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Optimum Performance: Professional athletes and amateurs share this challenge

 It should be no secret that the hydrated (proper fluid intake) athlete is the more efficient and effective athlete. With the summer approaching and the temperature and humidity climbing, athletes of all shapes, sizes, and types – professional, college, high school and recreational – face the same challenge – to prevent dehydration. says that, “Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace lost fluids, you will get dehydrated.”

And, the causes of dehydration may include, “vigorous exercise, especially in hot weather; intense diarrhea; vomiting; fever or excessive sweating. Not drinking enough water during exercise or in hot weather even if you’re not exercising also may cause dehydration. Anyone may become dehydrated, but young children, older adults, and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk.”

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says the symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration may include: thirst, dry or sticky mouth, not urinating much, headache and muscle cramps, while the severe form of dehydration may cause an individual to not urinate, or have very dark yellow or amber colored urine, dry shriveled skin, irritability or confusion and dizziness or lightheadedness.

Story by

Mackie Shilstone,

Contributing writer

Last week I was invited to listen to a Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) Webinar – Nutrition in Sport: American Football. The first lecture was Hydration for Football Athletes presented by William M. Adams, MS, ATC and Douglas J. Casey, Ph.D, ATC – both of whom possess extensive resumes in the sports performance arena.

While the information presented was targeted to American football players and teams, there is a take-away message for all athletes who are exposed to high heat and humidity conditions during training and competition – such as the pro tennis sport that I currently encounter.

The presenters noted that research, “Suggest(s) that fluid needs and sweat losses are highly variable in football players. Linemen have been observed to lose large amounts of sweat due to their size and body mass, requiring large amounts of fluid to offset the sweat losses.”

In addition, “The combination of high environmental conditions, the requirement to wear protective equipment, and large muscle and/or fat mass increase a player’s sweat rate in order to attempt to dissipate the heat that is produced from the working muscles.”

Research points to the fact that, “Body temperature rises during exercise, and the rise is more pronounced with increasing levels of dehydration. Evidence has shown that for every 1% loss in body mass due to sweat losses, body temperature increases at a rate of 0.22°C (0.4°F). The increase in body temperature with increasing levels of dehydration increases thermoregulatory strain on the body, increasing the risk of exertional heat illness and reducing the ability to optimally perform.”

In fact, dehydration on a magnitude of >2% body mass has been shown in the scientific literature to cause performance deficits. Performance deficits include areas such as aerobic and anaerobic capacity, strength, power and cognitive function, which are all crucial components in American football, the presenters noted.

Adams and Casa recommended that athletes understand their fluid needs based on sweat rate; consume fluids throughout the day; have a water bottle with you at school/work; and restore all fluid losses after practice/games (and) before the subsequent bout of exercise.

For coaches, the recommendations include measuring an athlete’s sweat rate (bodyweights pre/post practice) to identify individual fluid needs based on sweat rate; allow athletes unlimited access to fluids during practice and games; also consider having more water stations and individual water bottles; and in extreme conditions, include modifications for more rest breaks for hydration and rest.

Whether you are a New Orleans Saint or weekend warrior, plan ahead when exercising in the heat.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently a fitness consultant to Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s fitness and wellness expert. Contact him at