Most people know staying hydrated while playing rugby is an important part of staying healthy and performing at your best.
But drinking too much plain water can hinder performance and, in the extreme, be dangerous.
To reap the performance benefits that being optimally hydrated can deliver, proper planning and a thorough understanding of the science of hydration are vital.
Here, sports scientist Andy Blow, co-founder of leading hydration consultancy Precision Hydration, explains the value of topping up your fluids before, during and after playing a rugby match.
It is important to get into a good hydration routine even before training. It isn’t necessary every time you exercise, but it can pay dividends before key sessions, especially when you are likely to sweat a lot.
Despite the relatively obvious benefits of starting exercise well hydrated, a recent study of more than 400 amateur athletes showed that about 31% were turning up to training sessions – and, in some cases, competitions – dehydrated.
A stronger electrolyte drink before tougher training sessions can really help to maintain a much more consistent performance. Typical sports drinks contain around 200-500 milligrams of sodium per litre, but the average athlete loses around 950mg/l.
Research by NASA has found that stronger drinks are more effective when it comes to retaining fluid and maintaining blood volume. Aim for drinks that contain about 1,500mg of sodium per litre as this is the sweet spot between performance and palatability.
As with training, starting well hydrated is probably the most important aspect of hydration in rugby because matches are relatively short and intense.
Consuming a strong 500ml electrolyte drink between an hour and 90 minutes before a game can significantly improve performance – and may also help you avoid cramp, which can be triggered by sodium depletion.
But don’t drink too much plain water. It can lead to a condition called hyponatremia – a condition caused by diluted sodium levels in the blood.
Symptoms can include nausea, headaches, cramp and it can even lead to seizures, put you in a coma or even prove fatal in very extreme cases.
During matches, it is important to listen to your body and drink whenever you feel you need to.
It’s handy to have bottles of water and electrolyte drinks available on the touch line, especially when playing in hotter temperatures.
When doing any physical sport, we lose sodium as we sweat. This electrolyte plays a key role in maintaining fluid balance and cognitive function.
It is, therefore, advisable to drink electrolyte drinks to help replace those lost through sweat, especially if you’re a heavy and/or salty sweater, or if you tend to suffer with cramp towards the end of games.
While it is clearly important to stay hydrated during a match, it is likely you’ll be somewhat dehydrated when you finish.
It’s just not feasible to replace all your losses during a game in most cases, so it’s important to restore balance after the final whistle.
Typically, just drinking water and eating as normal after the match is enough, but if you’re suffering with cramp, feel especially fatigued or you plan to train the next day, a more proactive approach to hydration would be advisable.
In those cases, sip on a 500ml bottle of a stronger electrolyte drink in the hours after you finish.
Precision Hydration works with several leading Premiership and international rugby clubs, as well as a long list of teams from the Premier League, NFL, NBA and F1, including Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Williams Racing.
For more information visit www.precisionhydration.com