As any parent of a competitive age-group swimmer knows, an indoor pool tends to be a very hot and humid place even at the best of times. Pack in all the competitors and spectators at a day-long meet and the temperatures soar, with athletes in or around the pool losing fluids at a high rate.
Practices for competitive swimmers also tend to last a long time, during which athletes not only burn a lot of calories but lose a lot of water and electrolytes.
"Swimmer's definitely get dehydrated because they still sweat in the water," notes MomsTeam.com's hydration expert, Dr. Susan Yeargin. "On dry land athletes' sweat is seen on the body, but in a swimmer sweat is immediately swept away in the water as soon as it appears on the skin. So an athlete loses water through sweat still (more so than respiration) and becomes dehydrated."
While there are no formal studies of dehydration in swimming, Dr. Yeargin recalls doing a personal experiment when she was an athletic trainer for a swim team. She found, on average, that swimmers lost one liter of fluids (about 33 ounces) during the 2 hour practice.
To avoid dehydration, especially during long swim practices, swimmers should:
- Drink 17-20 ounces of a sports drink like Gatorade 2-3 hours before practice starts so they don't start already dehydrated;
- Drink 7 to 10 ounces of a sports drink every 10 to 15 minutes during practice to replace lost fluids and electrolytes, and provide the carbohydrates they need to refuel.
- Drink at least 20 ounces of fluid per pound of weight loss within 2 hours after practice ends to help rehydration.
Rehydrating with a sports drink during a two-hour practice will give them more energy and help them train harder, especially at the end of a long workout. And the better they train, the better they'll compete.