Here in Ottawa racing season has started. Whether you are a runner, cyclist, swimmer or all three we all tend to turn our minds to being sure to fuel our bodies appropriately for the heightened levels of physical stress we are and about to put on our bodies. Now, this is a good thing, but our issues tend to arrive because we end up paying a lot of attention to food and not to our hydration.
Our childhood sports teams had it right serving us orange slices and encouraging us to have some water at half time. Hydration is extremely important to sports performance, so much so that this is actually my second post about hydration!
When we hydrate appropriately we are able to maintain a higher level of performance, our reaction time is on point, our energy levels are stable and we overall feel pretty awesome.
We have all been there after a hard workout sitting in our dinning room stuffing our faces with something delicious and high in protein to recovery and then slowly starting to feel the fatigue and headache set in. Maybe at this point we think to ourselves "oh, I should pour myself a glass of water" but then 30 minutes or an hour later that headache just won't relent. We have more water but we still aren't feeling like ourselves, so what the heck is happening here?
Water should hydrate us right? Water "out" in our sweat then water "in"...in our WATER! Seems simple enough but hydrating yourself is just a touch more complicated than just chugging back water endlessly hoping it will make us feel better.
In order to remain hydrated our body actually relies on, what I am going to call, "co-pilots" to assist your body in actually delivering water into your cells. When we drink water without these co-pilots it isn't properly distributed in and out of our cells.
When we consume water it sits in our stomach for a bit warming up to our body temperature, and then when ready it will ,ideally, be distributed between our cells, blood, urine, sweat, etc. In order for water to appropriately enter our cells we rely on electrolytes like sodium and potassium and as active individuals we also rely on the help of one other helper - glucose!
Sodium and potassium work together like a balancing scale to help ensure our hydration levels are properly distributed inside and outside of our cells.
Sodium works at pulling water into our cells. When we consume too much sodium our cells end up swelling and retaining water. Think back to the last time you had a particularly salty meal, the follow day you likely felt like your rings were fitting more snugly and perhaps even like your pants became more fitted. This is a great example of too much of a potentially good thing being a bad thing, because electrolytes work as a balancing scale too much of one of the other will offset that scale and deliver not so desirable results.
Potassium our other major electrolyte assists in muscle function, one of its main roles is helping our heart to our keep beating and it also has a pretty substantial role in neurological function. An imbalance here, when in the extreme, can cause some pretty catastrophic things (heart issues) to happen, but even a slight imbalance can drastically affect your athletic performance, remember it is involved in neurological function.
When it comes to dehydration a dip in our overall hydration level by just 2% has the capability to affect your athletic performance by up to 10-15%, and when you are trying to achieve personal goals, set new PRs or qualify for that next big race that 10-15% is the boost you need to get you there.
Okay, so now we know how our electrolytes are helping to maintain our muscle function, keep our reflexes heightened, and make sure we are able to focus and function as we hope to, what role does glucose (sugar) play.
Glucose has long been a simple source of fuel for our bodies and our brains but it also goes the extra mile in helping us to utilizing the water we take in a a speedy kind of way. Without getting too science like here glucose helps to change the pressure levels between the inside and outside of the cell helping to speed up the delivery of water to the cell, of course with the assistance of sodium and potassium, remember they are all co-pilots here no one element is "in-charge".
Great now you now the science behind what is going on what are some race time strategies to keep you hydrated and feeling great. First of all, like anything when it comes to racing or training PLEASE do not attempt a new hydration strategy on race day, when we test out new things on our race days we are asking for things like digestive disruptions, unplanned bathroom stops, cramping, bloating and a whole slew of unwanted hiccups in your race strategy.
What you can do is really focus on your water and hydration rich food intake BEFORE your race. For about 5-7 days leading up to your race be sure to get your two or more liters of water in a day, add in some extra fruits and vegetables (for a list of other click here). By focusing on your hydration levels ahead of time you are more likely to be properly hydrated and ready for your race, plus you don't have to play that horrible catch up game post-race.
Pick a good hydrator. Now this is for those of us out there doing longer more strenuous runs. If your run is likely to take you less than 45 minutes you are probably going to be fine with water and a good post activity meal. But for those triathletes, marathoners, ultra-marathoners, etc. out there a good hydrator will make a world of difference.
When we choose garbage hydration beverages we allow our bodies to take in a lot of extra junk, hydrogenated oils, artificial colourings, preservatives, the wrong types of sugars, etc. When choosing an electrolyte tablet, powder or beverage look for something basic, you want your electrolytes and you want a bit of glucose and that is it. Or better yet if you are racing at home make your own beverage! Here is a super simple recipe that provides you with potassium, sodium and a hint of glucose to help keep you hydrated on training and race days.
Hydration Beverage: (makes 4 servings)
1/2 cup Grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed (normally about 1)
2 cups Coconut Water*
1/8 tsp Rock Salt, like pink Himalayan salt
2 tbsp Maple Syrup, 100% natural and hopefully local
1. Place grapefruit juice, maple and salt into a large container and stir until the maple and salt are completely dissolved.
2. Add in coconut water and stir to thoroughly mix everything together.
3. This will keep in a sealed container for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Depending on the length of your activity you may want to use all four servings, but be sure to test this out before putting it into practice on race day.
*if you would like you can do 1 cup coconut water and 1 cup water. Additionally, if you really aren't a fan of coconut water you can do 2 cups of water, there is potassium in your grapefruits so although you will be getting less potassium without the coconut water you will still be getting some.
My name is Brittany, I am a Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher and Certified Personal trainer. My hope is to help inspire, encourage and motivate others to live their happiest and healthiest lives.