Hydration and Shot Accuracy

Every summer I get to travel the Midwest with my daughter’s AAU team. At each tournament, we watch and play against some amazing athletes.

We were just recently in Chicago for Nike Nationals. As the tournament progressed I noticed girls who were shooting near 80% on the first couple of days become significantly less accurate on the last few days. Not only was their shot less accurate, but their ball handling struggled and game speed decisions also seemed to decline.

The talent in these teams was very closely matched especially as the brackets played out. Now, I’m not saying it was hydration that let the winners be the winners – but in one game I recall specifically – the winning team made 18 three-pointers – the team that lost who was equally as good, struggled to make shorts from the outside and in turn lost the game handily. The difference, in my opinion, was based on 3-pointers. In a study on basketball and the effects of hydration the science states that as dehydration progresses so does 3-point accuracy.

Of course, a big part of this decline is also related to fatigue and nutrition pre & post-game, however, studies show that as little as a 1% dehydration impairs shot accuracy (especially on three-pointers) and that will be the focus of today’s conversation.

One last note before we get started – if you think “I drink plenty of water”, water alone isn’t enough when competing at high intensities for multiple games. Only replacing the liquid lost without electrolytes (sodium, magnesium & potassium) will not help restore the body’s hydration status.


Hydration plays an important role in athletic performance, injury prevention, recovery, and cognitive function. Today we’re going to talk mostly about cognitive function and skill-based performance because it is the foundation of shot accuracy and overall athletic ability. Fatigue is always to blame for a lack of energy, accuracy, and overall play in any sport. But in a game like Basketball which has high complexity tasks, basketball athletes need a high fatigue threshold to perform the skill requirements as well as the physical requirements. Developing a high fatigue threshold goes with training, recovering and fueling – Hydration being a key building block to all three of these.

Most basketball players reach an average of 1.4% dehydration in a single game and most basketball athletes are already starting in a hydration deficit because they didn’t replenish all their water loss and electrolytes after their previous game or workout.

Since dehydration accelerates fatigue and fatigue decreases shot mechanics (elbow/shoulder angle, shot arch, and body mass positioning), mental clarity, and decision-making it would go hand in hand that proper hydration can improve both performance and shot accuracy, especially for athletes who are playing multiple games in one day not to mention back to back games on multiple days.

Key Findings:

  • 2% dehydration could impair performance of basektball-specific skills and basketball-specfic movementes
  • Athletes should have an idea of how much water should be replaced after events. Looking at urine color, the color of the sweat after it dries (is it white signalling a high loss of sodium), and how much the athlete weighs pre and post-game.
  • Water alone isn’t enough to support the demands of the sport because we do not just sweat water but also electrolytes which are important for muscle function and mental clarity.

Effects of Dehydration on Physical & Mental Performance

Skill-based performance is the ability to perform a complicated task as a result of long-term acquisition and development of both motor-skill and cognitive function. Evidence from studies show that athletes with a 2-3% dehydration impairs not only the ability to do skill based work, but also mood, mental readiness and decision making. When an athlete is hydrated they have an increased ability to remain cool, they have more lubrication in their joints, increased brain function, and more oxygen flow to the muscles to continue the skills required for the sport.

Anyone that has spent any time around athletes during a multiple-day tournament has probably witnessed the increase of emotion, the decrease in motor skills, the increase in frustrations, and the decrease in good game-speed decisions. I am by no means saying hydration is the cure-all to hormonal changes or the answer to avoiding rough games – But what if… A good hydration plan could be the answer to some of it.

Physical Benefits of Hydration for Sports:

  • Improved Muscle Function – Hydrated muscles function better than dehydrated muscles.
  • Regulated Blood Pressure – Staying hydrated helps maintain blood pressure during exercise so your heart doesn’t work harder to maintain normal blood pressure.
  • Improved Circulation – Staying hydrated also improves blood flow and circulation and therefore the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This keeps them strong and their skills consistent. Dehydrated muscles are typically slow or delayed in response to the brain’s signals. Good hydration also helps remove metabolic by-products (waste) from the muscles to aid in recovery.

Cognitive Benefits of Hydration in Sports:

  • Continuous Vigilance – Hydrated athletes are more aware of their surroundings and are more careful and strategic in their game-speed choices.
  • Consistent Decision making – A hydrated athlete is able to make smart decisions on the court. They can continue to play smart no matter the level of difficulty set before them.
  • Focus on tasks that require attention – Hydrated athletes have more focus
  • Motor coordination – Hydrated athletes have better motor control because t heir muscles have what they need to continue to perform without excessive breakdown.

If I haven’t convinced you already, I’ll leave you with this one study that took a group of athletes to play a 40-minute game with and without drinking water. “2v2 full court”. The athletes who had fluid restriction experienced an 8.1% decrease in field-goal percentage between the first and second half. The athletes that had proper fluid balance saw an increase of 1.6% in their field goal percentage between halves. That is the difference between a team finishing well or not.

Hydration Strategies

Fluids and electrolytes are offered to athletes for a number of reasons. As an athlete sweats they lose more than water, they also lose sodium which is an important electrolyte for water balance and muscle contraction. For a general fitness enthusiast, water alone should be fine. Competitive athletes, however, should consume an electrolyte drink.

As an athlete sweats their PH changes. By drinking water alone, they could be flushing out even more sodium. During tournaments, it would be a good idea to have an electrolyte drink to replenish sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

  • Start Hydrated – Drink water first thing in the morning and continue to drink water throughout the day. Don’t chug water or drink it all fast because it will dilute your system too fast and strip you of other needed performance nutrients. In our household, we use LMNT, NUUN, or Advocare’s Rehydrate (I suggest adding celtic sea salt to this). This is great pre-game and during game.
  • Stay Hydrated – Continue to drink fluids as you play. Having an electrolyte drink instead of just water will greatly increase your hydration and performance. I suggest avoiding the typical sports drinks – many of them are high in sugar and don’t have a good electrolyte balance. (LMNT, NUUN, or Advocare’s Rehydrate (I suggest adding celtic sea salt to the rehydrate at times)).
  • Rehydrate – Good carbohydrate meal post-event with 24 oz water would be great!!!

Happy Shooting!

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