Hydration is the key to better performance

Harshad Nerurkar

Whether you’re a serious athlete or simply exercise for recreation, it’s important to stay hydrated. Good hydration means getting the right amount of water before, during, and after exercise.


We all know, water regulates our body temperature, removes waste, helps brings energy to our cells, and cushions our joints. Adequate hydration can improve recovery, minimize injury and cramping, and maximize performance. Unfortunately, this is one of the most neglected aspect, And hence the purpose of today’s blog. When people talk about hydration, most of the time it’s about what and how much athletes should drink during exercise.


When we exercise, we burn molecular fuel (mostly glycogen) but also some protein, fat, and blood glucose from ingested nutrients. The breakdown of these energy providers releases heat which must be dissipated by sweating to keep your core body temperature within safe limits. Hence fluids replacement is crucial. Fail to consume enough fluid will lead to dehydration.


Struggling to maintain a fast pace on a hot day becomes increasingly dangerous. Did you know that an average rider can sweat around 1.0-1.5L per hour on a ride? The tricky thing with hydration for cycling is that you don’t typically notice you’re sweating much, as the moisture evaporates straight off your skin due to the air movement. Studies have found that dehydration of two percent of body-weight leads to about a six percent reduction in running performance. VO2max also decreases with loss of fluids. Hence proper personalized hydration strategy needs to be implemented.


As an active athlete, let’s address few questions held in our mind.


When to drink?


Once you begin sweating, you’re generally going to be fighting a losing battle against fluid and electrolyte loss, so starting off properly hydrated can be extremely beneficial which is a larger reservoir of fluid to draw from over time than if you’re dehydrated. Make sure you hydrate well in the week before the event and have a plan in mind for your event. A good rule of thumb for running hydration is to drink 500 ml before bed the night before your race. 3-4 hours before race start, drink 500 ml of liquids.


Drink 250 ml of water 15 minutes before a run. During physical activity, drink small mouthfuls of 10-15 ml regularly. Do not wait for hydration points during event. Don’t wait till you feel thirsty, that’s the sign of dehydration.


How much is good enough?


Depends upon your sweat rate which is determined by weather, fitness level and physique. Mathematical models are available to calculate your swear rate and amount of hydration required.


Have fluids close at hand during all training sessions and competitions. For long distance running, I prefer to wear a belt that holds hydration bottles and use two bottle racks on my road bike. Thumb rules is to multiply the amount of body weight lost during session by 1.5 to know how much hydration is needed progressively. Re-hydration takes time and hence no point in forcing to drink too much. You don’t want to go too much beyond this, though, as over-hydration can be just as bad for you as dehydration


Water vs. Sports drinks


For most people, water is all that is needed to stay hydrated. However, if you are exercising at a high intensity for longer than an hour, a sports drink may be helpful. Sports drinks are more effective because they re-hydrate faster than water. Provide more energy, replaces sweat loss. Calories, potassium, and other nutrients in sports drinks can provide energy and electrolytes to help you perform for a longer period.


The sports drinks are of three types: isotonic, hypertonic or hypotonic. Let’s talk about hypotonic and isotonic. Tonicity is a metric used to compare the thickness of one solution to another. In case of sports drinks, tonicity is in comparison with human blood. It defines how quickly it will be absorbed in blood.


Isotonic sports drinks have around 6-8% carbs have same concentration as human body, so they re-hydrate and re-energize quickly. Hence useful for shorter duration, high intensity exercise.


The fluids in hypotonic sport drinks tend to be absorbed into the bloodstream the fastest, but they deliver the least amount of carbohydrate per unit volume. This is because hypotonic drinks create something called a ‘favorable osmotic gradient’. It is good for endurance, hydration rather than delivery of large amount of energy.


What is interval for hydration?


Drinking water throughout the day is the best way to replenish fluid losses, as opposed to drinking all at one time. Sip from a water bottle during the day. Fruits are great source of water, as well as electrolytes and fiber!


Your etiquettes at hydration points


Getting fluids in without choking or spilling whilst running is not an easy task! Line up on the correct side of the road, Slow down for the grab, and make eye contact most of it down your front, don’t rush, dump the leftover water on your head.


Traps to be avoided


Test sports drink before the event day to make sure your digestive system supports them. Avoid aerated soft drinks, fruit juice which are often too rich with fructose or if they are too cold. This may cause intestine problems during event. Do not confuse sports energy drink with other energy drinks. Unlike energy drinks which contain stimulants sports energy drinks are adapted to athlete’s nutritional needs. Choose sports drinks wisely.


Avoid caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is demonized as a diuretic. Look for drinks that have less than 19 grams of carbs per 250 ml of fluid. A high sugar content can delay the absorption of water and may cause dehydration, nausea, or cramps.


Be creative


And especially when exercising, you can get creative. Hydration is not all about water. Most foods like fruits, vegetables, soups contain liquid can significantly increase your hydration status without any actual drinking.

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