Perform at your best by knowing how to stay on top of hydration and electrolyte levels.
Endurance sport can get hot and sweaty, but sweatiness is much more than inconvenience or discomfort during long training sessions and races. A proper hydration strategy can make or break your race performance - and have a huge impact on how well you recover.
What Does Well Hydrated Mean - And Why Does It Matter?
As an endurance athlete, hydration is a balance between dehydration and the associated poor performance, mental fogginess, and muscle cramps, and over hydration (which can be just as problematic). Hyponatremia occurs when your body’s natural electrolytes are diluted by too high of a fluid intake. Being well hydrated means taking in enough fluid, sodium, and other electrolytes to achieve and maintain an optimal balance so you can feel good and perform to the best of your abilities.
What Do You Need to Replace When You Sweat?
Hydration during endurance sport is not simply about drinking enough water. In fact, relying purely on water could leave your body’s electrolyte levels out of whack which will could have serious implications for your health and recovery.
So, if water isn’t sufficient, what exactly do we need to replace and replenish during longer runs, rides, and races?
The answer is electrolytes, sodium, and salt, all of which need to be replaced when you sweat if you want to perform at your best.
When you sweat, you lose water, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Sweat can contain 200mg - 2000mg sodium per litre (and if you’ve ever noticed white marks on your kit, or tasted salt on your skin, you’ll know it!) Of all the minerals and electrolytes in our body, sodium is most rapidly depleted during sweating. But we should also pay attention to potassium, chloride and bicarbonate. All electrolytes help control the stability of cell membranes and carry the electrical charges your muscles need to contract.
Why Does Sodium Matter?
Your body’s natural sodium levels play a number of crucial roles, and even a slight disruption in blood sodium levels can have a big impact on how you feel. A significant sodium imbalance can leave you seriously unwell. Sodium helps you absorb fluid from your drinks, which in turn maintains blood volume in your body. This is important when you’re doing endurance sport, because it makes life easier for your heart and reduces cardiovascular strain. Sodium also contributes to muscle contractions (which helps your body to move as you need it to). If you’ve ever had a painful cramp during or after training or racing, you’ll know the effects of sodium imbalance on muscle tissue.
How Much Sodium Do We Need?
Endurance athletes need to view sodium intake differently to the guidelines handed out to sedentary populations. The daily recommendation is 2,300mg, but we can easily secrete this and more during a short training session. If you’re sweat heavily, if your race is long distance, and if the weather is hot or humid then you will be losing even more. Sodium loss through sweat is highly individual.
Replacing Sodium & Electrolytes
As an active endurance athlete, you need to take in sodium (table salt) on a daily basis. Remember that the body can’t produce sodium, and nor can it store it beyond a certain basic level. However, salt from your food won’t be enough to maintain optimal sodium and electrolyte levels when you are training and racing the heat. It’s crucial that you use a quality sports supplement that can give you reliable, well dosed electrolytes.
Look for an advanced source of sodium, such as a triple action sodium complex, and sports-specific electrolytes like CocoMineral®, which has the key electrolytes sodium and potassium and is instantised for faster absorption.
Hydrating on Race Day
If you’re a big caffeine drinker, limit the amount of coffee and other caffeinated drinks you have in the 2-3 days before your race. It’s a diuretic, so limiting intake will help your body stay hydrated. Slightly increase your sodium intake during this time, too, either by lightly salting your food or by replacing some of the water you would usually drink with a good electrolyte drink.
On race day, pre load your hydration strategy with 500-750ml of strong electrolyte drink 2-3 hours before the race. This will expand blood volume and reduce cardiovascular strain. If you’re unsure about this method, try it out on a significantly long or hot training run or ride first. Be sure to have water and electrolyte drink on your bike (even for short races).
4 Ways to Stay Well Hydrated
1 Don’t let yourself get thirsty before you drink, but don’t drink to the clock or gulp down huge amounts in one go, either. Learn to listen to your body’s thirst cues and maintain a good level of hydration all the time (not just when you’re training).
2 Check the colour of your urine and the frequency of your toilet breaks. If you only go a few times a day, that’s a sign that you’re not drinking enough. Aim for straw coloured urine (completely clear could be a sign that you’re drinking too much).
3 Get into the habit of drinking water upon waking - don’t forget that your body has just gone 6+ hours without water, and you have been sweating throughout that time.
4 Use a good quality sports hydration drink in training and racing - look for one that has an advanced sodium blend and all of the electrolytes your body needs.