Importance of Hydration
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Hydration is our favorite topic to discuss. Why? Because it is literally the most essential knowledge to have in order to be able to perform. Water is life, water is performance, water is energy. For athletes, we will split this topic into three parts: workout hydration, hydration before and after exercise, and daily hydration.
General thoughts on hydration
In general, dehydration has a significant impact on performance. Loss of 2% of body weight in fluids during exercise already impacts cognitive function and aerobic performance. 2% body weight for a 70kg man is 1,4 liters of water. That is not a lot, especially if we talk about long distance endurance athletes. 6-10% means severe dehydration, can impact cardiac output, and the body literally starts to shut down. It can literally decide whether you do well in a race or not.
Don't let a wrong hydration strategy ruin your hard work. One would say - fine, i will just drink a lot in races, right? But it is not that simple. Your performance is affected not only by how much liquid you drink during exercise, but what kind of liquid you drink, and how you hydrate throughout the day and before and after workouts.
How to hydrate during exercise
Your goal in exerciseand races is simple: minimise dehydration.
Depending on the length and weather conditions, your dehydration level will differ, but you almost always sweat, therefore lose water, and get dehydrated. The longer and hotter the event, the harder this job is. Dehydration during exercise will affect not only your performance in the race or workout, but also significantly affect your recovery process and therefore performance the next day or week.
If you are able to take more bottles, always make at least one of them an electrolyte mix (SOS, NuuN), the other can be energy (Skratch, Maurten) or pure water. If you are on a long ride, refill these bottles with both water and electrolytes, or take a tub of Nuun with you. Electrolytes (and especially sodium) play a key role in keeping the nervous system and muscles functioning properly, regulate osmotic pressure in cells, and, most importantly, help avoid a condition known as hyponatremia. This happens if you drink too much water (yes, that is a problem too), and not enough electrolytes - your cells will start blowing up and it can lead to death, which has sadly happened over and over in long endurance events. It is no joke.
If you want to be precise, you can get a sweat lab test, and see how much you sweat out in different conditions, and tailor your hydration to these results. Or, you can start with the general guideline above, and adjust based on how you feel during and after workout. Bottom line: always hydrate during exercise, and use electrolytes if possible.
Hydration before and after exercise
While hydrating before exercise is more related to daily hydration, it is advisable to sip on a bottle of electrolyte mix for about an hour or two before your training or race. It will help you avoid getting into a deficit in the early stages and you will feel more energised before. We love the SOS hydration packet for this job - low sugar, bunch of electrolytes, works on the go.
Much more critical is to re-hydrate post workout. It is as important as in-exercise hydration, and needs to be done almost religiously. This part is not about coming home from a three hour bike ride mid summer, and jugging 2 liters of water. It is about slowly and continuously, over several hours, replenishing lost fluids and supporting your recovery. Make sure to avoid sugary drinks or even energy sports drinks, and stick with water and low-carb electrolyte drinks!
If the previous two points are done correctly, then you will be fine with a glass of water here and there, mostly drinking to thirst. However, in periods of high intensity of training, racing season, or indoor workout season (hello december to march!), you might want to add some electrolytes in your water. We love Nuun, because it is easy to carry around, it is in a dissolving tablet so you do not need a shaker, and it tastes great! The vitamin infused version is great especially for winter months. This will keep you hydrated and energised much more efficiently.
And again - try to avoid sugary drinks, remember that coffee dehydrates you and should be followed with more water. If you are on a low carb diet, then electrolytes are even more important for you.
If you manage to stay on top of your hydration over time, and manage your fueling and nutrition, your fitness gains should follow.