It sounds like a simple question, “How hydrated are you?”, but is it? Do you know how you can check your hydration levels? Do you know why it’s important to be hydrated in the first place? Do you know that dehydration can be a risk factor for a potentially catastrophic condition? If you know the answers then maybe this post isn’t for you, but if you’re not sure… read on.

The summer has been a hot one and in many places extremely humid as well. Maintaining hydration levels is important to anyone who is physically active, but especially those in the midst of pre-season training camps. Maintaining appropriate hydration is one part of an overall nutrition plan that can help maximize athletic performance. Here are ten things you need to know about hydration:

1. Maintaining appropriate hydration levels is a constant effort. You should have a daily plan on how you will maintain your optimal hydration level for maximum performance. For recommendations on how to make hydration a part of your everyday nutrition plan: Nutrition and Athletic Performance Position Statement (2009).

2. Know the color of your urine. Looking at your urine can be an easy way for you to determine your hydration status throughout the day. I don’t know many of us that carry a urine spectrometer around so just remember: If you’re urine is the color of light lemonade you are hydrated, but if it looks like black iced tea then you are not. This URINE CHART is a great resource.

3. Know how to calculate your sweat rate. Along with checking the color of your urine this simple calculation can help you find your appropriate individual fluid intake levels. Recently, Camelbak™ has made it even easier by creating a hydration calculator that you can find HERE.

4. Use weigh-ins and weight charts to monitor your hydration status during preseason workouts. As you begin preseason and ramp up the frequency and intensity of your workouts monitoring weight loss during a given practice session can help you determine how much fluid you should consume following practice. The recommendation is to drink 24 fl oz for every pound of weight loss within two hours of concluding your workout. So, if you weigh 3 pounds less after a practice that ended at 4pm you should plan to consume 72 fl oz of fluids by 6pm.

5. Know the general hydration guidelines as a starting point. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends athletes consume fluids as follows: 1) 17 – 20 fl oz of fluid 2 – 3 hours before exercise; 2) 7 – 10 fl oz of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise; and 3) following activity consume the necessary fluids (based on weight chart) within two hours of finishing exercise. Remember, hyperhydration is possible using these guidelines, so when possible be sure to calculate your sweat rate and utilize individualized hydration guidelines.

6. Drink fluids based on your individualized sweat rate. Drinking when you are thirsty is not a good gauge for when and how much fluid to consume. Often when you are thirsty, you are already mildly dehydrated. Drink based on your hydration plan, not your thirst level. If water doesn’t encourage you to drink the necessary fluids, sports drinks are a reasonable alternative.

7. Dehydration is a major risk factor associated with exertional heat illness. Dehydration of only 2% – 3% of body weight can result in a significant performance decrease and significantly increase the risk of exertional heat illness. There is a spectrum of exertional heat illnesses that if caught early are not life-threatening, but exertional heat stroke (core body temperature above 104 degrees F) can lead to death if not treated quickly. Maintaining proper hydration in combination with other factors can help you avoid suffering an exertional heat illness (EHI).

8. Know the acclimatization guidelines for your sport. Acclimatization is the idea of ramping up your workouts over several days in order to let your body adapt. These guidelines are generally commonplace in sports such as football and provide a progression of workout intensity and the amount of equipment athletes wear. You can be more familiar with these guidelines by checking out this NATA Position Statement. The statement is specific to secondary schools, but is similar to what the NCAA and NFL require.

9. Be able to recognize signs of exertional heat illness (EHI) in a teammate and get help. Despite every effort to prevent conditions such as exertional heat illness it can still happen. Would you recognize EHI, especially exertional heat stroke if it was happening to you or a teammate? To learn more about these conditions check out this NATA Position Statement Executive Summary (full statement to follow), these resources from Korey Stringer Institute and the Athletes Saving Athletes program from Advocates for Injured Athletes.

10. Know your athletic trainer. If you have questions ask, s/he is there to help. If you do not feel well, let him/her know right away. If you do not have an athletic trainer know who to contact in an emergency. Other places you can check out for additional resources include: National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statements; Korey Stringer Institute; Gatorade Sports Science Institute and the American College of Sports Medicine Position Statements.