration can cause a gymnast’s blood volume to drop, which lowers their body’s ability to transfer heat, forces their heart to beat faster while doing less exercise and decreases practice performance in a number of ways – capacity, focus, energy, attention span, etc.
Planning and Keeping On a Proper Hydration Schedule
Sports science has shown that when athletes plan their hydration schedule, especially during workouts, they drink more frequently and consume more fluid during a workout than athletes who don’t plan. Planning helps gymnasts remember how much they need to drink. Parents can help by providing gymnasts with the right amount of liquids, in one or more bottles, that they need to drink in a practice. Using bottles where the liquids are visible allows gymnasts to figure out how much they have had and how much more they need to drink. For example, by halfway through practice they should have already drank half their drink(s) or half their bottles. Containers with liquid measurements visibly marked on the bottle can help gymnasts keep track, drink by drink.
When to Hydrate – Before, During and After
Pre-Hydrate to Practice Well
Gymnasts should drink one to two hours before practice. If this is not possible, (got up late for an early morning practice) drink 15 – 30 minutes before working out. Worst case scenario – drink right before you start warm-ups when you get to the gym. Drinking fluids prior to practice has been shown to help reduce and/or delay the negative effects of dehydration.
Sports Hydration Schedule
To ensure that gymnasts are drinking enough, coaches and parents should see that they drink fluids according to the following hydration schedule:
1 to 2 hours before practice: 4 to 8 ounces of cold liquid
10 to 15 minutes before practice: 4 to 8 ounces of cold liquid
1 to 2 hours before practice: 8 to 16 ounces of cold liquid
10 to 15 minutes before practice: 8 to 12 ounces of cold liquid
Hydration During Practice
Pre-Puberty Gymnasts: Every 20 minutes:
Between 5 and 8 ounces of a sports drink, depending on weight
Approximately 4 ounces for a gymnast weighing less than 80 pounds
Approximately 6 ounces for a gymnast weighing 100 pounds
Approximately 8 ounces for a gymnast weighing 120 pounds or over
Post-Puberty Gymnasts: Every 20 minutes:
Between 5 and 10 ounces of a sports drink, depending on weight
Approximately 5 ounces for a gymnast weighing less than 80 pounds
Approximately 8 ounces for a gymnast weighing 100 pounds
Approximately 10 ounces for a gymnast weighing 120 pounds or over
Hydration After Practice
A gymnast’s hydration schedule for after practice is designed to replace any net fluid lost during the practice. Scientifically, gymnasts should drink at least 24 ounces of a sports drink for every pound of weight lost within two hours after practice. Since a gymnast is not likely to get up and weigh themselves every morning before practice and more likely is doing something, somewhere after practice where they cannot weigh themselves, they should take care to finish all of their pre-measured practice drink and then drink 24 ounces of a sports drink after practice.
Eat Your Liquid
Drinking water or sports drinks is not the only way to stay hydrated. Eating water-rich fruits, vegetables and/or a few other foods that contain key nutrients that can boost and protect a gymnast and their practice performance as well. So, in addition to filling your water bottles, you can add food snacks for hydration, energy, taste, nutrients and variety. Normally 20 percent of people’s water intake comes from eating food anyway. Besides providing hydration, foods provide plenty of healthy nutrients to fuel summer practices.
What Can You Eat to Replace Drinks?
Blueberries, Apples, Bananas, Cantaloupe, Peaches, Plums, Apricots and Strawberries
These fruits are mostly water and are rich in potassium, one of the electrolytes lost through sweat. Potassium and sodium combine to work to maintain the body’s fluid levels and help regulate heartbeat and blood circulation. One cup of each contains between five and 10 percent of your daily needs.
For Vitamin C – Citrus Fruits, like Grapefruit, Oranges, Kiwi, Papaya and Watermelon
In addition to the hydration boost, these provide Vitamin C maintains cartilage and joint flexibility and helps to protect your skin. Sweat negatively affects your skin vitamin C helps counter those negative effects.
Vegetables – Cucumbers, Celery, Radishes, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Spinach, Eggplant, Broccoli and Bell Peppers
Vegetables can not only provide provide hydration, but a wide range of vitamins and minerals including, but not limited to the antioxidant vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, lycopene, silica and iron.
Calculating Food Hydration as Part of Your Hydration Plan
Eating four ounces of watermelon is just about like drinking four ounces of water, but is actually better since it also provides vitamin C. So there is a simple one-to-one relationship between liquid and food hydration from these fruits and vegetables, which makes it really easy to calculate when you are designing your plan and filling your water bottles and preparing snacks.
Cold Liquids are Better for Summer Practices
Scientific research shows that athletes who drink cold beverages before and during their practices can exercise longer than those who drink warm beverages. And in a study published this year, athletes who had an ice slushy drink can exercise longer than those who had a cold drink. In both cases, the drink, that was colder, lowered body temperature and lowered athletes’ perception of how hard they were working, allowing them to work out longer.
Slush It Up
Before practice, have a slushy drink made with crushed ice and your favorite sports drink. To keep your workout drinks chilled to slushy consistency, while you workout, fill a up bottle halfway with your drink, freeze it overnight, and then fill it to the top with more cold drink to fill the rest of the bottle. You can also make slushy drinks and keep them icy cold in a thermos or cooler.
What to Drink?
For short 45 to 60 minute long workouts, a few drinks of water from the water fountain will usually suffice. But for three hour high intensity summer practices, especially if there is intense conditioning or a lot of running involved, it’s important to choose a sports drink that has the right combination of water, carbohydrates, and electrolytes, which includes important compounds, such as sodium and potassium, because they can help your body retain fluid.
Sports drink manufacturers have done a lot of research and now have specialty sports drinks custom designed for before practice, during practice and after practice. Because gymnasts are small, because gymnastics practices are not as intense as constantly running (which is what the sports drinks were primarily designed for) and/or in order to save money on sports drinks, they can be watered down to half potency or even one-third potency for small gymnasts.
Low or Zero-Calorie Sports Drinks
We recommend drinking low or zero-calorie sports drink options (to avoid the sugar rush and crash cycle and avoid empty calories), such as G2 , PowerAde Zero, Nuun U or Crystal Light Hydration for gymnastics workouts. They allow gymnasts to drink a lot of fluid without tons of empty calories.
Gatorade and Powerade
Gatorade sports drinks (a Pepsi product) come in 3 configurations – Gatorade Prime 01 for before practice, G2 – the low-cal version sport drinks for during practice and Gatorade Recover 03 for after practice. Powerade sports drinks (Coca Cola products) include Powerade Zero, a zero-calorie sports drink with electrolytes and no carbohydrates and Powerade ION4, a formulation that contains four key electrolytes, in the same ratio that is typically lost in sweat.
If It Tastes Good, They Drink More
Sports drinks have been shown to increase gymnasts’ voluntary drinking by up to 90% and can better prevent dehydration as compared to drinking plain water. Taste is certainly a key factor in how much gymnasts drink and scientific research has proven that athletes are likely to stay better hydrated if they enjoy what they are drinking.
Read the Fine Print on the Label
But parents need to read sports drink labels closely to find out the intended and correct use of each product. Gymnasts using one of the new endurance sports drinks is not really a problem, but is not necessary. While numerous studies have shown that caffeine boosts performance during exercise, caffeine is not recommended for children by the American Academy of Pediatrics, so parents need to check ingredients to make sure their is no caffeine. Caffeine for post-puberty gymnasts may be okay occasionally, but only when they are lagging and could improve their practice with an energy boost. Constant use of caffeine and energy drinks can cause anyone’s body to adapt and loose the energy effect.