Exercise and hydration go hand in hand, like rice and beans at a good taco joint. Many athletes however could improve their recipe for greater success. Countless philosophies exist, but there are some basic principles to think about.
Water is best. Yes, water is a must to maintain normal physiological function. However, if you are exerting yourself anymore than your normal daily activities, you might want to think about a few more things.
Your body is constantly using sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, glycogen, and much more for muscle activity, cardiac and respiratory function and beyond. You’ll consume most of what you need by eating a healthy diet, but when exercising, it is important to think about the extra stress you are putting your body through. The average person can sweat anywhere from 0.8 – 1.4 liters or more per hour during exercise. Per liter of sweat, there can be anywhere between 200 – 1000mg of sodium. Ideally you would drink something that equals what you are losing.
When looking for a ‘sports drink,’ try to look for one that replaces what you’ve lost, not too much more. A drink that has a lot of calories, sugars, and proteins can be hard on your stomach, and actually cause you to temporally dehydrate.
If you are thirsty, it’s too late. Your body is pretty good at recognizing things it needs, like food and water. It is particularly sensitive to thirst. Prefer some hard numbers? Calculate your sweat rate. Weigh yourself in the nude before and after a run, ideally an hour long run. If you run for half an hour, it’ll take a little more math. For every pound you lost, consider that to be 16oz of water. You’ll need to take into account what you took in during your run though! Shoot for replacing two thirds of what you lost.
Caffeine Effect. Caffeine is awesome. Conversation over. Well, some of us think that way, but there are some things to consider. Caffeine is known to delay or lower perceived exertion, potentially increasing endurance. Caffeine alone is also a known diuretic. So is it good or bad to have before exercise?
Diuretics increase urination; exercise lowers kidney function since blood is being shunted away from the kidneys and used to supply your muscle with much needed oxygen. Research has also shown that although caffeine has dehydrating effects, coffee and tea also contain lots of water. As long as you don’t consume more than 500-600milligrams (5cups), you shouldn’t be at risk for dehydration.
Clear urine. Everyone is different, but clear urine isn’t a sure indicator of hydration. A good hue to shoot for is pale yellow. Heck, after a night of a few drinks (a sure diuretic) you will most likely pee clear. Also remember, different foods and supplements can effect the color of your urine.
One size fits all. It’s hard to apply this rule of thumb to how much water you should drink daily. Although there are great guidelines out there, each person requires something different depending on countless variables. The climate they live in, the amount of exercise they do, and even types of food they eat.
The Institute of Medicine, suggests 3 liters for men and 2.2 liters for women. 8 glasses of water is close at 1.9 liters, but most people drink something other than straight water each day including coffee, juice and milk. Don’t forget, most food contains around 20% water, too.
Cold weather. You feel less thirsty when it is cold outside, yet you might be losing more fluids. It’s important to be mindful of fluid intake when the weather starts to cool off. Our bodies do a great job at combating heat, but we require additional help when it gets cold outside.
Our first level of defense is to put on extra clothing, but additional layers can cause sweat and vapor to form, but the cold air evaporates it, fighting the warmth. Our lungs must also humidify the air we breathe when its cold, a significant amount of water can be lost during respiration. When it gets real cold outside, try a warm drink with a little flavor.
Caleb Hulsey might be more comfortable wearing lycra in public than your average person, but racing bicycles of all disciplines far before earning your drivers permit will do that. Caleb spent his high school, college, and now professional life doing all things cycling. He followed his love for the sport and earned his bachelors degree in Exercise Physiology, where he began to apply his knowledge to his own training and quickly began racing at an elite level. He now spends his time racing as a Cat 1 mountain biker, and just after 1 season, a Cat 2 road and cyclocross racer.