Like many clubs, we have a rule. “No water bottle, no swimming.”
We still allow the ones without water bottles to do dryland for the whole practice (it’s hard!), with trips to the drinking fountain every 15 minutes. But they aren’t getting in the water to swim without a bottle of water or a protein/dextrose solution (8% solution or less to ensure a hydrating benefit).
But last week at practice, something was different. The majority of swimmers were fine, but during warmup my assistant coach and I immediately started to see clear signs of dehydration in a disturbing number of younger swimmers. We soon had some complaining of headaches and leg cramps. We were, of course, telling them to drink. But, I swear that some of them seem to think of drinking as a form of medieval punishment. We ended up going to the swimmers and getting them to drink while we watched.
It was when one of the swimmers complained of a bad headache that we finally found out that there was a school track meet that day, and many of our swimmers were there. It was sunny and fairly hot (for Ontario), and it seems that in all that excitement they drank little all day long. And of course, after getting back from the track meet, they didn’t drink and headed straight to the pool.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. A change in their schedule and they forget to drink. The big problem is that as the weather gets warmer, they’ll get dehydrated more easily. When it gets really hot and humid, even a long walk home from school can create problems. And it’s not just the young, inexperienced swimmers either. One of our top senior swimmers regularly has days in which he slows drastically after about an hour and complains of fatigue. Inevitably it turns out his water bottle hasn’t been touched. And this happen with him about once a week!
To try to counter this, we are constantly telling our swimmers to hydrate. We have our sports nutritionist talk to each competitive swimmer individually, going over their food intake AND going over the ideal practice and post-practice hydration drinks (certified whey protein and dextrose solutions). Each swimmer knows they need to drink 1 L of their hydration drink per hour of exercise. They know that swimming performance can degrade at even 2% dehydration. They KNOW this. So why is it that some swimmers don’t bother to stay hydrated?
The problem is the very water that we swim in. This water washes away the sweat before we even get a chance to notice it, all the while cooling us down. Athletes in land-based sports don’t have it so easy. Their clothes get soaked and icky with sweat, and after a while start to stink. Their body heats up, sometimes turning bright red. Sweat trickles down into their eyes. It’s so obvious for them.
But many swimmers just can’t make that connection. They can’t see or feel the sweat, so they don’t think about it. I’ve even heard some swimmers say they don’t sweat. I’ve talked to many swimmers about this, and I think the majority of swimmers hydrate simply because they’re told to, not because they feel that they need to.
So how do I combat this problem? I have to admit I’m not sure. I’ll keep informing my swimmers about the need to hydrate, and then keep nagging about it every day. And hope that maybe with the warmer weather, they’ll finally make the connection.