Indiana State University Newsroom

Study finds many football players dehydrated

September 30, 2009

A high percentage of collegiate and professional athletes begin the season dehydrated, putting their health at risk even before they begin strenuous workouts, according to researchers at Indiana State University.

The rate is especially high among football players, with as many as four out of five members of one college team exhibiting dehydration during pre-season physical examinations, said Susan Yeargin, assistant professor of athletic training in Indiana State's College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services.

With many teams undertaking grueling workouts twice a day during some of the hottest weeks of the year, football players are especially at risk from dehydration, Yeargin said. That risk was recently in the spotlight in Louisville, Ky. where a high school coach faced reckless homicide charges for the August 2008 death of a player who succumbed to heatstroke. Prosecutors claimed the coach there acted irresponsibly by withholding water from athletes during a practice.

Ideally, the ISU study could help others to avoid a similar fate.

"We hope that our study will serve to educate players, coaches and health care providers and help ensure a higher level of safety for athletes at all levels," Yeargin said.

Approximately 80 percent of NCAA Division I football players and 50 percent of NFL players who participated in an ISU study were found to be dehydrated during pre-season physical examinations, Yeargin said. Approximately 30 percent of NCAA Division III players were dehydrated.
Dehydration affects the human body in many ways, Yeargin said.

"It's going to affect an athlete's physical performance - they're not going to have the dexterity to catch the ball correctly, they're also going to have cognitive effects such as trouble remembering plays," she said. "Physiologically, their core body temperature could be higher than it should have been if they were hydrated. Their heart rate will be higher, and they're going to perceive that they're working harder than they actually are."

The study, conducted at the start of the current football season, involved the teams of Indiana State and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as well as the Indianapolis Colts.

Indiana State student-athletes in volleyball, cross-country and soccer were also surveyed. Fewer participants in those sports were found to be dehydrated.

The study also served to show athletes how they can self-regulate their hydration level, said Lindsey Eberman, assistant professor of athletic training.

"One factor is teaching them about urine color and how they can self-recognize how hydrated they are. We think that has a significant impact on their day-to-day practices. If they recognize their hydration level as lower, they can instill the correct pattern of behavior to ensure that they become hydrated before the next practice," Eberman said.

Urine that is clear in color indicates sufficient hydration while a dark yellow or brown color indicates an individual is dehydrated, she said.

Many athletes, football players in particular, showed improvement in just one day after receiving tips from Indiana State professors and students about ways to self-monitor their level of hydration.

"We saw really good results for that," Yeargin said. "A good number of the guys came back hydrated after following those tips."

Another goal of the research is to stress to team physicians and athletic trainers the importance of collecting accurate data during physicals, Yeargin said.

"When they get a baseline body mass on someone during pre-participation physicals they need to make sure that it is a "true" baseline measurement. If they're going to use that as their primary starting point measurement and the person actually weighs more than that because they were dehydrated when it was taken, then health care providers can't trust any of their other weight measurements for the rest of pre-season," she said.

A side benefit of the study is that it educated undergraduate athletic training majors about the importance of research, the professors said.

Coincidentally, their study was conducted during the time of the Kentucky high school coach's trial and Yeargin and Eberman took their students to Louisville last week to sit it on the proceedings.

"The involvement of students in research is so important to the profession of athletic training. Students need to realize how significant research is and how they can apply it to their clinical practice," Eberman said.

"It can help me if I happen to research in grad school or in the professional community because I will have a better understanding of the importance of research and how to do it," said Tiffani Vaal, a junior from St. Meinrad.

"As a freshman I had no interest in getting involved in research. I thought it was way too much work, but now that I've seen it I know I can do it and it's interesting," added Shannen Falconer, a junior from Winnebago, Ill.

Falconer, who was a student-athlete in high school, did not expect such a high percentage of Division I athletes to exhibit dehydration.

"You know you're going to work hard and sweat a lot and yet to come in already dehydrated was really surprising," she said.

Photos: - Indiana State University football players down sports drinks during practice at Memorial Stadium. A study by the ISU athletic training education department underscores the need for improved hydration of student-athletes. - Susan Yeargin, assistant professor of athletic training at Indiana State University.

Contacts: Susan Yeargin, assistant professor of athletic training, 812-237-3962 or or Lindsey Eberman, assistant professor of athletic training, 812-237-7694 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or