Though he’s treated many professional athletes in his time—serving as team chiropractor for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and the University of Maryland Terps—Dr. Alan K. Sokoloff, known simply as “Dr. Sok,” shares that one of his most memorable lessons regarding the importance of staying hydrated was actually learned while on his personal time.
“My daughter’s U14 soccer team had seen a lot of lower extremity injuries throughout the year and season,” says Dr. Sok. “As a concerned parent and health care professional, I approached the team coaches about this apparent dilemma.”
Suspecting that dehydration was potentially an underlying issue, they created an educational program for the kids and coaches highlighting the importance of dehydration prevention. “It included pre-hydration, drinking during the day (especially at tournaments), and rehydration that did not include stopping at the local ice cream or pizza place,” says Dr. Sok. The results?
“In that year, not only were there fewer unofficial injuries, but individual kids reported feeling better during games with less overall fatigue,” says Dr. Sok. “On a side note, they had a better record as well.”
But is dehydration just a concern during summer sports such as these? Dr. Sok says that the answer is a resounding no.
Dehydration and Winter Sports and Activities
Many athletes do associate dehydration with summer sports and activities. “But winter in colder areas of the country can also produce many cases of dehydration because it is not as ‘obvious’ or on the radar of most athletes,” explains Dr. Sok.
Plus, even though it may be colder outside, athletes are still going to sweat when they are competing. It’s even worse if they’re outside and the wind kicks up as this “will evaporate the sweat faster and you will not even realize you are losing water,” he says.
There’s also the fact that not all winter sports are played in outdoor environments. Many of them are still played indoors in gymnasiums “that are hot during basketball practices and games, or even worse, wrestling rooms,” says Dr. Sok.
Intensity is another contributing factor as, if the athletes are working out harder, dehydration can also easily occur in these circumstances…no matter what the month or weather outside. How can you tell whether an athlete may be dehydrated?
The most obvious sign of dehydration is thirst, explains Dr. Sok. “But if you are thirsty, it is already too late,” he adds. “You are at least down 1-2% of body weight fluids.”
This is the point where performance begins to decrease, warns Dr. Sok, as losing five percent of your body weight can reduce your body’s ability to do the work by as much as 30 percent. Perhaps worse yet, “all of this can lead to injury as it will affect not only strength and endurance, but balance and coordination,” he says.
How to Keep Your Athletes from Becoming Dehydrated
Dr. Sok says that the best way for DC’s to help their athletes is to educate them about the importance of hydration and the negative impacts of dehydration. “Start with your patient base and extend it out to area teams and sports organizations,” he suggests.
Dr. Sok shares that his passion lies specifically with youth teams. So, if you’re in a position where you work with this younger range of athletes too, Dr. Sok says, “Not only do you want to speak to the kids, but the parents that bring them and the coaches who are their role models.” Get everyone on the same page so that you’re all working toward the same goal.
One super effective way to help athletes of all ages better recognize whether they’re dehydrated is to pay attention to the color of their urine, says Dr. Sok. The darker it is, the more dehydrated the athlete. That’s why you want to aim for urine that is lighter in color.
Of course, this isn’t always an easy lesson to convey to kids, so Dr. Sok has come up with a simple way to explain it to this younger set of athletes. “We need kids to learn to urinate lemonade and not apple juice,” he says.
When working with older athletes, like Dr. Sok does with the pros, it also helps to provide the leagues and facilities with urine charts (with your office name and logo on the bottom.) In this way, it serves as a great service to organizations, while giving you one more opportunity for marketing your practice. In this way, everyone wins.
Another way to keep athletes from becoming dehydrated is to remind them to rehydrate themselves often. “Get them in the habit of drinking before, during, and after physical activities,” says Dr. Sok. This helps reduce the likelihood that they’ll wind up dehydrated during training sessions, practices, and games.
How to Respond Should Dehydration Occur
What do you do if you suspect that one of your players is dehydrated? Your response “would really depend on the degree of dehydration,” says Dr. Sok. “If it is simple dehydration, restoring fluids is easy. In more complicated cases of severe dehydration, activating EMS if necessary and/or utilizing IV fluids as soon as possible is essential.”
The reality is that dehydration is a concern no matter what month it is or what the weather is like outside. However, if you follow these tips, you can help your athletes stay hydrated all year long. This gives them better performance and greater health—two things that are absolutely critical to keeping them in the game.