Matt Dixon Hydration Tips

How to Hydrate for Performance

You train hard for your races, and certainly want to yield the optimal results from your hard labor, but are you maximizing your performance in both training and racing? I see many athletes training really hard each week but, unaware of consequences; limiting their performance gains through a few bad habits. One of these habits is 'running dry', or chronically under-hydrating during and following training and racing. Before you jump into guzzling gallons of water in every single session, it is important that you understand how to hydrate effectively to help boost your performance and recovery. It is likely not news to you on the value of hydration, but the big media push of hydration benefits at running events has led many athletes to over focus on hydration. This can actually be dangerous, with over-consumption of pure water leading to physiological damage, as well as potentially very serious health consequences. To help you navigate your way through the hydration question, let's investigate why it is of value, how to put it into practice, as well as how to avoid mistakes.

Why does hydration help performance? With the endurance athletes I coach, we always discuss hydration as boosting blood volume as this provides a mindset to latch onto, and insight into the mechanism of how it helps. During exercise you will become dehydrated, it is an unavoidable fact, and when this occurs your volume of blood in your body will drop (much of blood is made up of water). This blood volume drop has performance consequences, as our blood is responsible for the delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to our muscles to generate energy, as well as the delivery of blood to the skin to dissipate the corrosive heat generated during work. We want to maximize blood delivery to muscles to maximize energy production, hence we can run faster, but there is a competition between muscle and skin, as we are also forced to dissipate the heat. As dehydration continues, or volume of blood drops, the competition becomes fiercer, and the winner will always be the skin. The reason for this is the heat is potentially damaging to our organs, whereas your body doesn't mind if you don't run a best time.

Hydration Education

In addition to this, hydration status will have a very real impact on your ability to recover from your training sessions, and help to limit unnecessary metabolic stress that occurs with chronic dehydration. Essentially, proper hydration will help you delay fatigue during training and competition, as well as optimize recovery and training adaptations, that lead to fitness and speed boosts.

How to approach hydration: I often get asked how to hydrate properly. There are a few simple rules of thumb to follow during your training and racing:

  • Under an hour: Unless it is very hot and/or humid, you typically don't require hydration during exercise lasting under an hour. There is nothing wrong with hydrating during this time, but no ill-effects will occur if you don't take in fluids for this duration.
  • Rehydration from sub-60: If you do train or race for less than an hour, and don't take fluids, rehydration is critical. For this you can rely mostly on water, combined with plenty of healthy foods, and should focus on consistent fluid intake for the rest of the day.
  • Over an hour: Anything over an hour requires consistent hydration throughout the session or race, at a level of about 10-15 millimeters of fluid per kilogram of bodyweight per hour. You should 'drip feed' your hydration, almost like an IV drip, every 10 to 15 minutes. Consistency is key.
  • Rehydration from 60 plus: Your hydration during activity will not mean that you prevented dehydration, but that you managed positive damage control. You should follow the same rehydration protocol as the sub-60 advice.
  • Hydration content: If you are hydrating during exercise you should not simply drink water. You want to aim to mimic your body chemistry, and avoid potential health issues. This means a very dilute carbohydrate solution (under 4% carbohydrate concentration) with some electrolytes included. Note that most sports drinks contain too high of a carbohydrate concentration, and are not optimal hydration solutions). Please do NOT simply drink water throughout your training and exercise. This can cause problems and will not help your performance.

Mistakes: There are a few common mistakes that we see athletes make, but are very easy to avoid:

  • Sticking to water: Guzzling copious amounts of water, not combined with any electrolytes of calories, can create serious health problems. Save your pure water for your daily hydration, when it is the optimal hydration method.
  • Big infrequent gulps: We much prefer frequent small sips of hydration, over infrequent big gulps. This prevents gastrointestinal distress, and prevents too much blood being required for absorption.
  • Not drinking during the day: Because of your daily eating, and the electrolytes that are already in food, you only require pure water during the day. Unfortunately, many athletes simply guzzle sports drinks during exercise and forget to maintain hydration status during the day.
  • Don't get your calories from the bottle: Heavily sugar-based sports drinks are not required for performance, and are a primary source of poor quality calories in the western diet. Don't grab a sports drink for every run, and never drink sugar-based drinks during the rest of your day. Low quality hydration, poor energy course, and calories that go straight to the hips!

I hope that helps. If you would like a few hydration drinks that the purplepatch athletes tend to utilize, feel free to reach out to with an email titled: CamelBak sports Hydration. We will send some thoughts!

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