December 16, 2009

Drink (Water) and Be Happy

Study finds dehydration in athletes leads to bad moods and perhaps poorer cognitive performance

By Helene Ragovin

Athletes who didn’t drink enough liquids during workouts were more likely to report feeling fatigued, confused, angry, depressed or tense than their well-hydrated peers. Photo: iStock

Being dehydrated can take a toll not only on your body—it can put you in a lousy mood, too.

A team of Tufts researchers studying the effects of mild dehydration on college athletes found that subjects who engaged in high-impact aerobic activities for 60 to 75 minutes without adequate hydration were more likely to report feeling fatigued, confused, angry, depressed or tense than those who engaged in similar activities and drank enough fluids.

The study, which used volunteers from the men’s and women’s crew and women’s lacrosse teams, also looked at the issue of dehydration and cognitive performance. The relationship between hydration and cognition appeared to be less clear-cut than that between hydration and mood. While the data suggested mild dehydration has some negative influence on cognition, it seems “mood may be more sensitive to fluid balance,” according to the study, which was published in August in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.

The interaction of physical exertion, mild dehydration, mood and cognition are particularly important for student athletes, the study’s authors say, because they are often required to proceed directly from training and competition to class and other activities that require significant focus and concentration.

And even those athletes who make an effort to consume water or sports drinks may not be immune, says Kristen D’Anci, G96, a research associate in psychology and lead author of the study. “One of the things we learned in a pilot study related to the published paper is that during athletic practice for sports like soccer or volleyball, athletes who were permitted to drink water throughout a ‘light’ or ‘average’ practice as they normally would had a fluid deficit at the end of team practice reflecting approximately 1 percent dehydration,” she says.

“This finding is relevant for athletes who may feel that since they are drinking during practice, they are fully hydrated—but this is sometimes not the case,” D’Anci says. “In cases of more strenuous practice or during a game, this level of dehydration is likely to be higher.”

D’Anci is also a research associate in the Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. Holly Taylor, a professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences, is one of the co-authors.

Helene Ragovin can be reached at

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