Dehydration: physiology, assessment, and performance effects

Compr Physiol. 2014 Jan;4(1):257-85. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c130017.


This article provides a comprehensive review of dehydration assessment and presents a unique evaluation of the dehydration and performance literature. The importance of osmolality and volume are emphasized when discussing the physiology, assessment, and performance effects of dehydration. The underappreciated physiologic distinction between a loss of hypo-osmotic body water (intracellular dehydration) and an iso-osmotic loss of body water (extracellular dehydration) is presented and argued as the single most essential aspect of dehydration assessment. The importance of diagnostic and biological variation analyses to dehydration assessment methods is reviewed and their use in gauging the true potential of any dehydration assessment method highlighted. The necessity for establishing proper baselines is discussed, as is the magnitude of dehydration required to elicit reliable and detectable osmotic or volume-mediated compensatory physiologic responses. The discussion of physiologic responses further helps inform and explain our analysis of the literature suggesting a ≥ 2% dehydration threshold for impaired endurance exercise performance mediated by volume loss. In contrast, no clear threshold or plausible mechanism(s) support the marginal, but potentially important, impairment in strength, and power observed with dehydration. Similarly, the potential for dehydration to impair cognition appears small and related primarily to distraction or discomfort. The impact of dehydration on any particular sport skill or task is therefore likely dependent upon the makeup of the task itself (e.g., endurance, strength, cognitive, and motor skill).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Water / metabolism
  • Dehydration / diagnosis
  • Dehydration / physiopathology*
  • Extracellular Fluid / physiology
  • Humans
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology