We all know that fueling your body with a strategic nutrition plan is paramount to achieving your physique as well as athletic performance goals. But how much attention do you put into your hydration strategy? This may be one key aspect of your plan that you may have overlooked. Before we dive into some specific tips and guidelines, let’s look at some facts about hydration and fluid balance...
Now let's take into account exercise: In an intense 1 hour exercise session, eg spin class, your body could be losing up to 2 L in sweat, burning approximately 800 kcal, and losing up to 2g of sodium, an important electrolyte that needs to be maintained in your body for proper cell signaling and electrical conductivity.
In order for things to work smoothly and for your body to function optimally with exercise or sport, you need to be replenishing fluids during, not replacing fluids afterwards, because replacing lost fluids already indicates that you are dehydrated, and by that time, your performance has already begun to plummet. This is also the problem with waiting to drink fluids until your thirst kicks in – by the time this mechanism is signaled in your brain, you are already 2-3% dehydrated, which has significant effects on physical co-ordination as well as mental performance. This makes hydration before, during, and afterwards, critical in order to replenish fluids for optimal performance.
HOW HYDRATED ARE YOU?
Signs of extreme dehydration, that require medical intervention, include: severe thirst, extremely dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, little or no urination, fever, and delirium/confusion/loss of consciousness. Get to an ER for IV hydration, STAT!
HYDRATING TIPS – BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER EXERCISE
The amount of fluid, and the composition of that fluid, that you will take in will depend on a number of factors: your body weight, your rate of fluid loss (ie sweating), the duration of exercise, and the temperature of the environment you train. To put it very simply, the bigger you are, the more you sweat, the longer you exercise, and the hotter/more humid the environment, the more fluids you will have to replenish.
Also something to consider is that the amount of fluids/fuel you can actually consume during a bout of exercise will be limited by the speed of your stomach emptying. In general, most people can comfortably consume between 500-825ml of fluids per hour, 500-700mg of sodium per hour, and roughly 240-280 kcal per hour. Your stomach emptying capacity itself will be influenced by: the temperature of the fluids (colder water empties faster), the volume of fluids consumed at a time (larger volumes empty faster believe it or not!), the osmolality of the water (fancy word for how much solid is in the fluid), and the exercise intensity (higher than 75% of your VO2 max will slow/stop stomach emptying)
For exercise sessions lasting more than 1 hour, you will need to be replenishing more than just water. Through sweating you will be losing key electrolytes, namely sodium and chloride, and will need to replenish these along with water. Another thing to consider is consuming calories in the form of carbohydrates, aka glucose. Your muscle and liver storage forms of glucose, aka glycogen, will be tapped into during long duration activities, and if these aren’t replenished during exercise, you will inevitably “hit the wall” and need to slow down or stop the activity. This is why sports/energy drinks were invented, as they provide 6-8% solution of carbohydrates in water with electrolytes. However, most of these big name products contain many artificial sweeteners, colors, and stimulants that may have unwanted side effects or even impede performance so I usually steer clear of them unless it's a last resort. Lastly, when exercising for 2+ hours, you will need to consider adding protein in the form of amino acids, to prevent muscle breakdown and use as fuel during a long duration exercise session.
Here are some guidelines to maintain proper hydration before, during and after workouts:
1-2hr before activity – consume 250-500ml (8-16 fluid ounces) cold (5°C) water
<1hr - consume 500-750 ml (16-24 fluid ounces) cold water per hour
1-2hr – consume 500-750 ml (16-24 fluid ounces) cold water + *electrolytes + *carbohydrates per hour
2+ hr - consume 500-750 ml (16-24 fluid ounces) cold water + *electrolytes + *carbohydrates + *protein per hour
Activity <1hr – consume 250-500ml (8-16 fluid ounces) cold (5°C) water immediately afterwards + balanced meal within 1 hr
Activity 1+ hr - consume 250-500ml (8-16 fluid ounces) cold (5°C) water + #carbohydrate + #protein immediately afterwards + balanced meal within 1 hr
*NOTE: The amount you will need will vary based on body weight and individual training needs. I recommend using reputable brands like Hammer Nutrition whose products have been well formulated and don’t contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Consider HEED Powder Sports Drink or Hammer Gels for exercise durations 1-2hr. Consider Perpetuum Powder for activities lasting 2+ hr. See www.hammernutrition.com for products and dosage details.
#Consider a protein shake with fast acting carbohydrates like maltodextrin, or a fruit smoothie with a quality protein powder. You could also try Recoverite from Hammer Nutrition.
**I have no affiliations and receive no compensation from Hammer Nutrition – it’s just a brand I have used and trust!
These are some general guidelines for optimal hydration, but of course you need to experiment with yourself to determine the right amount of each for your performance needs. Now I would love to hear from you! Have you tried hydration strategies like this and how did it work for you? Have you tried any other brands for your hydration needs and what would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below so we can all learn from your experience :)