Did Dehydration Help the Warriors Win the NBA Finals?

Did Dehydration Help the Warriors Win the NBA Finals?

Run, jump, shoot, defend. Repeat, and repeat again. Rest is for the offseason.

Follow this routine, except when you can’t; even the best athletes in the world have limits.

And those limits appeared during the 2015 NBA Finals as LeBron James was gassed throughout, Matthew Dellavedova went to the hospital after Game 3, and Stephen Curry needed additional fluids following the Golden State Warriors’ 104-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers to take a 3-2 series edge.

Fatigue played a role in the series, which also hinged on who was able to prevent, fight through, or at least mitigate the effects of dehydration. Advantage: Warriors, who seemed deal with that best en route to the 2015 NBA title.

So, what are those effects? How did that slow down James, arguably the best athlete on the planet, or Curry, possibly the best pure shooter the sport has seen?

Did Dehydration in the NBA Finals Help the Golden State Warriors Win?

We asked two of Beachbody’s resident experts to weigh in on the topics of hydration, fatigue, and athletic performance, and how these factors specifically affected the stars of the 2015 NBA Finals.

Steve Edwards (Vice President, Fitness & Nutrition):
It’s important for everyone, not just athletes. As an example, let’s use sodium. Hydration is a balance between fluid and electrolytes, and sodium is the primary electrolyte. In everyday situations, you only need about 500mg of sodium a day to live, but when you’re pushing yourself to your physical limit in hot weather, you can deplete 2,000mg in one hour.

Dr. Nima Alamdari (Director, Scientific Affairs):
High intensity exercise is associated with high rates of metabolic heat production, and the sweating response kicks in to limit the rise in body temperature. A body water deficit is poorly tolerated, and a deficit as little as 2 percent of body weight will impair exercise tolerance, power, and performance, crossing multiple sporting settings, including basketball.

For these guys, replacement of losses is vital, but there is relative insensitivity of the thirst mechanism and that makes it really difficult for athletes in demanding sporting situations such as we saw in the NBA Finals. As Steve said, the control of fluid balance is directly linked with electrolyte (especially sodium) balance, and maintenance of hydration when sweat rates are high. This requires replacement of electrolyte losses as well as the volume loss.


More specifically, how does that affect NBA players like LeBron James, Matthew Dellavedova, or Stephen Curry during in-game situations?

It’s impossible to fully replenish yourself in a game situation where, like LeBron, you’re playing the entire time. There’s simply no way to hydrate enough for what he’s doing. This is completely different from a regular-season game, when you can spend more time on the bench, or you don’t have to go all out on every single play. This is not only why you see LeBron cramping at the end of games, it’s why the Warriors have been more effective in crunch time. They have more guys in their rotations so they are more rested. LeBron is an absolute beast. He borders on inhuman, but he still is, in fact, human, and it shows, if only barely.

Sweat loss is highly variable in athletes. In competitive basketball games, it’s been shown that average sweat loss is around 2.5 liters in a game, with sweat loss rates of around 1.5 liters per hour (L.M. Burke of the Australian Sports Commission tracked this). In competition, this can be much higher, and depends on the individual, duration of play, and intensity. For someone like LeBron, this could be far higher given his on court time and intensity of play. These guys have limited opportunities for fluid intake, and large water deficits are incurred.


How quickly can one recover? Is it at all possible these players are sufficiently recovered after a day of rest after 40 or so minutes playing in an NBA playoff game?

You can re-hydrate relatively quickly so it’s not, or at least shouldn’t be, an issue game to game. However, most people are chronically dehydrated. I would hope guys who make a living being hydrated would know how to do it but I can’t assume they get it right. Reports are that Dellavedova had coffee before his magnificent Game 3, where he went to the hospital afterward. I assume that’s hyperbole, at least in part, but if it’s true and he actually wasn’t fueling at all during the game, it would explain things. [Editor’s note: Dellavedova does have a habit of drinking coffee as part of his pregame routine, as reported on Cleveland.com during the regular season. Following severe cramps that led to a hospital visit after Game 3 of the Finals, Dellavedova told reporters that he would suspend the pregame habit, though Rachel Nichols of NBA.TV tweeted he had coffee during Game 4 and felt fine.]

Agreed, hydration shouldn’t be an issue if there’s thought toward their hydration status (pre, during, post game). Like Steve said, most people, including athletes, turn up in a hypohydrated (dehydrated) state, which is well known to limit performance.


In general, what fluids and levels are athletic trainers and medical professionals trying to restore?

You are worried primarily about water, sodium, and potassium. Most good sports drinks address this, along with sugar, which you also lose rapidly, so it’s not really rocket science to stay hydrated. Some sports fuels are much better than others but you’d think these guys have access to the best there is.

Restoration of your blood plasma volume and plasma osmolality. This requires specific levels of sugar, electrolytes (mainly sodium), and volume of water to ensure rapid hydration and maintenance of fluid balance.

All athletes should begin exercise in a well-hydrated state, by paying close attention to the thirst sensation prior to exercise. Drinking to thirst during exercise may not allow sufficient fluid replacement. Therefore, a solid strategy is to program fluid intake to prevent a 2-3 percent body weight loss.

Depending on the team, hydration protocols differ. Ideally, the drink would be tailored to an individual’s sweat losses and would comprise a fluid that is slightly “hypotonic” to ensure rapid fluid absorption and enable fluid maintenance. Hypertonic drinks can exacerbate existing dehydration due to higher sugar levels and slower rates of fluid absorption, and aren’t the ideal composition when hydration in the short term is the priority target.


How much does dehydration affect mental stress? Decision making?

A lot when you become very dehydrated, but not too much at low levels. When you throw in bonking—or blood and glycogen depletion—which is also happening during a game, it can become a pretty big factor. You see a lot of bad decisions at the end of games but it’s hard to pinpoint the cause because stress also hampers the decision making process, and there’s plenty of that, too.

Deficits have been shown to affect jump tests, shooting accuracy and percentages, as well as on court sprint performance. These differences could affect the outcome of games.