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NYSI Research Bytes: Are you hydrating appropriately?

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Ng Ee Ling

This month, Jericho Wee interviews NYSI's very own Sports Dietitian, Ms Ng Ee Ling on her recent presentation at the International Conference on Adaptations and Nutrition in Sports (ICANS). Ms Ng presented her study on hydration behaviours in Singaporean youth athletes. She works with high-performing youth athletes, providing nutritional strategies to enhance performance. In addition to her role in NYSI, her research interest is in fluid balance among youth athletes in relation to their training.

Ng Ee Ling, Sports Dietitian, NYSI 

Ms Ng Ee Ling, Sports Dietitian, NYSI. Photo: LinkedIn

1. Hi, Ee Ling, it’s always great to feature one of our own on NYSI Research Bytes. Could you start by telling our readers about yourself and the work you do in NYSI?

Thank you for the feature in this Research Bytes edition. It is a great pleasure to share about hydration and increase awareness of fluid balance amongst youth athletes.

I was trained as a clinical dietitian and obtained my Master of Dietetics from Deakin University (Victoria, Australia). The dynamics in sports dietetics piqued my interest in understanding the relationship between nutrition and sporting performance. As such, I decided on sports nutrition as my area of work. I am a Sport Dietitian at NYSI, and my role involves maximising youth athletes’ performance through individual and group consultations, practical nutrition strategies and interventions to help them perform. In addition, I work closely with coaches and colleagues from the other disciplines, to identify and address any gaps in the provision of support to optimise performance.

Currently, I am working with the other researchers from NYSI, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the National Institute of Education (NIE) to publish our hydration study titled “Fluid Balance and Hydration Practices of High-Performance Singaporean Youth Athletes”. As our Singapore youth athletes train in a hot and humid environment, sharing these findings may provide valuable information and advance evidence-based practices to optimise athlete performance. Furthermore, there are limited published studies that investigate hydration in athletic youth populations in this region.

2. You recently presented at the International Conference for Adaption and Nutrition in Sport 2018. Could you summarise the study you presented at the conference?

For this study, we recruited 199 student-athletes from various high-performance sports academies. This study was originally an education and interventional support to these youth athletes with the aim of understanding the habitual hydration behaviours of youth athletes in and out of training using urine and body weight measurements.

Based on the Urine Specific Gravity (USG) measurements in our study, 3 in 10 of the youth athletes were dehydrated in the morning, with males reported to be more dehydrated than females. USG measurements also showed that just prior to training, 4 in 10 of the youth athletes were found to be dehydrated, and similarly, males were also found to be more dehydrated. Males also had higher fluid loss post-training based on their body weight, emphasising the importance of the different requirements between genders. Sweat loss was also greater during higher training load sessions as compared to lower training load sessions.

3. How do your findings compare to other papers that investigated adolescent hydration habits in youth sport?

In terms of dehydration prevalence, we had a lower percentage of athletes who were dehydrated when compared to other studies, where 8 in 10 were found to be dehydrated in the morning and 9 in 10 for their pre-training (Arnaoutis, 2015). The student-athletes recruited in our study were exposed to education on hydration, which may explain the lower prevalence in our study. Similar to our study, Arnaoutis (2015) reported that sweat rates of youth athletes differed between sports. In addition, like our study, Duffield and colleagues (2012) reported a higher sweat loss during a higher intensity session.

WaterPhoto: Sport Singapore

4. What are the concerns with regard to drinking to thirst and could one “overhydrate”?

Based on our study, youth athletes’ thirst was not correlated to objective measures of hydration such as USG or body weight changes. As such, we do not recommend for them to solely drink to thirst. Likewise, Arnaoutis (2015) indicated that drinking to thirst during training did not succeed in preventing dehydration, so having a hydration plan is vital. With all the emphasis on dehydration, Jason Lee and colleagues (2010) have also highlighted the importance of preventing overhydration. From this study, the concerns on overhydration were reinforced based on observations of the long queues for toilets prior to the event.

5. What considerations should an athlete or coach have in mind when having an appropriate hydration strategy?

Our study highlighted the different fluid requirements in gender and between sports. As such, it is important not to base their hydration requirements on a generalised guideline. The following are some of the considerations to take note of when planning a hydration strategy:

  • Gender
  • Demands of sport
  • Training duration
  • Environmental factors (e.g. temperature, humidity)

Incorporating hydration monitoring measures such as urine colour monitoring and post-training body weight change are also important to help avoid under- or over-hydrating.

6. What are some things an athlete can do to promote proper hydration habits throughout the day and during training?

Athletes can monitor their body weight to avoid increases or decreases of more than 2% body weight after training and incorporate strategies such as scheduled fluid intake and urine colour monitoring. They should aim for pale yellow urine but not clear as it may indicate that they are overhydrated. NYSI developed a hydration bottle based on the findings from our hydration study with some strategies to help improve hydration habits. One tip athletes can try is creating their own sipping markers on their own water bottle using tape and a marker that can be adjusted to suit their hydration needs based on their urine colour and body weight changes. For more tips, readers can click the link below.


Click here for more hydration tips.

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