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Contreras champions importance of hydration

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Cubs open up a three-game series with the Nationals on Friday at 1:20 p.m. CT, and as far as most are concerned, Thursday is an off-day.

By no means, though, are the Cubs taking it easy with no game to play. Instead, they run, stretch, hit and hydrate -- the last one, perhaps, being the most important.

CHICAGO -- The Cubs open up a three-game series with the Nationals on Friday at 1:20 p.m. CT, and as far as most are concerned, Thursday is an off-day.

By no means, though, are the Cubs taking it easy with no game to play. Instead, they run, stretch, hit and hydrate -- the last one, perhaps, being the most important.

Willson Contreras was out on the field Thursday afternoon taking batting practice and going through defensive drills. These workouts are grueling for everyone, but with the heat index approaching 90 degrees, they are even harder on Contreras, who is wearing five-pound catchers equipment for half of it.

Every 10 minutes or so, Contreras would stop, wipe the sweat from his face and walk over to a nearby cooler for a Gatorade. The importance of hydrating for athletes, he said, is often overlooked, even more so among youth athletes.

"When you're a kid, you think you can do everything without hydrating," Contreras said. "It's really important, especially on a hot day when you're wearing a lot of gear. You tend to get weak."

Contreras' goal on Thursday, aside from preparing for the upcoming series, was to help educate coaches, athletes and parents about the importance of hydration as he participated in the Gatorade Beat the Heat program.

For athletes to stay safe during games or workouts, they need to keep hydrating so they can replace what they lose when they sweat.

Contreras, who started for the 2018 National League All-Star team, is more susceptible to dehydration than almost anyone else on the field because of how active catchers are required to be on every pitch. Each half inning, he has to squat, catch, stand up and throw. Many times, he has to jump, run or drop to his knees to block pitches in the dirt.

It's exhausting, and he burns a lot of energy in the process, which causes his body to heat up. That's when the sweat starts flowing, acting as a natural cooling device so he doesn't overheat. If he doesn't hydrate, he can't sweat enough to keep his body from overheating, which could cause him to cramp, get hurt or feel sick.

When players start to feel thirsty or dehydrated, it could be too late for them to recover that day. To keep playing at that point is dangerous, and athletes should speak up if this happens to them.

Understandably so, most kids don't want to tell their coach to take them out of the game because they are dehydrated. Contreras' solution: Don't let it get to that point, and start hydrating earlier.

"I start doing it the night before," Contreras said. "When the game starts, I drink two cups of Gatorade every single inning just to keep my energy and not get any injuries."

It's obvious, Contreras said, that players should be drinking a lot of water and Gatorade when its hot outside, but he said it's just as important to drink when temperatures are cooler. Athletes are still vulnerable to dehydration when it isn't warm because they're still using a lot of energy to play, and therefore, they need to sweat to keep from overheating.

"When it's colder weather," Contreras said, "You still need to drink because you feel like you aren't sweating, but you are."

Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.

Chicago Cubs, Willson Contreras