I recently had the privilege to work at a triathlon training camp in Lake Placid hosted by head coach, Ray Kelly, of Tri-Trainer. One of the joys of my work as a Sport Dietitian is to provide education and see it come to light quickly. In this case, two of the hot topics I focused on with this great group of triathletes were hydration and electrolytes.
Just like with many areas of sports nutrition, hydration and electrolyte planning needs to be individualized to the athlete. Perhaps because of the need for a level of personalization, the importance of proper hydration and electrolyte use is under-appreciated, misunderstood, and lacks attention. The general recommendations of “drink a bottle an hour” and “be sure to take electrolytes” get athletes started on the hydration awareness path, but there are many gaps in the advice. How much? What type? And then there are cases when it just doesn’t work out, resulting in stomach slosh, gastrointestinal distress (bloating, cramping, the porta potty pursuit), or over- or under-hydration.
Here I want to share the areas that stood out as ‘lessons learned’ by the athletes. I can say that although this feedback was from a single weekend and a group of ~25 athletes, I see these themes as common “AHA!” moments among endurance athletes. The light bulbs turn on and we get all nerdy.
1. There is variance in how salty our sweat is regardless of male/female and body size. Of the athletes who opted to have their sweat sodium composition measured, the results were as follows:
Notice the range of 676 milligrams to 1679 milligrams of sodium per liter of sweat. This demonstrates well the individual differences of our sweat gland physiology and helps us to hone in needs and better devise our strategies for electrolyte replacement.
Of course, this quickly brings us to the next point…
2. We don’t all sweat the same AND how much we sweat depends on numerous factors.
Once you think about this for a few moments, it becomes a “Mr. Obvious” point. But, disregarding our own response to environmental factors like heat/humidity and our exercise intensity has a direct impact on athletic performance and recovery. Learning HOW to measure your own sweat rate, putting it into personal context, and the benefits of doing so are all huge eye openers. Do you sweat more or less than one liter per hour and in what conditions?
3. To sodium load or not. It really isn’t a question for the salty sweaters and heavy sweaters who train and compete in hot/humid conditions. Sodium is king and with the right timing and dose, the preload strategy helps the body dehydrate more slowly and work more efficiently from a cardiovascular perspective.
4. Not all electrolyte products are the same.
Again, perhaps obvious to some, but when taking a closer look at the sodium contents of powders, capsules, chews and other sport nutrition products, the differences are remarkable. From 40 milligrams of sodium in a capsule to 750 milligrams of sodium in a powder, if you aren’t choosing the product that’s optimal for your “saltiness” and “sweatiness”, you may be suffering some performance hits… and frankly, waisting your money on products that do ya no good.
5. Hydration (or lack thereof) can aggravate the Gut Bomb.
Many athletes don’t realize the impact of hydration upon efficient digestion of everything we are trying to consume during training and competition (when blood flow to the gut is significantly reduced). Depending on volumes, type of liquid, and its contents, the Gut Bomb can quickly say “Hellooooo, There!” and bring you to an abrupt slow down. Nobody wants either, right? Hence, taking a fresh look at what you drink, when, and how deserves attention.
6. Don’t forget about rehydration.
While food and refueling may be on the brain post-workout, rehydration deserves center stage too. Particularly for athletes who have 2-a-day training sessions, long training sessions, or those who are in high volume blocks, cumulative dehydration can delay recovery and increase fatigue levels. And it’s not just a matter of pounding the water… sodium comes back into the picture once again as being a key element, whether in food or in the bottle.
Do any of these areas resonate with you? Or bring about confusion? Have you taken a look at what you do for hydration and electrolytes lately? You may be surprised to find that with some investigation, testing, assessment, and fine-tuning, you perform and recover better!
P.S. Thanks to all the athletes at the Tri-Trainer camp who took the time to be open to learning!
Thanks for reading,