Triathlon’s Secret Weapon: Hydrate Early and Often
Drink more water. Seems obvious. It’s common knowledge. It is also the most overlooked aspect of good nutrition for endurance athletes. How do I know this? I’ve worked with triathletes and swimmers of all levels for more than 10 years and reviewed hundreds of nutrition plans from beginners to Ironman athletes. I’ve watched helplessly as smart athletes suffer needlessly from symptoms of dehydration when it’s too late to salvage their training. These symptoms can vary from general fatigue and lackluster energy to nausea and light-headedness. I feel your pain when you experience a debilitating calf cramp while swimming – ouch! The more serious symptoms of dehydration such as headaches, chills, swelled fingers or lack-of-sweating occur in hot weather. The more subtle effects of dehydration hamper performance and rob you of an energetic life when the body can’t function at its optimal capacity. A common cause of fatigue is actually dehydration. Before you reach for that energy drink, coffee or candy, have a glass of water.
Tips to stay well-hydrated, energetic and healthy:
- Plan your drinking rather than waiting until you feel thirsty.
- Carry a water bottle throughout the day to track your water consumption.
- How much should I drink? For everyday life not including training, aim for 10 cups (80oz – or 4 bike bottles) of water. During training, amounts vary by sport, but here are some guidelines for 1 hour of activity in moderate temperatures. Add more if it’s hot!
- Swim: 8-10 oz or as much as you can stand without interrupting your pool swim with a trip to the potty. Open water? Well, you know the drill!
- Bike: 20oz or 1 bike bottle each hour. Set a notification on your watch each 15 minutes and check your bottles to keep you accountable.
- Run: 8-10oz or as much as you can stand by avoiding that sloshy feeling in your stomach. Practice adding more until you discover your tolerance level.
- When should I drink water? Throughout the day. That’s an important distinction. Though we think we drink enough, most of us only drink a few times a day around meals or workouts. Many athletes pound down the water right before training.
- Plan your hydration from the moment you rise in the morning and start your day with 8-16 oz before any activity. This is a lifestyle change for most of us. Do you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages? You’ll need an extra 8oz of water for each serving as caffeine is a diuretic and leaches water from your cells.
- Start each meal with 8-10oz of water. Not only does this help with hydration, it can also quell hunger pains and allow you to feel full faster. The result? You’ll eat less!
- Know your sweat rate. How much do you sweat during a swim, bike or run? How does this vary by weather? You must do several trials to determine this rate. Keep it simple with these easy steps:
- Weigh yourself before training – preferably naked.
- Track your fluid consumption during training.
- Weigh yourself after training – preferably naked.
- Subtract the water ounces you consumed.
- Calculate how much water you lost during the training. That’s your sweat rate.
- Repeat this for each sport, under a few conditions and temperatures.
- You may not be able to replace the fluid during each training, but you can be sure to get more water before and after to top off your hydration needs.
- Eat more salt! This is a sacrilege in today’s world, right? Not for endurance athletes. Electrolytes compounds that include sodium (salt), potassium and calcium are necessary to bring water efficiently to the muscles, connective tissues, internal organs and brain. As a starting point, use a product with about 200mg/serving of sodium. You can add more up to 800mg/hour of sodium safely as long as you don’t have any contra-indications to salt such as high blood pressure. In those cases, consult your physician.
Triathletes spend so much energy planning workouts, reviewing equipment, organizing our lives to swim-bike-run, and obsessing about how to get faster. Don’t overlook the most important and the simplest weapon in your arsenal: proper hydration. Enact a lifestyle change and guarantee that your energy level and performance will never suffer due to dehydration again.
Activate triathlon’s secret weapon and become a drinker! Water is your most important fuel.
Next week: Triathlon Nutrition: Fueling for Maximum Performance. Now that you know how to be a better drinker, we’ll explore what to pair with the water and review energy products such as powders, gels and bars.