I'm coming at you today with a short piece on all things hydration. (I know what you're thinking, not another article about water and how much I should drink!) 🙂
In all seriousness, I decided to write this up today for one primary reason: despite the plethora of information and research on this topic, I still find that more than a few athletes end up coming up short with their water intake during training and racing, and it often dramatically (and negatively) impacts how they feel and perform.
So with the introduction of Timothy Noake's book "Waterlogged," a few years ago, or this article published last August in the New York Times, the message that is being sent out to endurance athletes is clear:
They'd have us believe (I'm paraphrasing) it's a myth to think the average person needs to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water daily. As for the endurance athlete out there training in a variety of conditions, your risk of drinking TOO much water is actually much greater than is being dehydrated.
But are these statements 100% true, for every one of us?
I would argue that no, they're not.
Your hydration needs are largely determined by the temperature and humidity where you live and train, and your acclimation to those conditions. When it is very hot and humid, your hydration needs rise, often dramatically.
As a coach, I find that many of the athletes I work with fail to meet their minimum hydration needs during their regular day in, day out training sessions, especially when it comes to the hottest training days of the year. (Like right now!)
For what it's worth, I also find that sometimes the biggest mistake an endurance athlete makes is not adjusting their hydration "plan" based upon the conditions on the day. For example, let's say race day turns out much colder and windier than you were expecting or that you trained in. Don't make the mistake of taking in the same amount of water as you did during your very hot training days.
The Conservation Mindset
- Do you typically head out on "only" a 45 minute or 1 hour run without water, thinking you don't need it or can catch up later?
- What about a 3 or 5 hour bike ride with only 3 or 4 bottles of water?
One of the problems that often arises, is when we venture out into a run or bike ride carrying a limited number of water bottles (and therefore, fluid). Because many abhore stopping at a store and can often get caught failing to plan ahead, the result is what I call a "conservation" mindset during that training session that says, "you'd better meter out that water because it's all you have."
I've experienced this myself a few times, and with others that I work with. This kind of thinking can set you up for dehydration. Bottom line, during hot weather training, you must drink enough water to meet your needs, without fear of running "out."
Avoid trying to "catch up" by simply taking enough water along or planning ahead and taking the time to place bottles out at distant locations where you may be passing by to have enough to cover your basic needs.
Your Fascial (Water) Net
We are all familiar with how water is truly essential for basic functioning - for life itself. But what most athletes aren't as familiar with is how much your hydration levels impact how easily, efficiently, and fast you are able to run (or perform any other activity).
What do I mean?
Think of a water balloon. (Check out the slow motion video by clicking on the image to the left!). When you run, your body is a lot like this balloon filled with water.
The skin of the balloon is just like the fascial net that surrounds and supports your internal organs, soft tissue, muscles, and bones. What is important to know is, most of the elasticity that moves you forward comes largely from that fascial net, NOT other tissues.
Fascia is a water filled membrane. To use an analogy, when you dehydrate even slightly, your fascia and fascial system begin to act more like dried out (dehydrated!) beef jerky, and less like juicy, succulent prime rib. When you're dehydrated (even the tiniest bit) that fascial net can no longer help you bounce along (again, think of that water balloon).
With increasing water losses, you're required to muscle every step. Similarly, that fascial net provides much of your overall stability. Your balance, coordination, and ultimately your speed, suffer.
Drink To Thirst?
In this podcast I did with Dr. Tamera Hew, one of the world's leading researchers and experts on hyponetremia (low blood sodium), she recommended drinking according to your thirst. (**If you haven't listened to this great interview loaded with golden nuggets related to hydration and hyponetremia, and you have a "thirst" for knowledge, go listen HERE!)
There's no doubt that this basic recommendation is a good one. The problem can be, based upon my experience as a coach, that quite a few of us are NOT as in tune with our thirst as we might hope, especially as the hours add up, and fatigue and energy challenges increase.
This is one reason why it's imperative to have a basic plan of attack in place that is based upon the conditions and your own practice and experience.
- Start with a basic plan for 25-35 oz of water per hour and adjust accordingly depending upon conditions!
- When it is very hot or you're not fully acclimated to the environment you're in, you'll need more. When it's cooler, you'll need less. Be flexible with your plan and adjust as you go.
- Consider performing a sweat test on yourself to find out your own individual needs depending upon environmental conditions.
- Go listen to that podcast I did with Dr. Hew, she rocks!
- Learn about YOUR body and your needs as you train, and then listen to it! 🙂
PS: If you'd like to receive more information and tips right in your inbox, click HERE to sign up and I'll be in touch!
PSS: One last thing: if you end up in a situation in a hot race where you know you're dehydrated, you have to have the confidence in your training and STOP long enough to fix the problem! That might mean a few extra minutes at an aid station, or sitting down to drink a liter of water to fix the issue. Don't assume that you'll be able to still soldier on to the finish. Stop, fix it, then resume, feeling much better and able to maintain your goal race pace as a result!