I want to admit to you right up front that I know this article is a bit long but this is probably one of the most important aspects of the entire soccer-specific strength and fitness training program. Like diet and nutrition, if you miss this, you will not perform at peak levels. And that is what this is all about, optimal performance on the soccer pitch next season. So, take the time to read this, weigh the information, apply what you need and what will serve you best, which I believe will be most of this, and look for the next article in the series on stretching and flexibility. Keep in mind that as you implement this program, you should be journaling everything, not only to track results but so you know what to adjust and what to work on. In other words, so you know what is working and what isn’t. This is your program and your soccer career, regardless of level of play, so make it your best!
We have reviewed the first ingredient required for an effective off-season, soccer specific strength and fitness training program…nutrition and diet. While they are two separate and distinct subjects, they are inextricably linked, you can’t have one without the other. It is important that, if you haven’t reviewed the introduction into diet and nutrition, and the first article, an overall introduction to this soccer-specific and sex-specific strength and training program, you do so before going any further. The next step in designing and implementing an effective training regimen, the next ingredient, equally important to diet and nutrition, is an understanding of just how crucial hydration is; and, not only hydration but optimal fluid intake and replacement. If you wish to have a real performance edge, peak performance in training and competition, you must be properly hydrated before, during, and after strength and fitness training. A proper hydration strategy is a vital component in any sport, in any region of the world, and in all climate conditions. In fact, proper hydration may be more important during conditions not thought of as being related to, or linked to, hydration. An example of such a condition is cold weather. During cold weather training and competition fluid intake may be neglected or even ignored, yet it is just as important to be well hydrated during such periods. Ultimately, hydration is crucial in any situation, during training and while competing.
Performance and hydration have been linked in study after study; and, there is a positive correlation between hydration and performance, a causal relationship. There can be little doubt as to the importance of hydration, neglecting it can lead to diminished performance and, in the severest of instances, death. We have all heard stories of athletes who have died crossing the finish line or after an incredibly brutal training session. I have personally witnessed the catastrophic effects of severe dehydration. I have watched as athletic trainers and EMS personnel attempted to save the life of a young soccer athlete who had taken salt pills, a terrible “old school” strategy, while failing to drink fluids, a recipe for disaster. The young man died, a boy actually, and all because of inadequate fluid intake combined with the loss of electrolytes. What we don’t hear about, because it is so difficult to track and quantify, in any athlete is diminished performance, the performance that “could have been,” if only the proper hydration strategy had been suggested and adhered to.
Hydration is the Key! Hydration is not only important in the waning moments of an all-important soccer match, it is also important for peak performance during training and to regulate and even enhance the body’s overall capacity to work. The body is made up of approximately sixty percent water, it is very important that an athlete and his or her trainer and/or coach be aware of the need for proper fluid intake. The body requires water for a number of functions and processes, including the proper uptake of nutrients, as an aid in the breakdown of food (digestion and absorption of nutrients), making food available for energy and muscle building and rebuilding, as a transport mechanism for various materials throughout the various systems, eliminating harmful waste material and toxins, regulating the body’s temperature, and for energy, both production and output. In fact, there is not a single system in the body that doesn’t rely on water. Hydration is required for life!
How Much? For Whom and When? Many authorities propose the average person consume a minimum of eight, eight ounce glasses of water per day. The amount varies from one individual to another, with size, activity level, weather, and athletic performance all affecting daily requirements. Ultimately, water intake should be based on size, activity, and atmosphere, with more being better, within reasonable limits, of course. Women also carry more water than men, thus requiring more per pound of body weight than men. However, for our purposes and during strength and fitness training, the average athlete, male or female, should increase fluid intake by at least 15% and more if training outdoors and at high temperatures. Wet bulb also should be considered; and, at high wet bulb readings, a high temperature and humidity combined to set the reading, care should be taken to replenish fluids often.
Water Intoxication and Hyper-Hydration! Because we here in the States have a culture of “if one is good, ten is fantastic,” I must at least touch on two conditions, inextricably linked, often mistaken for one another, that may have catastrophic results. I will speak to these conditions as they may relate to athletes, not to the general public. The first of these is known as “water intoxication,” or “hyper-hydration,” also known as “water poisoning.” Most individuals with water intoxication are completely asymptomatic, meaning they present with no symptoms whatsoever. However, hyper-hydration or water poisoning may be fatal, the result of an osmotic imbalance and a drop in electrolytes. The condition usually occurs when individuals consume water large amounts of water, while failing to take in inadequate amounts of electrolytes lost during extreme exertion. This is why, in certain circumstances, various electrolyte replenishing drinks can be a good thing.
Hyponatremia! Interestingly, a related condition also caused by taking in too much water, any fluid for that matter, may contribute to a condition known as hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is also attributed to an electrolyte imbalance, one that may result when sodium levels in blood plasma drops too low. Symptoms of hyponatremia may be mistaken for drunkenness, diabetic complications, and/or even being “on something.” The symptoms include: muscle cramps, particularly of the feet and legs but also of other large muscle groups, and even the hands and fingers; nausea and vomiting; confusion, disorientation, fainting, and in severe cases, blacking out; slurred and rambling speech; and, inappropriate actions and behavior out of the norm. As with water intoxication, its sister condition Hyponatremia is often more dangerous, more life-threatening than dehydration, it is vital to balance water and electrolyte intake. The balancing act between hydration and hyper-hydration is one every athlete needs to be aware of, taking into consideration the risks of both dehydration and hyper-hydration; and, achieving a personal water and sport drink intake balance in order to reach peak performance on and off the pitch.
To Drink or Not to Drink! It must be noted, in preparing you for a soccer-specific, sex-specific strength and training program, particularly when dealing with hydration, you must also recognize what not to drink. While some of the sports drinks may have their time and place, and I do mean some, the newly emerging sports drinks with protein are definitely worth considering, particularly after training sessions. Significantly, many of the current quick energy drinks are nothing short of pollution to your system, contrary to your goal of peak performance. While I won’t mention any of them by name, you know certain drinks claiming to do everything from keeping the away the doldrums to allowing you to fly. Remember one thing, when you are flying and run out of fuel, you will most certainly crash, wings or no wings. The so-called energy drinks are loaded with chemicals and caffeine, combined with various herbs and unknown ingredients, almost every one counter to a good training program. Other drinks you should consider avoiding include carbonated beverages or all kinds, that’s right pop (soda if you are from back east) is out, coffee and tea as well. Juices are good but only in moderation, and any other sort of empty calorie, high-sucrose, is inappropriate; and, caffeinated beverages not covered above are out, too. Yes, you can treat yourself once in a while, we all need our little bonuses, but ask yourself this first, is the person competing for the same spot you are hoping to own next season “cheating” or are they totally committed to making it, with that serving as the ultimate reward. salt tablets
The fact is, every athlete, and your soccer-specific, sex-specific strength and fitness training coach, if you are fortunate enough to have one, should monitor their own hydration program. There is a balance that must be achieved between too little and too much. The challenge is that what is too little for one athlete is nowhere near enough for the next. And, as stated above, sex, size, weight, atmosphere, and even musculature and previous training habits will all come to into play and should be considered. Water versus sports drinks is an issue and when training hard and/or under extreme conditions, sport drinks that replace key electrolytes and minerals may enhance performance. Various sugars, namely glucose, fructose and sucrose, along with various electrolyte minerals, particularly sodium, are necessary and even vital, in the true sense of the word. However, water is still the most important ingredient, and one every athlete should make sure they have plenty of. There is a debate raging right now as to just how much, when, and even if water, as opposed to other drinks, should be taken in. This debate while interesting is not really all that important to the overall program, which is to get you into shape, into peak performance through a soccer-specific sex specific strength and fitness training program.
Water: The Essential Nutrient! As stated above, water is and essential nutrient for the transportation of vital nutrients, ease of digestion, ridding the body of toxins and waste products, proper function of joints and connective tissue, and even thermo-regulation, the regulation of your body’s internal temperature. Soccer athletes should maintain proper hydration for normal body function, optimal physiology, and also for peak, competitive performance. Proper hydration during training also helps to regulate and control the volume of blood in the body, circulatory function and cardiac output, muscle hydrodynamics and blood flow, skin condition, tone, and blood flow, and core physiology. Significantly, proper hydration, and fluid intake generally, is crucial for anatomy, physiology, and performance. The duration of individual training sessions, how intense the training is, determine how much to drink, the proper amount and kinds of fluids.
Dehydration! Current research on peak performers indicates that decreasing blood volume due to intense exercise and sweating causes an athlete’s heart rate to accelerate. An accelerated heart rate, combined with sweating the the resultant loss of bodily fluids may result in fatigue, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Dehydration and its symptoms can be avoided by replacing body fluids lost during training. Dehydration is often caused by improper and/or inadequate fluid replacement; profuse and excessive fluid loss, sweating; neglecting to replenish fluids lost during and immediately after training; training in arid, high temperatures; and, drinking when thirsty rather than on a specified schedule before, during and after training sessions. The degree of fluid loss and dehydration is made worse by intensified heat stressors, length of training sessions and the amount of time between sessions, and training severity or intensity.