Hydration. Are You Doing It Right?
Your Guide to hydration in sport.
It's one of the most talked about subjects in sport, but one of the least actioned areas in sports performance. You've probably heard that you need to be drinking between 2-3 litres of water per day to stay hydrated, but how do you know what is optimal for you? After all, there's a big difference between 2 & 3 litres!
First of all, it's important to identify your environment and exercise levels. Somebody that is mainly sedentary in a cool environment is unlikely to sweat as much as a sedentary person in a hot environment, or an active person in a hot environment. If you exercise for two hours on one day, and 30 minutes another day, your water intake demands are also likely to be vastly different across the two days. Endurance athletes can lose anywhere around 2% total body mass in water content over the course of a marathon. Formula 1 athlete Lewis Hamilton said in a recent interview that he often loses as much as 2-3 kg of body mass during a two-hour race. This equates to an estimated 3-4% body mass (based on his online body mass stats)
What effect does water loss have on an athlete's performance?
Water makes up around 55% of the female body mass and over 60% of the total male body mass, it helps with everything from keeping our vital organs working, to our soft tissue structures, bones, skin, vision and almost every other bodily function! Our brains and lungs are predominantly made of water and without the relevant levels of hydration, our bodies simply can't perform basic functions that we rely on for life, never mind function optimally for sports performance.
We lose water through sweat, urine, saliva and breathing. It's vital to understand that as water leaves our body, we lose other crucial components with it such as salt and electrolytes. These are important for muscle function and the absence of electrolytes can result in muscle cramping; therefore it is necessary to replace these when trying to rehydrate. It is estimated, that the human body requires around 500mg of salt (sodium) per day to conduct nerve impulses which are what make our muscles contract and relax, it is likely that you will need more salt as you lose more water. Electrolytes help to regulate the chemical reactions within the body, therefore, when trying to rehydrate, consider your salt and electrolyte intake in addition to the amount of water you replace.
Cyclists competing in the heat for over 5 hrs may benefit from PFI aiming to limit body mass loss to <2% when a high intensity effort is required in the later phase of the race and when time lost for urination is not a consideration. Jeker et al. 2021
What is optimal?
There have been a few studies that have tried to compare the effects of exercise performance when using a programmed hydration strategy Vs a thirst-driven hydration
strategy in cycling. Jeker et al. 2021 found that a programmed drinking strategy produced an extra 5 Watts of power compared to a thirst-driven hydration strategy during a 20km cycling TT and separate 5hr cycle trial. One of the proposed benefits of a programmed drinking strategy was that it limited body mass loss to <2% during the study, enabling better thermoregulation and a reduction in cardiovascular stress and blood sodium concentration. (If you want to read the study, click here)
Trial and Error
If you choose to go for a programmed hydration strategy, the chances are that you are going to have to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. Whilst the study above stated a performance improvement by programming the hydration strategy, the authors also found that when implementing the programmed strategy, the participants of the study had to stop to urinate more often (this would eat away at the overall time if you were in a racing situation)
With this information in mind, it seems only logical to implement some form of hydration strategy in your day-to-day training and not solely just for an event or competition, after all, if your body and muscles aren't functioning optimally during your training, the training effect simply won't carry over to your sport.
As always, if you made it this far, then hopefully you found this blog post topic useful. If you believe that getting a nutritionist or dietician's assistance in this area could help, then get in touch as I have some great recommendations.
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