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Hydration 101 for Gamers

Expert Opinion:

  1. Gamers who neglect proper hydration may experience decreased focus, fatigue, slower reaction time, headaches, and muscle cramps. 
  2. Dehydration among gamers can occur due to neglecting fluid intake during gameplay, relying solely on thirst to guide fluid intake, excessive sweating, environmental conditions, and the diuretic effects of caffeine. 
  3. Implementing a hydration routine and creating an environment conducive for optimal hydration can help gamers actively manage their hydration levels, optimize performance, and minimize dehydration-related symptoms.

Part 1: What’s the Issue?

Hydration plays a crucial role in the performance and well-being of gamers and esports athletes. Despite its importance, many individuals in the gaming community often overlook the significance of proper hydration. Dehydration can lead to a range of adverse effects on physical and mental performance, impacting factors such as reaction time, cognitive function, and overall gameplay experience. Recognizing and addressing hydration as a critical factor is essential for gamers who seek to excel in their craft.

Part 2: Common Symptoms Gamers May Feel

Gamers who are dehydrated or have suboptimal hydration levels may experience various symptoms that can hinder their gaming performance. Some common indicators include:

  1. Decreased Focus and Concentration: Inadequate hydration can impair cognitive abilities, making it difficult to maintain focus during gameplay, make quick decisions, and strategize effectively.
  2. Fatigue and Reduced Endurance: Dehydration can contribute to feelings of fatigue and decreased endurance, leading to decreased performance over extended gaming sessions.
  3. Slower Reaction Time: Dehydration affects neural transmission, resulting in delayed reaction times. Gamers may find themselves reacting more slowly to in-game events, compromising their competitiveness.
  4. Headaches and Dizziness: Insufficient fluid intake can lead to headaches and dizziness, which can be distracting and impact overall gaming experience and performance.
  5. Muscle Cramps and Twitches: Dehydration can disrupt the balance of electrolytes in the body, leading to muscle cramps, twitches, and discomfort during gaming sessions.

It’s important to always be mindful of our body’s signals. Regular check-ins throughout the day should be encouraged. If any of the above symptoms are present, take it as a sign to hydrate. Similarly, keep an eye on urine color. If no urination has occurred in the last 5 hours, or if the urine is concentrated, fluid intake needs to be increased. Urine should be a pale, straw-like color, which signifies adequate hydration. Check out the following graphic (which I encourage you to print and post in your bathrooms):

Don’t ignore these signals, as they can impact your gaming performance and overall well-being.

Part 3: Causes of Dehydration in Gamers 

Dehydration among gamers can occur due to several factors: 

  1. Thirst is not a reliable indicator: One common misconception is relying solely on thirst to determine hydration needs. Thirst is a late indicator of dehydration, meaning that by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already in a state of dehydration. For gamers and esports athletes, waiting for thirst to kick in can lead to compromised performance. Instead, it’s important to establish a proactive hydration plan.
  2. Sweating and fluid loss: Intense gaming sessions or esports competitions can cause significant sweating, leading to fluid loss. Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism, but it also means water is being lost. Failure to replenish these lost fluids can result in dehydration. Therefore, gamers and esports athletes must be aware of their sweat rate and adjust their fluid intake accordingly.
  3. Environmental factors: The gaming environment can contribute to dehydration. Long gaming sessions in poorly ventilated rooms or playing in hot and humid conditions can lead to increased sweat production and water loss. Additionally, air conditioning or heating systems can contribute to dry air, further exacerbating fluid loss through evaporation.
  4. Neglecting hydration during gameplay: It’s not uncommon for gamers to become so engrossed in their gameplay that they forget to drink water. Hours can pass without a single sip, resulting in a significant fluid deficit. This neglect can lead to dehydration, impairing cognitive function, reaction speed, and overall gaming performance.
  5. Caffeine: Many gamers and esports athletes consume caffeine-containing products. In caffeine-naïve individuals, caffeine can have a diuretic effect.

Combined, these factors increase the risk of dehydration among gamers.

Part 4: How to Fix It / Recover / What Can You Do? Strategies to Manage Symptoms?

To address and manage hydration issues among gamers, several strategies can be implemented:

  1. Create and maintain a hydration routine (see also Prevention section below): Develop a hydration routine tailored to your gaming schedule. Pre-hydrate by consuming fluids before a gaming session, hydrate during breaks, and ensure post-session rehydration to replenish lost fluids.
  2. Take frequent hydration breaks: Incorporate regular breaks into your gaming routine to hydrate. Set reminders or use dedicated hydration apps to prompt you to drink water at specific intervals. 
  3. Stay hydrated throughout the day: Develop a habit of consuming water and hydrating beverages regularly, even outside of gaming sessions. Adequate hydration starts before you sit down to play. Aim for a daily intake of AT LEAST 2L of water and adjust based on individual needs and activity levels. For individuals with normal bodyweight, you can get a more accurate idea of your needs by drinking half your bodyweight in fluid ounces (Ex. 150 lbs. / 2 = 75 oz.). Aim to drink small amounts of water consistently throughout the day rather than large quantities all at once.
  4. Snack on hydrating foods: In addition to drinking fluids, you can boost your hydration by consuming hydrating foods. Fruits and vegetables with high water content, such as watermelon, cucumber, oranges, and strawberries, can help contribute to your overall fluid intake. Snack on these foods during breaks or incorporate them into your gaming routine.
  5. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption: Caffeinated beverages and alcoholic drinks can contribute to dehydration. While it’s understandable that gamers might turn to energy drinks or caffeinated beverages for a boost, it’s important to consume them in moderation. Too much caffeine, especially in caffeine-naïve individuals, can have a diuretic effect and increase fluid loss. Similarly, alcoholic beverages should be avoided or limited as they can dehydrate the body.

By implementing these strategies, gamers can actively manage their hydration levels, optimize performance, and minimize the risk of dehydration-related symptoms.

Part 5: Science Behind It

Understanding the science behind dehydration in gamers can shed light on its impact and emphasize the importance of maintaining proper hydration. When the body is dehydrated, it experiences a range of physiological changes that can affect gamers’ performance and well-being.

During gaming sessions, the body loses water through sweat and increased respiration. Inadequate fluid intake disrupts the body’s ability to regulate temperature, impairs cognitive function, and decreases physical endurance. Dehydration can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, reduced focus, decreased reaction time, and impaired decision-making abilities. These effects can be detrimental to gamers who rely on their mental acuity and reflexes to excel in their games.

Moreover, dehydration affects the brain’s overall functioning. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration (as little as 1%!!!) can cause cognitive decline, including reduced memory, attention, and executive function. This can impact a gamer’s ability to strategize, problem-solve, and make split-second decisions during gameplay.

Part 6: Preventative Approach

Taking a preventative approach to hydration is crucial for gamers to maintain optimal performance and well-being. Here are some key strategies to consider:

  1. Plan ahead: Prepare for gaming sessions by ensuring you are adequately hydrated beforehand. Drink water or hydrating beverages in the hours leading up to your session to ensure your body starts off well-hydrated.
  2. Plan further ahead: It takes 24-48 hours to adjust your hydration status. Hydration for tomorrow starts today. 
  3. Create a hydration routine: Establish a hydration routine that integrates fluid intake breaks into your gaming sessions. Set specific times or intervals to take breaks for hydration and make it a habit.
  4. Sweat rate measurement: If you want to take your hydration strategy to the next level, consider measuring your sweat rate. Weigh yourself before and after gaming sessions to determine your net sweat loss. For every pound lost, drink 24 ounces of fluid to replenish your body’s water stores. 
  5. Create an environment conducive to hydration. Set up a designated hydration station near your gaming area, complete with water, hydrating beverages, and reminders to drink regularly.
  6. Consider ergonomic water bottles: Invest in ergonomic water bottles that are easy to use and spill-proof, ensuring convenient access to hydration during gameplay without interrupting your focus.
  7. Optimize the gaming environment: Ensure proper ventilation and temperature control in your gaming space. Consider using a humidifier to prevent excessive evaporation and maintain a moderate humidity level.
  8. Supportive gaming community: Foster a supportive gaming community that values and encourages hydration. Discuss the importance of hydration with fellow gamers and establish a culture that promotes taking breaks for hydration.
  9. Seek professional advice: If you’re a professional esports athlete or take gaming seriously, consider consulting with a sports nutritionist or a healthcare professional who specializes in gaming and esports. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific needs, sweat rate, and gaming schedule.

By adopting a preventative approach to hydration, gamers can proactively address their fluid needs and minimize the risk of dehydration, ultimately optimizing their gaming performance and overall well-being.

References

Bethancourt HJ, Kenney WL, Almeida DM, Rosinger AY. Cognitive performance in relation to hydration status and water intake among older adults, NHANES 2011-2014. Eur J Nutr. 2020 Oct;59(7):3133-3148. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-02152-9. Epub 2019 Nov 27. PMID: 31776660; PMCID: PMC8841102.

Harris R. Lieberman (2007) Hydration and Cognition: A Critical Review and Recommendations for Future Research, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 26:sup5, 555S-561S, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2007.10719658

McDermott BP, Anderson SA, Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, Cheuvront SN, Cooper L, Kenney WL, O’Connor FG, Roberts WO. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for the Physically Active. J Athl Train. 2017 Sep;52(9):877-895. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-52.9.02. PMID: 28985128; PMCID: PMC5634236.

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