In Part I of this series we discussed the importance of ensuring that the travel baseball player not only gets quality food during the summer, but also intakes enough of it. Oftentimes food consumption and nutritional choices are dictated by the circumstances of travel, as well as monetary considerations of the family that is supporting the ballplayer. In these cases, it is advised to make the best of the circumstances. Today we will discuss an aspect of performance which can be much more easily controlled by the ballplayer – hydration.
Impacts of Dehydration
Going without water for any extensive period of time is a poor health strategy for any lifestyle, and most kids, parents, and coaches understand this. With its thirst mechanism and other warning signs, our body will promptly let you know if you’re making poor choices in terms of hydration. The status of a person’s hydration is even more crucial for athletes, where water isn’t just the universal solvent and greatest lifeline, it is also a necessary performance aid in sport.
There are multiple ways to quantify the hydration status of an athlete. One of the simplest ways (and one of the common methods referenced in the literature on hydration) is in body mass losses due to sweating. Have you ever weighed yourself in the morning, then weighed yourself later after intense exercise and been startled by the discrepancy? Certainly many factors can dictate weight fluctuations throughout a single day, but fluid intake and loss can explain much of it.
In terms of performance decrements, even as little as a 2% loss in body mass due to fluid can contribute to impaired performance capabilities in athletes. A 3-4% loss can hinder performances even more, and losses beyond that can pose as a danger to the athlete.
Sports performance markers relevant to baseball have been shown to be hindered with these kinds of loss in body mass due to sweating. For example, in studies conducted on Cricket players, throwing and pitching (side-arm and over-arm), and hitting, as well as sprinting over short distances were all significantly impacted in a negative manner by the same relative dehydration levels as those mentioned above.
Methods to Assess Hydration Status
There are a handful of ways for an athlete to determine their hydration status, each varying in convenience and accuracy.
Thirst, which might possibly be the most universal and commonly used (and unconsciously used) method for assessing hydration, is arguably the least accurate. It isn’t that your body inaccurately determines its own hydration, its that it does so very late; there is a delay to the thirst mechanism, and some research suggests that the onset of thirst may even come after an athlete experiences a 2% loss in body mass due to sweating (in other words, after performance has already been negatively impacted). It is strongly recommended that players proactively hydrate throughout competition, and not wait until they begin to experience thirst.
Another relatively convenient method, mentioned above, is weighing the athlete to see fluid loss in terms of body mass. While there are some highly accurate methods that require urinalysis technologies, another simple, no-cost method is to use a urine chart against an athletes urine. Typically the dark the urine, the more dehydrated the player.
Strategies for Adequate Hydration
The reason this topic is so important and pertinent to the travel baseball player is not necessarily because of the demands of the sport, but rather the climates in which these seasons are typically played. The greatest concentration of travel-ball tournaments each summer tend to be in the most extreme of environments in our country – in the hot and humid landscape of Florida or Georgia, or the scorching 110-120*F deserts of the greater Phoenix region.
These climates – whether they be dry with extreme temperatures, or relatively “less hot” but with extreme humidity – increase the propensity for fluid loss, no matter in what sport or activity an athletes participates. Travel baseball, though, generally requires ballplayers to be exposed to the sun and heat for greater periods of time during the hottest seasons of the year. It is not out of the norm for a team to play two or three games each day over the course of a weekend, or to play one or two games per day for an entire week. In these scenarios, a player’s exposure to the scouts may only be matched by exposure to the elements.
One of the easiest ways to ensure adequate hydration is to keep water personally accessible. In other words, do not simply rely on water fountains and water coolers supplied by tournament crews. In my own experiences coaching travel-ball I have experienced days in which the tournament crew forgot to supply our field with water.
Players should always carry a large water bottle or canteen with them. Whether it be a 1-liter disposable water bottle purchased that morning, or a more costly reusable canteen, having a water bottle (or water bottles) on your person is a simple and effective way to maintain safe hydration levels.
Remember: do not wait for the thirst mechanism. Sip it often. And, when its empty, fill it up right away. Surely this advice seems rudimentary, but even professional athletes are educated on the importance of hydration, and the negative implications of dehydraton.
With nutrition and hydration having now been covered in this three-part series, our final installment will discuss the importance of putting the baseball down to prioritize rest, as well as physical preparation during the summer.
*If you are looking for the studies referenced in this post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org