Hydration. Hydration. Hydration. No, really, I can’t say it enough. My boyfriend yells at me because anytime he has an ailment OF ANY KIND, my first question is: “Did you drink water?” Oh, your hips hurt? – drink water. Oh, you’re sore? – drink water. Oh you’re hangry?! – DRINK WATER. We are constantly losing fluids, especially as athletes. Remember when we said nutrition is 90% of your training? Well, replenishing fluids is 60% of the 90%.
Water: The Driving Force Of All Nature
Evolutionarily speaking, we came from the ocean. Fluids literally gave us life, and allow us to move around and keep our biological functions regulated. In a sense, we still carry that ocean with us: our cells are soaked in water. To illustrate, 55-60% of our body is water. For example: If you’re a 200 lb. man about 120 lbs. of that is water, or if you’re a 130 lb. woman, about 72 lbs. of that is water (and depending on your menstrual cycle sometimes it may seem like more). Different cells contain different amounts of water:
- Bone is about 22% water
- Adipose tissue (aka fatty, connective tissue) is about 25% water
- Muscle and brain tissue are about 75% water (hence why we require so much more water during exercise)
- Blood is about 83% water
- Eyes are about 95% water
Thus, our body composition (among other things like hormones) determine how much water we carry.
Water has important jobs:
- It dissolves substances: for example, proteins (including enzymes and DNA) and moves them around the body
- It transports substances: for example, it brings nutrients toward cells and waste away from them
- It starts chemical reactions: it makes chemical intracellular metabolic reactions and interactions happen
- It lubricates tissues and cushions joints (acting as a kind of "shock absorber")
- It regulates our body temperature: when our body temperature goes up, we sweat. Drinking water is also known to lower your core temperature quickly and safely
- It provides minerals: both seawater and fresh water are full of dissolved minerals. Additionally, as our drinking water is processed pollutants are removed and fluoride and minerals are added
- It helps carry nutrients and oxygen to cells
How It Works On A Cellular Level
Two thirds of the body's water can be found inside cells, with the remaining one third in the the area surrounding the cells. When the output of fluid exceeds the intake of fluids that means there’s an imbalance, and dehydration can start to become a problem. While there are formulas to calculate fluid needs and losses, don't get too caught up in the numbers. Most of the time, this doesn't need to be exact science.
- Fluid balance is a dynamic equilibrium between what's coming in and what's going out
- Many factors can affect fluid input and output
- Some people might need to drink more water than others
- Our biological cued may differ from actual fluid needs (at least temporarily)
- You may sometimes need to drink more, even if you're not very thirsty
Why is staying hydrated so important?
You want to live! No but seriously, we depend on water for a countless number of metabolic reactions in the human body. For example, water is what allows all the essential nutrients to flow into our cells to rejuvenate them and also carry toxic wastes back out of the body (through the lymphatic system).
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- dry skin
- fatigue and weakness
- increased body temperature
- muscle cramping
- darker-colored urine
- dry mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes)
Severe dehydration can also include:
- muscle spasms
- dark urine
- vision problems
- loss of consciousness
- kidney and liver failure
- DEATH (yes, really)
Now, we know dehydration can have significant effects throughout the body, including athletic performance. Losing as little as 1% body water (ex: 2 lb. for a 200 lb. person) is enough to seriously reduce endurance, strength, and cognitive performance. Not only does it keep your organs and joints functioning at optimum levels (which is obviously important for preventing injury), it helps with your brain/reflex/run times and also lubricates the same muscles you’re tearing down to build upon (making recovery faster and smoother). So not only does adequate hydration help you crush it during your workout, but it also gets you recovered and back in the gym faster to keep you chasing and achieving those performance goals. Winning!
So where do we get the fluids to maintain hydration balance? Well firstly, remember that drinking water isn't the only way to get what you need: water is in everything! It's in tea, coffee, non-dairy milks, and even the food we eat (for example, fruits and veggies). While there is a steep variability in water needs based on climate and physical activity levels, a general rule of thumb is to take your weight, divide it by 2, and drink that amount in ounces. So a 200 lb. man would need 100 oz. per day. A great indicator of hydration is the pinch-skin elasticity test (turgor) - If a fold of pinched skin returns to its original shape especially slow (called tenting), then dehydration is suspected.
How It Works When You Exercise
During exercise the amount of water in your blood is reduced, leading to a loss of blood plasma which then causes diminished performance and an increase in heart rate. This is why dehydration can lead to higher than desired heart rates during exercising. When you exercise the metabolic rate of muscle contraction increases, which requires more nutrients and oxygen along with faster waste and heat removal from the body. (This is really a fancy way of saying that when you exercise, your muscles are moving faster so they need more "stuff" to get to them, in a more efficient way)...which is why it is so important to DRINK WATER before, during, and after workouts.
(See how happy we look??)
What's The Deal With Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium that carry electrical charges (positive or negative) when dissolved in water. These charged ions conduct electrical currents that let fluid pass through cellular membranes. Meaning that essentially, electrolytes are electrical transporters that every process in our body needs. And we need them in the right balance: which can vary based on several factors such as sweat rate/loss (how much you're sweating), how concentrated the electrolytes are in your sweat, your level of fitness and specific body composition, your diet, and even the weather (for example, on a hot day you may sweat more and thus need more electrolytes!) This is just another example of why you should experiment during your training and never try anything new on race day.
As with energy balance, electrolyte balance is all about input vs. output. We take in electrolytes in our food and drinks, and can lose them in our urine or sweat -- especially when we are sweating excessively -- which means on those long race days and intense workouts it is especially important to ensure we are adequately replacing electrolytes in addition to hydrating with water.
The brands and products on Fierce Gear OCR that can replace the electrolytes lost in sweat are:
Tailwind (Endurance Fuel, Caffeinated Endurance Fuel, and Rebuild Recovery)
Nuun (Electrolyte Tablets, Caffeinated Electrolyte Tablets, and Performance Drink Mix).
But What About During Longer Workouts/On Race Day?
Again, it depends! And it should be noted that if you are planning on one of these longer sessions of exercise, you should be focusing on keeping your hydration on point in the several days leading up to it, and not leaving it all to race day. That being said, here are some race day guidelines to get you started. For workout sessions or races lasting 2 hours or longer (and/or high intensity workouts lasting longer than 1 hour):
Step 1: Eat normally 1-2 hours before activity (for more info, see Blog Post #1 on Pre-Race Nutrition)
Step 2: Drink 1-2 cups of water 30-60 minutes before activity
Step 3: Consume 30-40g carbs + 15g protein + electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) with 2-4 cups of water every hour during activity -- starting after the 90-120 minute mark (for more info, see Blog Post #2 on During Race Nutrition)
Step 4: Consume 30-45g carbs + 15g protein + electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) in 2-4 cups after activity (for more info, see Blog Post #3 on Post-Race Nutrition)
An alternative way to estimate how much water you may be losing during workouts is to weigh yourself before an after you exercise, to estimate the volume of fluid your body needs in order to stay hydrated. For each pound lost during activity, aim to drink an additional 16 oz. of liquid (as an example: if you drink 8 oz. while exercising for 60 minutes and lose 1 pound, your goal would be to drink an additional 16 oz. during your next workout). Try it out and see what works for you!
Finally, remember to sip not guzzle: your body can only absorb about 6 cups of water per hour. Trust us, your GI tract will thank you!
So, if you’re ready to perform instead of just getting by and skipping the nutritional version of leg day, I personally recommend doing it slowly and work on creating habits sustainably. For more information, and to learn more about nutrition and personalized coaching for Obstacle Course Racing and Endurance Sports success please visit us at fullpursuithealth.com and feel free to reach out to me personally with any questions. - Jessie@fullpursuithealth.com.
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