By Angela Walker
As a nutritionist my area of focus is helping people sustain and optimise their energy from a mental (brain function) as well as physical perspective. There is so much untapped potential in humans and what we eat and drink has a huge impact on how we can access our own potential and prevent unnecessary performance killers.
As a polo player you have an enormous amount to think about during a match: Am I in control of my pony? Where is the game going? Where does my pro expect me to be? Can I hit this ball? Is that my line?
So what do you think is the most important asset for any polo player? It has to be our BRAINS!
So here’s the thing. Your brain is 80% water, if you become dehydrated, by just 2% of body weight, which is incredibly easy to do, your cognitive function and aerobic ability are decreased. What that means is you are going to tire quicker, make bad calls in the game and be more likely to miss shots.
We play polo, often in hot countries (ok, sorry UK maybe not there), we are galloping around for at least 40 minutes in a 4-chukka match, getting sweaty, we might have flown to the venue, maybe we had a few too many drinks at the team presentation the previous night, possibly a few coffee’s to kick start our morning. All of these factors contribute to dehydration yet we don’t always recognise this and replace the right fluids.
I suspect you all know dehydration isn’t a good idea; what I want to highlight is that it’s very likely you are dehydrated when you play and that is probably affecting your judgement on your play and your focus on your ball hitting skills. The good news is that it is really easy to address.
What we need to stay hydrated varies individually, depending on your sweat rate, what you’ve eaten, drunk and the environment you have been in. Start paying attention to what you drink from 4 hours prior to the match. Drink between ¼ and ½ litre of water each hour. Check your urine, it should be a pale yellow, if it’s dark, drink more fluid.
Not all fluids are equal in terms of their ability to hydrate. If your coffee intake is more than 4 or 5 espresso a day, its going to have a dehydrating effect. Alcohol inhibits the anti-diuretic hormone, meaning when you drink alcohol you make more urine and end up more dehydrated.
Getting optimally hydrated involves not just water but also the right balance of electrolytes; these are minerals with an electrical charge that allow water to move through the different compartments of the body and importantly help it ‘lock’ inside the body (rather than passing right through) and enable water to pass into the cells where it is most needed.
We get those electrolytes from the food we eat, especially if they are smoothies, soups, salads, lots of vegetables, and from fluid choices such as coconut water, mineral water infused with ginger, lemon, cucumber and diluted fruit juices. Adding a pinch of a Himalyan rock salt or a good sea salt to plain water adds these electrolytes. You can also use sports based electrolyte sachets, one of the ones I particularly like is called Emergen-C.
When you get to the match, don’t leave anything to chance, bring your own water. Add a pinch of salt to it or an electrolyte sachet.
Once you’ve finished, make sure you re-hydrate. If you are celebrating a win, fantastic, match each glass of alcohol with a glass of water and you are more likely to repeat that success the following day.
Remember, staying hydrated improves your concentrate and focus during the match. Start focussing on your hydration at least two hours before the match and keep it up between chukkas.
Here are three ideas to take away and try at your next match:
1. Make an infusion: add slices of cucumber to plain water (filtered tap water or mineral water). Other ideas include slices of ginger root, quarter of a lime. These add flavour as well as adding to the electrolyte content of the water. Drink this over lunch before your match.
2. Take a 1 litre bottle of water to a match; add ½ teaspoon of Himalayan salt to it (this salt is particularly high in trace minerals – it’s the pink kind you find in health food shops). Drink half of it during the 2 hours prior to the match, and sip the rest of it between chukkas.
3. Match a glass of water to every glass of alcohol at the post match game. Your body and brain (as well as pony and pro) will thank you the next day.