Since we’re now well into the month of June and the warm (hot?) weather has returned to the northern hemisphere and in particular, my old home of New England :), I thought it would be a great idea to share a few thoughts hydration related. Now, I know what you’re thinking, not another article about water and how much I should drink, right? 🙂
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.
When Timothy Noakes published his book “Waterlogged” a few years ago, the message that he was sending out was clear. He said, and I quote:
“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.”
There was also this article published in the New York Times about the risks of drinking too much water.
Should we be more worried about drinking too much rather than not enough?
Despite the warnings, my experience as a coach has been a little different. I’ve found that many of the athletes I work with actually 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.
Your hydration needs are largely determined by the temperature and humidity where you live and train, and your acclimation to those conditions. One thing I have learned first hand since moving to Florida 3 1/2 years ago….when it is very hot and humid, your hydration needs rise, often dramatically.
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
Let me ask you a few questions:
Do you typically head out on “only” a 45 minute or 1 hour run without drinking any water before heading out? Or not carrying any with you, thinking you don’t need it or can catch up later?
What about a longer bike ride – say 2 or 3 hours – carrying only 1 or 2 bottles of water?
So what might be the problem? I call it the conservation mindset. When you head out with a limited number of bottles, and because many abhore the idea of stopping at a store or putting out bottles ahead of time where you might be going, what results is this thinking: “I’d better meter out the water that I have because it’s all I have.”
I’ve experienced this myself a few times, I’ll admit it. This is the kind of thinking that 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.”
Your Fascial (Water) Net
Water is obviously essential for basic functioning – for life itself. What most athletes aren’t as aware of however, 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. 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 simple problem with this however is this: sometimes we aren’t as in tune with our thirst as we might hope, especially as the training 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.
- Always drink some water upon wakening and make sure to have at least 12 oz prior to heading out for a morning exercise session. Make this your daily habit!
- When heading out, 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: One last thing: if you end up in a situation on a hot training day (or in a hot race) where you know you’re dehydrated, you have to have the confidence to STOP long enough to fix the problem. That might mean making a stop at a convenience store if its a training day, or if it’s a race, spending a few extra minutes at an aid station. 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 get home feeling good, or maintain your goal race pace.