Creating a Hydration Plan for Athletes

Creating a hydration plan can be the difference between hydration and dehydration. We all know that we need to stay hydrated however knowing and doing are two different things. This article is about creating a GENERAL hydration plan for athletes which means meeting your daily, overall needs, not your exercise-specific needs. However, I can say that being hydrated in general is definitely beneficial to exercise because you are not starting at a deficit, having to chug fluids right before activity, or playing catch up during activity. 

As an athlete, your hydration needs for exercise and recovery differ depending on MANY things such as heat/humidity, length of practice, clothing/gear required, location of practice, sweat rates, and more. For activity, you can track your sweat rate using something like a Gatorade sweat patch or you can work with a Registered Dietitian like myself to nail down your specifics. 

Let’s get started with creating a daily hydration plan. First up, how much? Google this question and you will see approximately 2987597457 recommendations. How do you know what is right for you?

I like to make simple recommendations because simple works and is easy to remember:

 Ages 18+ : 1/2 your body weight in ounces. 

Example: 180 pounds = 90 ounces a day or  about 11 cups

Ages 14-18: 10 cups for females, 14 cups for males

Now that you have the amount covered, let’s get to planning.
First, document your activity time first. I like to start with any activity planned out for the day and work out from there. 

About 30 minutes out from activity you want to consume about 8 ounces (look you already have one cup down!).  

About two hours before activity you can make a note to consume another 16 ounces. So if you are keeping score we are already 3 glasses down- Yesss!

When it comes to during activity, needs can vary but ranges are around  32 ounces per hour for 18 and up, and  34-50 ounces per hour of activity for ages 14-18. 

Next, we can add in some post-workout fluids. Again needs vary GREATLY related to sweat rates (and you may need a sports drink!) but can you mix in at least 16-24 ounces here or right after? That would be 2-3 glasses here and if you are keeping score 6 total- woo-hoo! 

REMEMBER! test fluids pre & during practice setting first, everyone’s tolerance levels are different and you may need more or less- consult a Registered Dietitian for more information!

So let’s branch out from there. The next things we can look into are things we are already doing (where are you already consuming water or other fluids? Be sure to add it in!) and meal times. For meals, can you work in 8-16 ounces per meal? If you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner that is anywhere from 3-6 glasses of water. 

At this point, we are potentially 12 glasses in if you aim for 16 ounces per meal. If you are a 14-18-year-old female you’ve done it! If you are older or in the 14-18-year-old male category we have a few left to go so let’s brainstorm some ideas: 

  • Consume 8 ounces upon waking, perhaps immediately after brushing your teeth or something similar
  • Aim for water fountain breaks during the day. 1 Gulp is around 1 ounce. If you did 4 gulps in-between classes what could that add up to?
  • Add to post-activity or meal times
  • Include with snack times
  • Drink a glass after every bathroom break 
  • Use a reminder on your phone or a prompt similar to the bathroom break “After I___ I will___.” “After I open my locker, I will take a sip of my water bottle.”
  • Don’t forget other fluids count such as milk or milk alternatives, sparkling water, seltzers, 100% juice,  Sports drinks, and more (although some will be a better fit around activity than others!)

An Example:
Tyler is a 16 year old athlete. He has 14 cups to work with. Where do we start? With his schedule.
Activity: Tyler has practice, conditioning, or a game every day from 3-5pm.

7:00 am: Breakfast, 16 ounces (2 cups) of juice
9:00 am: Water fountain break, 4 ounces (1/2 cup)
11:30 am: Water fountain break, 4 ounces (1/2 cup)
12:00 pm: Lunch, 16 ounces (2 cups) of water
1:00pm: 16 ounces (2 cups) water prior to activity
2:30pm: 8 ounces (1 cup) water prior to activity
3:00-5:00 pm: During activity, Fluid needs TBD depending on activity, climate, gear, etc. 
5:00 pm: Post-Workout, Fluid needs TBD, at least 16 ounces (2 cups) of fluids such as chocolate milk
6:00 pm: Dinner, 16 ounces (2 cups) of milk, 1 cup of water (3 cups total)
8:00 pm: Bedtime Snack, Smoothie- 16 ounces (2 cups)

How do I know if I am hydrated?
Do a urine check! One of the easiest ways to know if we are getting enough (or conversely, too much) is to check our urine. Click the link to take a look!

Does it have to be only water? 
Water specifically is where the amount recommendations come from however other beverages certainly count such as milk/milk alternatives, 100% juices, seltzers, sparkling waters, sports drinks, smoothies, electrolyte tablets, and flavorings where appropriate. For example, maybe flavor your water during the day and add a sports drink in for activity if your activity lasts longer than 60 minutes or is in high heat, humidity, or heavy gear.  

What if I am struggling to consume more water?
Consider switching up your approach. Try smaller or larger bottles, try straws, more ice, a warmer temperature, exciting containers (um, check out the awesome Gatorade hydration equipment available), add flavorings, meet with me for assistance!

Ready to make your own plan?
Download your hydration guide and plan template here as a way to map out your plan AND keep track of your intake!! 

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