Hydration masterclass

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Whether you're out running on a hot summer's day or holidaying in sunnier climes, getting your hydration right can vastly improve your performance and your general wellbeing too. Understanding what and how much you should drink under different training conditions is the first step to improving your performance and recovery from training. Here, Lynn Clay explains what your body's extra needs are in the heat and reveals some useful methods that will allow you to tailor your hydration.

Get your daily quota

First of all, in order to maintain a good hydration status it is important to think about what you drink when you are going about your daily life as well as when you're training. Scientific data indicates that most of us start exercise already dehydrated so this is the first element to address to knock our hydration schedules into shape. Drinking two to three liters of fluid per day is a good general recommendation, sipping this across the day, but don't just take it for granted that you will achieve this. Have a strategy.

Although water is best for daytime drinking, it doesn't have to make up your entire fluid intake. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea can count towards your fluid intake, but only to a certain point. Three cups is a good cut off point, as large amounts of caffeine can have a diuretic effect. If you really want to have a hot drink, which is often a barrier to meeting your water intake healthily, opt for green, peppermint or fruit tea instead.

Top tip — it's often easier to fill and refill a liter (34oz) water bottle to ensure you meet your intake rather than relying on refilling smaller glasses of water. If you're in the middle of something, you are less likely to keep getting up to refill a small glass, than to simply sip from a bottle.

Fluid on the go

Once you've got your 'daily' fluid right, the next area to address is fluid for your training. When you're out in the hot weather the body's need for fluid increases so make sure you accommodate this extra requirement. The hot environment challenges the body which has to work harder to maintain a steady core temperature. In order to do this the heat is shuttled to the skin, increasing your sweat rate.

This is our body's main method of cooling. Although sweating is a vital mechanism for losing heat, it comes at a price. De-hydration! An increased sweat rate leads to loss of not only water but also important minerals including sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. And get this ... as your body becomes more used to the heat, your cooling mechanisms improve, your sweat rate is further increased and you need to drink more to offset this. With fluid losses equal to just 2 per cent of body weight being shown to have a detrimental effect on performance, so just how much should you drink to avoid dehydration?

Tailoring your intake

One can rely on general recommendations for fluid replacement, but this will never provide a tailored hydration strategy and will not distinguish light from heavy sweaters who will have different replacement needs. A good strategy for assessing your need is to rely on an established recommendation for hydration on a training run, but to weigh yourself pre and post-workout to assess whether you are meeting your precise needs. As fluid needs will differ in different conditions, when these change it is important to reassess your needs.

Suggested strategy

Pre-training: record your weight
Training: cycle, run or swim for 1 hour hydrating on 500ml (17oz) fluid
Post-training: record your weight

For each kilogram of weight lost at least 1l of fluid should added to your hydration protocol. In cold conditions this will suffice, but when the weather is warm this should be increased to 1.2l per kg and in the extreme heat (80°F plus) 1.5l per kg.

Cold conditions - 1l fluid

Warm conditions - 1.2l fluid

Hot conditions - 1.5l fluid

For example; a 70kg individual running for one hour at 80°F plus and consuming a 500ml sports drink during the run may lose 0.5kg of weight. The recommendation for fluid intake is 750ml (25oz) of fluid for recovery (1.5L x 0.5).

On a subsequent run this individual could negate the effects of dehydration on the run performance by increasing fluid intake on the run to 1000ml (aiming for 250ml per 15 minutes). This would leave a requirement of only 250ml in the recovery period and would be a more effective strategy for performance.

If you train across sports you are likely to find that one sport dehydrates you at a different rate from another so complete the protocol for each type of training your take part in.

Once you have a good idea of your sweat rate you will not need to weigh yourself on every training session but you may need to recheck your fluid loss on a monthly basis to counter for changes in fitness. It seems prominent researchers within the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University agree that with most failing to drink enough to match sweat losses during exercise, pre and post-training weighing is a good strategy to encourage the correct fluid replacement. Also recommended is the simple technique of using urine test strips, which can provide a more practical tool for some to avoid beginning training or events in a dehydrated state.

Using urine test strips

Pee into a container and using a urine test strip (e.g. Bayer Multistix) simply dip into the pee. The strip will change color and should then be compared to a color chart to predict your hydration status. Ideally this should be done first thing in the morning and then pre-event and or training. Modifying your morning drinking strategy in relation to the results obtained will allow you to develop a truly individual hydration strategy to ensure you arrive on the start line fully hydrated. You may also wish to use the Bayer Multistix test post training if you are not using weighing as a method, measuring after the recovery period, to ensure you have replaced enough fluid.

What to drink?

All this talk about how much to drink may have left you wondering what the perfect hydration drink contains. Certainly research indicates that it is not only important when and how much athletes drink but what, with studies showing clear performance advantages when consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink compared to water. But the jargon around these drinks and competing marketing messages can make it confusing to understand exactly what you should be drinking before, during and after exercise. Let's clear up the confusion.

Hypotonic drinks

A carbohydrate formula of around 2 to 5 per cent is ideal for prior to your training to ensure you begin exercise in a hydrated state, also increasing carbohydrate availability for fuel. If we hydrate on a higher carbohydrate formula close to exercise, this results in a blood sugar elevation which encourages the body to take up a higher percentage of carbohydrate as fuel during the early stages of exercise than it would otherwise. For this reason a slightly weaker solution is preferable, ideally sipping on 500ml from one hour prior to your exercise and stopping sipping 20 minutes prior to allow blood sugar levels to reduce again. Mixing Viper Active to a weak solution will meet your needs.

Isotonic drinks

During exercise a 6 to 8 per cent solution is required as this is in balance with the body's fluids and therefore transports well during exercise. Most pre-bottled drinks are isotonic. Increasing your serving size of Viper Active will allow you to meet your needs without purchasing a separate product.

Hypertonic drinks

After exercise a higher concentration of carbohydrates is required to aid transportation of carbohydrate to the muscles for storage and recovery. These drinks are termed Hypertonic and are generally mixed at a concentration of between 12 and 15 per cent. Viper Active can be used in a higher concentration here but ideally you would opt for a specific recovery formula such as Recovermax to accelerate muscle and immune recovery too. A common misconception is that an isotonic drink always contains electrolytes. Although many do, that is not always the case, so check your formula if you're not sure. Electrolyte drinks are not essential for short moderate paced training sessions in temperate conditions but longer sessions in hotter conditions increase our need to replace these important salts.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes refer to the minerals we lose when we sweat. When fluid loss is significant, as occurs when the weather is hot, hydration can be impaired if these are not replaced. Research by Brouns found that adding electrolytes to a weak carbohydrate solution resulted in more fluid intake and better re-hydration levels over water of nearly 25 per cent. The most significant mineral concerned is sodium as losses can lead to headache, confusion, nausea and cramping. Indeed in the 1996 New Zealand Ironman Triathlon, 9 per cent of those who suffered medical complaints during the race and had to drop out were suffering from low sodium concentrations in the body. One individual had consumed 16 liters (4.2 gallons) of water during the course but as a result of low sodium concentrations had had suffered from cramping, nausea and confusion. The water on its own actually diluted sodium content in the body exacerbating the condition.

For some your exercise will not be this extreme but when looking to replace fluid to offset dehydration you may want to consider that unless your sports drink contains sufficiently high sodium content, excess fluid intake will merely increase urine output with less benefit to re-hydration. Once urine output increases our reliance on thirst as a signal to drink is insufficient as the stimulation of our thirst mechanism is blunted. The inclusion of sodium in your hydration drink as found in Viper Active will sustain thirst drive and promote reduced urine output.

Another important mineral, potassium, also aids hydration in the heat. Potassium replacement in competitive runners' has been shown to lead to retention of fluid in the intracellular space, aiding hydration and also reducing urine output. Potassium can be obtained from potassium rich foods in the diet such as bananas, potatoes and citrus fruits as well as in Viper Active.

Magnesium and calcium are also lost in sweat, with most of this being replaced in the daily diet but for runners with reasonably high mileages a small amount needs to be replaced relative to exercise load. Again, the most convenient way to do this is with Viper Active, as the amount you consume is related to your exertion, although it can be found in cereals, fruit, vegetables and milk. Magnesium is needed for nerve function, and a common sign of deficiency is muscular ticks (e.g. facial muscles twitching involuntarily). Calcium is another mineral that is depleted during exercise, but in small amounts. It is needed for bones and teeth, blood clotting and nerve and muscle function. This can be obtained from milk and dairy products, dark leafy greens, fish such as sardines, pulses, nuts and seeds but again should be found in small amounts in a good sports drink such as Viper Active.

Just train

So, it seems that both how much and what we choose to drink can have an impact on performance and hydration status for health. Once you have organised your fluid for your daily needs and placed Viper Active into your training schedule to support your health and performance, the next step is to put into practice weighing and urine color strip testing to truly individualise your hydration strategy. With all this sorted, you can get outside in the sunshine and enjoy your training in the full knowledge that you are unlikely to fatigue from dehydration.

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