Behind the scenes at Sale Sharks: Pre-season Fitness

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited up to Sale Sharks to train with the squad as they underwent hydration testing with Gatorade.

The test would show how much fluid the Sale Sharks players lost during exercise and what is lost in this perspiration in order to enhance individual player performance through identifying specific hydration and nutritional needs.

“Bring your kit and get involved in the training, and we’ll see how much sweat you lose.” Er, no thanks, I replied, remembering my detest of pre-season training. I’ll be happy enough to watch the elite athletes get put through their paces by Dr Ian Rollo of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and Mark Ellison, head nutritionist of the Sale Sharks. Check out this video below, and you’ll see why I was delighted with my decision:


The hydration test would show how much fluid the players lost during exercise and what is lost in this perspiration in order to enhance individual player performance through identifying specific hydration and nutritional needs.

This was done through pre exercise body weight measurements and urine tests followed by sweat collection patches being put on their forehead, forearm and thigh in order to assess their fluid and electrolyte balance. During the exercise their fluid intake and output was continually monitored. Post-exercise the team were then re-weighed in order to establish how much fluid they had individually lost as a consequence of sweating.

Dr Ian Rollo comments, “Beginning exercise dehydrated and dehydration as a consequence of sweating can impair the athletes’ performance. As a person sweats they are losing water and salt, both of which need to be replaced. Sweat losses (weight loss) should be restricted during training and games to approximately equal to or less than 2% of one’s pre-exercise body weight. The tests completed will be able to establish the players hydration status on arrival to training and how much sweat was lost during exercise and we’ll also be able to assess if the athlete is drinking enough during exercise.

He continues “In team sports such as rugby it is common to observe a large variation in the player’s sweating response, even to the same training session. In addition, the amount of salt lost in sweat will vary significantly between players of the same squad. The tests completed with Sale Sharks identified those players who are most at risk of becoming dehydrated during exercise and those that lost significant amounts of salt and electrolytes over the duration of the training session”.

He continued: “All the results will be fed back to the players and the club’s nutritionist, Mark Ellison, who can use the information to develop individualised drinking strategies for training and games to enhance each individual player’s needs. A “one size fits all” approach does not apply to team sports. Thus, a drinking plan specific to the individual will help optimise performance during exercise and speed recovery after training.

Mark Ellison, whose roles include Sale Sharks and Manchester United head nutritionist commented “Assessing each of the players individual sweat loss and composition was one of the final components of our intensive pre-season nutrition screening at the club.

Obviously the wrong hydration strategies can be catastrophic for an athlete’s performance. Not only impacting negatively upon work capacity and perception of exertion, it also impairs things like cognitive function, which is essential for decision-making, hastens fatigue and reduces players’ co-ordination which can increase our risk of injury.”

It is important to remember that although the tests were completed with a professional club the principles of hydration testing can be applied to rugby players at all levels of the game and athletes alike. Everyone can monitor their sweat rate loss, even at home – check out the video below for details:


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