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Of all the physiological perturbations that can cause early fatigue during exercise, dehydration is arguably the most important, if only because the consequences of dehydration are potentially life threatening. The rise in body temperature that normally accompanies exercise stimulates an increase in blood flow to the skin and the onset of sweating. Normal hydration is protective of these thermoregulatory responses, whereas even a slight amount of dehydration results in measurable declines in cardiovascular and thermoregulatory function. Mild to severe dehydration commonly occurs among athletes, even when fluid is readily available. This voluntary dehydration compromises physiological function, impairs exercise performance, and increases the risk of heat illness. Recent research illustrates that maintaining normal hydration (or close to it) during exercise maintains cardiovascular and thermoregulatory responses and improves exercise performance. Consequently, it is in the athlete’s best interest to adopt fluid-replacement practices that promote fluid intake in proportion to sweat loss.
Robert Murray is with Gatorade Sports Science Institute, 617 W. Main St., Bamngton, IL 60010.