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UK Coaching Talent and Performance
Talent and Performance Improving Physical Ability

Developing a Hydration Plan

Insight into ensuring that the people you coach maintain good hydration developed with Paul Rimmer. As well as developing a hydration plan to help, it’s a good idea to role model good hydration practices and ensure water is available during sessions

Consuming an adequate amount of fluid to maintain water levels in the body and appropriate concentrations of electrolytes is essential not just for health but also for performance. This need to maintain electrolyte levels is influenced directly by our fluid intake. 

When we become dehydrated this can cause a reduction in sports performance (low blood pressure, poorer temperature regulation and increased stress on the cardiovascular system and cellular function). 

Losses of body fluids greater than 2% of normal hydrated bodyweight have consistently shown to cause decreases in performance, and it is thought that even less severe levels of dehydration may have a negative impact on performance in certain sporting contexts. 

It has also been noticed that many athletes, of all ages, attend both training and competition in a sub-optimally hydrated state. In many coaching situations, when working with large groups or teams, observation of hydration habits, monitoring of hydration status and the development of individual hydration protocols may be challenging and inconvenient at best or inappropriate and impossible at worst depending on the group being coached.

Developing an individual hydration plan for athletes

An individual hydration plan (IHP) is the most pragmatic approach when working with athletes to ensure optimal hydration and performance is taking place. It is important to note that an athlete’s IHP may need to be adjusted when they are travelling or exposed to changes in temperature, humidity and altitude, as both can have a significant affect on fluid losses. 

An IHP may be developed using a combination of:

  • assessment of hydration status
  • assessment of existing hydration habits
  • measurement of fluid losses during exercise
  • current recommendations for fluid intake prior to and during sport. 

It is important that if an athlete requires an individual hydration plan, that the analysis and development of the plan should be conducted by someone appropriately qualified to select the right tool, understand the data and determine how to apply this effectively to benefit the athlete. 

Hydration practices in the team/group environment

In the group/team environment, education around the importance of hydration and how to monitor hydration status is important to develop and maintain good hydration practices. Good hydration habits can also be encouraged by coaches by improving access to water and making hydration a key focus in the following ways: 

  1. Consistently advising athletes to carry water at all times. This may seem an obvious piece of advice, but after initial advice hydration may become less of a focus unless the correct message is continually implemented. By consistently reinforcing the hydration message, it allows athletes a greater opportunity to develop positive hydration habits and not slip back into poorer practices. As a role model make sure that you always have your water bottle with you.
  2. Have water breaks during training. This allows the athletes an opportunity to take on fluids and maintain performance to maximise the effectiveness of the training sessions. It also creates an opportunity to reinforce the message surrounding hydration. If the coach sees it as important then the athletes will too. Remember to ask the athletes to bring their water bottles next to their work station or area. It makes it easier for them to access their water during breaks and reduces disruption to your session.
  3. Ensure readily available access to fluids, before, during and after training/competition. Coaches may have to accept that athletes may still maintain poor hydration practices which may or may not be in their control. For example, younger athletes may be reliant on parents to provide appropriate fluids for training or competition. We can ensure that all athletes have the best possible opportunity to develop and maintain effective hydration practices by making sure we have sufficient access to fluids at key times whenever possible. Providing team water bottles at training will help this, and make sure to ensure the athletes maintain hygiene habits and don’t touch the bottles with their mouths.
  4. Refer to urine colour charts and hydration posters. The use of urine colour charts and hydration information in toilets, changing rooms and other locations provide an opportunity for athletes to be consistently reminded of the importance of hydration and to identify for themselves if they may be at risk of dehydration. (Note that urine colour charts are a cost effective and quick way to assess hydration status, however these are not always sensitive to small or sudden changes in hydration. The use of supplements can also have a large impact on urine colour. For an example of a urine chart, refer to Hydration Guide: Are You Above the Line?)

Hydration for athletes around key times 

Before: Athletes should be encouraged to drink between 5-10ml/kg of fluids (300-600ml for a 60kg athlete) 2-4 hours before training and competition or until their urine colour reflects appropriate levels of hydration. If urine colour (or other markers) appear to indicate a sufficiently hydrated state, then encouraging the athlete to drink to thirst should be an appropriate strategy to ensure adequate hydration. 

During: In some conditions sweat rates can be quicker than the body’s ability to take on fluids. This means that most athletes will not be able to effectively use more than 1 litre per hour. General guidelines suggest 0.4-0.8 litres per hour for most sports. If the upper end of this scale is required, then this should be consumed in equal amounts around every 20 minutes to avoid digestive system discomfort. 

After: If fluid losses are identified, especially if the athlete requires rapid rehydration, then 150% of fluid loss should be consumed in the 2-3 hours after training/competition. If it is not possible to identify fluid losses the athlete should be encouraged to take on board fluids at 0.4-0.8 litres per hour until urine colour returns to a hydrated level.

More from Paul Rimmer

Further resources on this dive into the topic of hydration and consider meal planning


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Related Resources

  • Hydration Guide: Are You Above the Line?

  • Understanding Hydration: Considerations for Working with Athletes

  • Understanding Energy Drinks and Sports Drinks


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