By Elisabeth Murphy, PT, DPT
73% of our lean body mass is made up of water. (4) Water makes up our blood, assists with digestion and helps make mucus, saliva and other vital body fluids. During exercise, our body maintains a stable temperature by sweating; the act of sweating and the evaporation of sweat cool the body down. If fluids lost by sweating are not replaced, the body becomes dehydrated—in other words, it lacks adequate water content. Even minimal levels of dehydration can reduce performance by decreasing endurance and reducing muscle power. (4,5) Research suggests that dehydration also impairs memory and concentration. (1,3) This would make it harder for dancers to pick up and remember new choreography.
How can I tell if I’m well hydrated?
Your body gives you good signs about how hydrated you are. Your urine (pee) is a gross but easy way to tell if you’re well hydrated. Urine from a well-hydrated person should be very light yellow. Urine that is dark yellow or amber can be a sign that you’re not drinking enough fluid. The amount of urine you produce can also be a good clue. If you notice that you don’t produce as much urine after a long rehearsal, you may be dehydrated!
It is also important for dancers and instructors to recognize symptoms of dehydration. Early and minor symptoms include: Extreme thirst, headache, irritability, dizziness, muscular discomfort, or cramping. As dehydration becomes more severe, a person may experience chills, nausea/vomiting, weakness, confusion, and decreased alertness. (2) If the dancer is able to take in fluid (i.e. is awake and alert and not vomiting) they should be able to rehydrate on their own. More severe cases of dehydration warrant medical attention for IV fluids and monitoring.
How much water should I drink each day?
To ensure adequate hydration, a dancer should be diligent about drinking water before a class or performance starts! Dancers should consume 17-20 ounces of water or sports drink 2-3 hours before a class or performance then an additional 7-10 ounces of water or sports drink 10-20 minutes before. (2) Dancers should consume 7-10 additional ounces for every 10-20 minutes of additional exercise performed. (2)
Keep in mind these are very generic rules. More specific recommendations can be calculated based on measuring fluid intake, urine output, weight and activity level. A certified professional such as an athletic or personal trainer must perform this.
What if I don’t like water?
There are many ways to make water more interesting and tasty. Try adding a few slices of fresh fruit to your water bottle (strawberries, lemons, limes, oranges). You can also steep a tea bag in your water bottle for a few hours to add extra flavor. Many commercially available water-flavoring agents are available. Keep in mind these water-flavoring agents often have artificial sweeteners/coloring agents that many people are sensitive to.
Sports drinks represent yet another option. Sports drinks offer the added benefits of replacing the sodium (salt), and other electrolytes lost during a very strenuous exercise session. However, sports drinks typically have higher levels of sugars and simple carbohydrates that may not be nutritionally necessary for day-to-day hydration. Best advice is to save sports drinks for a very sweaty, strenuous class or performance!
We can also get extra fluid from foods that have high water content. Most fruits and vegetables fit this requirement. Berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple, and oranges; cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, celery, lettuce, peppers, spinach, cauliflower, and broccoli are examples of foods with higher water content.
The bottom line: being dehydrated can negatively impact both physical and mental performance. Staying hydrated before, during and after dance improves physical and mental function throughout the day. Keeping a close watch on what your body is telling you can help ensure you stay well hydrated.
1. Cian, C, Koullmann, N, Barraud, PA, Raphel, C, Jimenez, C, Melin, B. Effect of hyperhydration, heat stress, and exercise-induced dehydration. J Psychophysiol. 2000;14(1):29-36
2. Douglas, CJ, Lawrence AE, Hillman, SK, Montain, SJ, Reiff, RV, Rich, B, Roberts, WOM Stone, JA. National Athletic Trainers Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for Athletes. J Athl Training. 2000;35(2):212–224.
3. Liberman, HR. Hydration and Cognition: A Critical Review and Recommendations for Future Research. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007;26(5):555S-561S
4. Sawka MN, Coyle EF. Influence of body water and blood volume on thermoregulation and exercise performance in the heat. Exerc Sport SciRev.1999;27:167-218.
5. Sawka MN, Montain SJ, Latzka WA. Body fluid balance during exercise-heat exposure. In: Buskirk EW, Puhl SM, eds. Body Fluid Balance: Exercise and Sport. New York, NY: CRC Press.1996:139-157.
*Disclaimer: The information contained within this blog post is not intended as a substitute or replacement for evaluation from a doctor or healthcare provider. If you have concerns, please seek medical care from a certified practitioner.