8/23/14

Avoid dehydration with these hydration tips for endurance athletes



Triathletes and endurance athletes are very susceptible to dehydration and even more so, a heat-related injury. 
What must be understood is that the body is compromised when we place intentional training stress on the body through training and racing. However, what is even more serious is that many athletes are not taking the daily precautions to be "healthy" on a day to day basis. So as you can imagine, when an athlete throws in 8,10 or more hours of training per week, there is even more confusion on how to meet daily and sport needs but very little time to even make time/energy to ensure that the body is healthy going into workouts and well fueled/hydrated during workouts. 

Because endurance racing is far from normal or easy for the human body to handle, health professionals acknowledge that metabolic demands during training/racing in long distance events are not easy to meet. That is, it is very hard for the body to take in the appropriate amount of calories, carbohydrates/sugars, electrolytes and fluids, in the right concentration and at the right time, consistently throughout an event in order to postpone fatigue and to prevent dehydration. These are two limiters for endurance athletes. 
If you think about those who succeed well in endurance events, every athlete is experiencing fatigue from glycogen depletion and dehydration but those who can minimize these two performance-limiting issues the longest, is the one who slows down the least and thus, the one who is the most successful on race day. 

Because endurance racing is extremely contagious for those who want to push the boundaries, challenge the limits and prove that anything is possible, it is extremely important that you do your part and be responsible for your health when training for endurance races. 

I see it and I hear about it all the time!

-I don't like water
-I didn't finish all my bottles on the bike
-I don't like to carry anything when I run
-I am not comfortable drinking while running/riding my bike
-I don't have enough cages on my bike
-I don't like sport drinks
-It's only a "short" workout - I don't need it

I could go on and on and on. 

There are dozens of excuses and reasons that endurance have as to why they are not meeting their fluid/electrolyte/calorie needs during training and racing and not only is it holding athletes back from reaching performance goals but it is also extremely damaging to the body. 

Because the human body is extremely complicated, we must understand that there is never a perfect plan that works 100% of the time. Just like in life, we have lessons. Learning lessons. 
The goal is to always learn from what doesn't work in order to not make the same errors/mistakes twice. So if you are an athlete who keeps struggling with your performance/health and can't seem to figure it out, contact a sport RD who can help you out...before it's too late. 

The problem that many athletes face when it comes to training in the heat or just training in general is that the body suffers to adapt to training stress. Certainly we all have our own definitions of this suffering but we can all agree that to reach our potential as endurance athletes, there has to be a steady, consistent training load on the body (with ample recovery) in order to prepare for the upcoming event. 
However, there are some symptoms that are not 'normal' when it comes to training for endurance events and we want to do everything possible to minimize or avoid these: 
-headaches
-dizziness
-blurred vision
-loss of focus
-chills
-no appetite post workout
-excessive sleepiness
-extreme weakness
-low blood pressure
-stop sweating
-dry mouth
-dark urine
-dry skin
-excessive urination/little urination
-extreme cramping
-bloating/puffiness 
-excessive thirst/lost of thirst
-rapid, elevated pulse (despite effort slowing down)
-muscle spasms (during and post workout)

Are you currently experiencing any of the above and have you been associating these with a "hard workout"? 

Every human body is different but we must pay very close attention to our body when it comes to training and racing in endurance events. If you are not focused on making sure your body stays healthy during a workout or race, you are going to have to spend a lot of time getting your body healthy again before you start even thinking about training again. 

To help you out, here are a few very simple tips to ensure that you are staying hydrated during your workouts (and races): 

-Be sure to have a sport drink with you for all workouts lasting more than 1 hour - this should contain a mixture of electrolytes, carbohydrates and fluids in an appropriate concentration to digest well and to be efficiently absorbed. 

-For intense or very sweaty workouts lasting less than an hour, have at minimum an electrolyte tab in a bottle of water. 

-Aim for 24-28 ounces of fluid on the bike per hour and at least 16-20 ounces of water per hour while running. 

-Aim to sip your bottle on the bike every 10-15 minutes (you need at least 2 gulps to ensure that you are getting in around 3-4 ounces of fluid). 

-Aim for around 8 ounces of fluid every 20 min while running, Small sips more frequently will help with digestion and hydration. 

-Cool your body during all workouts in the heat (ex. bike/run). Be sure to bring liquid calories for every hour of training but additional water can be consumed as well as used for cooling the body. 

-Be sure you are setting yourself up for good hydration. Cages/hydration systems on the bike should be accessible and easy to use in ALL conditions (ex. bumpy roads, rain, technical courses, etc.). Your run courses in training should allow you to refill bottles that you bring with you OR set up bottles on your course. Everything you do in training should be practice for race day. 

-Do not wait for thirst to kick in during endurance workouts/racing. You need a fueling regime to meet needs and a schedule. Your body is very smart and it works really hard to correct itself during all scenarios. So any cues that you receive or changes in performance, this is simply your bodies way of trying to fix itself. For some, the body may eventually start shutting itself down so that you do not risk very serious injury to your body. This isn't because you didn't train hard enough or because you are weak but rather because you did not pace and fuel smart. 

-Although you do not need to overhydrate (especially on water), start your fueling strategy early in training/racing (ex. start drinking your sport drink within 10 min of working out/racing) and sip frequently. An athlete who waits to drink until he/she is thirsty is behind on fluid requirements and many times, this will cause an athlete to drink an excessive amount of water (as it may be more palatable as a race/training continues) and may cause hyponatremia (very serious) or may cause bloating by trying to drink too much at once (often a hypertonic amount from guzzling a lot of drinks at aid stations or stops at gas stations in training). 

-Make your nutrition during workouts as simple as possible. You should not be using 3 different methods of getting electrolytes, calories/carbohydrates/sugars and fluids. This is not only extremely difficult to master since you are not a sport nutrition chemist but it can also be very difficult to ensure that you are meeting your needs. 

-Pace yourself. Mild dehydration affects performance and can cause drowsiness, irritability, loss of concentration and headaches. When dehydration becomes worse, serious performance inhibitions occur which also affect the heart, brain, muscles and organs. Successful athletes know how to pace an effort so that nutrition/hydration is helping fuel the effort. If you overwork your body it is not possible to overfuel the body to meet your training/racing demands. 

And lastly, you have to be respectful of your body if the plan doesn't go as planned. If you are feeling any changes with your body that do not feel normal, first slow down. If you are not able to get yourself to that "feel good" place that you have felt in past workouts, you can not continue to push your body for it will eventually be unable to meet any physiological demands that you are trying to place on it. Never get upset at your body for a bad workout or race if it is simply trying to do what it knows to do and that is protect you from a serious heat or other-related injury. 

If you know someone who can benefit from this blog, please sure. Sport nutrition is a complicated area with many tips and suggestions that are not always practical or healthy. To better help endurance athletes, it is my goal to ensure that athletes know how to better fuel and hydrate a body in motion.