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Hydration, Heat and Exercise

Given the current spate of hot weather and with no signs of this glorious weather letting up we thought we should take a moment to look at hydration, its importance and how it can aid recovery.

With so many drink options available and mixed messaging around how much and when to drink during exercise this article will break down the key considerations for hydration.

Is it Personal?

Hydration needs are highly individualised due to the variations in sweat rates between different people and body compositions. The same exercise can have an entirely different effect on people, your sweat rate can be influence by a number of factors including..

  • Body Size – Larger body sizes tend to sweat more.
  • Fitness Levels – It may be a surprise to you that fitter people start to sweat earlier.
  • Genetics – Some people naturally sweat more than others.
  • Temperature – the hotter and humid it is will make you sweat more.
  • Air Flow – Wind and air flow over the skin improves body cooling and reduces sweat rate.
  • Exercise intensity – as the energy levels and intensity of your exercise, so does your sweat levels.

With all elements of fitness there is no ‘One Size Fits All’ approach, this is very much true of replacing fluid losses from sweat. The key is to be aware of your own hydration needs before, during and after exercise.

Does it Have to be Water?

There are so many drink options available now, deciding which fluid is best for you can be tricky. When choosing your hydration fuel it is important to consider the following

  • The duration and intensity of your exercise.
  • Whether there is a need to replace carbohydrate and electrolytes during the sessions.
  • Individual preferences, for those of us that love a little bit of flavour.

Unlike plain water, dairy and sports drinks contain carbohydrate and sodium. When used appropriately carbohydrates can have a positive effect on performance, especially during moderate and high intensity exercise. Sodium is an important electrolyte that’s aids hydration by helping the absorption of water through the stomach and assisting the body to ‘hold on to fluid’ more effectively.

When should I hydrate?

The timing for how often to drink will again depend on your individual sweat rate and exercise conditions. Qualified nutritionists and sports dietitian are capable of working with you and develop a hydration plan. As a general rule you should…

  • Begin exercise well hydrated
  • Follow a hydration plan that is built around your individual needs before, during and after exercise.
  • Take on water immediately after exercising and continue to hydrate throughout the time after exercise. You are unlikely to replace 100% of your fluids lost during exercise.

There is likely no competitive advantage to starting an exercise over-hydrated, in truth there is likely to be more negative impacts than positive. Been a little over excited or aggressive with your hydration can lead to interrupted sleep, bloating and gastrointestinal upset and bladder-based interruptions during exercise. It is important not to drink beyond your needs while exercise, this can lead to a conditional called hyponatremia, a issue the sodium levels in your blood are diluted, very common with endurance races and events.

How do I know if I am dehydrated?

Again, this is a very individual point, there are countless personal considerations, here are some for you to think about…

  • Pale Yellow Urine is a good sign that you are well hydrated. If your urine is dark yellow or overly fragrant you may need to consider hydrating.
  • Avoid high levels of dehydration, this can impair performance and increase the risk of heat-based sickness.
  • Choose wisely. Consider the duration and intensity of the session, the need to replace carbohydrate and/or electrolytes and individual preferences.
  • Build your own plan. This will depend on your sweat rate, exercise conditions and practicality.
  • More is not better – there is no performance benefit to being over-hydrated and there is increase risked of negative side effects.

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