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 Hydration Strategy
Submitted by Rickshaw :: Sun May 15, 2005 9:54 am
There is no other factor that impacts athletic performance as much as hydration. A dehydration state is considered to be water loss equaling 1% of your body weight. By the time you loose 2% plan on loosing 10-15% of your strength and endurance. You may not become thirsty until you loose 3% body weight. Hydration is a habit and habits are learned. You have to have a plan and a strategy in place before you train and race. Below are some basic techniques to help you drink more, and more often. (By Matt Russ and Ilana Katz)

Drinking on the Bike

Drinking on the bike requires a certain level of skill, especially for the beginner. A good place to start is on the stationary trainer. Practice removing your water bottle from the cage and drinking while looking forward. You will need to learn to do this smoothly without taking your eyes off the road.

A water bladder such as a Camelbak is a great tool for staying hydrated. Although these are not quite in style yet with the cycling crowd they have distinct advantages over traditional water bottles. Water bladders hold more fluid which means less stopping for refills. They also stay colder, and can even be frozen. Cool fluid helps keep you cool as does the coldness of the pack on your back. It is even more aerodynamic. I have found athletes take in more fluid using a water bladder but they do take some getting used to.

Triathletes use various fluid reservoirs affixed to their bikes. Again, these mean less stopping to replenish fluids and more consistent hydration on long rides.

Simply having enough fluid does no good if you do not drink it. Even a 1-2% drop in body weight due to fluid loss can drastically affect endurance. A good strategy is to set your watch alarm to sound every 15 minutes and to drink 4-6 ounces of fluid from whatever container works best for you.

Drinking on the Run

Hydration on long runs is not as easy as on a bike, unless you are skilled at carrying a water bottle. This of course may affect performance and comfort. Some more convenient methods may include tying a neoprene adjustable hand strap that fits over the hand and water flask. However, many runners are concerned with the aerodynamics, and anything moving against the wind flow may have a negative effect on performance.

A waist pack soft-shell canteen with a belt and straw may offer some convenience. This is comparable to the water bladders mentioned above and may feel heavy for many runners. It also has a tendency to cause blisters and rashes for runs in a greater than 20 mile range. Water may even taste stale after being on the road for a few hours.

To save on weight, a single-bottle waist pack may be an option. There are many variations of this style. Some bottles are horizontal, making it easier to pull out from the sides and offer some stability to the bottle. Angled bottles are another variation and although the angle makes it easier to reach from one side, angled bottles have a tendency to fall out. Look out for extra elastic bands that are available to snug up the top of the bottle so that it does not bounce in the pouch.

The multiple-bottle waist belt seems to be the most popular gadget for drinking on the run. This usually comes with has three 8-ounce yellow bottles (more can be added) and a small pouch that evenly disperses the weight on an elastic waistband. The bottles are light, and the wide belt does not have the same tendency to bounce. Runners may experience elbows grazing across the top of the bottles occasionally, but because the belt is soft and light, it offers more comfort and the grazing is soon forgotten. Furthermore one can put sports drink, water or a sports gel in different bottles.

Because one may experience comfort issues as well as some frustration of having to twist the belts when bottles are needed, it is important to experiment with gadgets on training runs – never use a new method for an actual event.
All these gadgets can be purchased at your favorite sporting goods store.

Fluid Balance in the Heat and Humidity

With the change of season, we are soon going to be seeing hot and humid temperatures. A key to athletic success is avoidance of a state of under-hydration. There are however many complexities of efficient fluid balance due to environmental conditions. For example, the higher the temperature, the more athletes sweat. For sweat to have a cooling effect, it must evaporate off the skin. Therefore, the higher the humidity, the more athletes sweat but with reduced natural cooling efficiency. Furthermore, clothing can trap sweat against the skin and further reduce the body’s natural cooling effect. As an athlete becomes progressively dehydrated, sweat rates reduce, and core body temperature rise, resulting in heat exhaustion.

Evidentially, fluid balance is complicated, not only by environmental conditions, but also by the conditioning of the athlete. Better conditioned athletes may have a more natural cooling system because they have developed efficient sweat systems. This allows better conditioned athletes to perform longer but it also means that they need to consume more fluids. The better the fluid balance, the more sweat potential there is. It is thus especially important in the heat and humidity to monitor fluid balance during training and events, no matter how well conditioned the athlete may be.

Granted, it is difficult to consume sufficient fluids during a hard physical workout, and therefore athletes should have a PLAN of how to remain in fluid balance. This is not as easy as it may seem, because many athletes rely on ‘thirst’ as the alarm bell for when to drink. Thirst, however, is a delayed sensation that does not occur until the athlete has already lost 1 to 2 liters of fluid. Because of this, athletes should learn to consume fluids on a fixed time interval rather than relying on thirst for when to drink.

If an athlete loses one quart of water per hour, he/she should find a way to drink over four glasses of water per hour. Again, it may be difficult to know precisely how much water you are losing during activity, but doing the following simple exercise can help estimate how much fluid is lost, and how to recover.

One pint of water weighs approximately one pound. (One liter weighs 2.2 pounds). Knowing this simple fact, an athlete can estimate their fluid loss rates and can plan their water consumption during strenuous physical activity.

Planning your fluid balance (preferably do this exercise in typical conditions for your sport, e.g. if you are an endurance runner, this exercise should be done on a typical hot and humid day, during one of your training runs):

1. Note the starting time of your physical activity session.
2. Note your body weight before starting your event (preferably with no clothing)
3. Get through your event and monitor how much fluid you consumed within this time.
4. On completion of the event, note the time it took from beginning to end. (Subtract start time from end time).
5. Remove clothing and dry of any excess sweat.
6. Calculate your sweat loss: Subtract your finishing body weight, from your starting body weight.
7. You should plan on consuming extra fluid (over ands and above what you consumed during this event), equivalent to one pint of fluid for each pound lost.
- Volumes of fluid will range, for example 2 to 5 ounces in time intervals, every 10 or 20 minutes.

Use the following example to individualize the plan for you:

David weighs 150 lbs at the beginning of his 3 hour endurance training run. He drinks 1 pint (2 cups) of fluid during the event. At the end of the run, he weighs 148 lbs. He needs an additional 2 pints (one pint per each pound lost) during an event lasting 3 hours (for a total of 3 pints (6 cups or 48 ounces)). There are 9 20-minute increments in 3 hours, so he should plan on sipping on at least 5 (and a bit) ounces of fluid every 20 minutes to equal his 48 ounces (9 X 5 = 45 ounces).
NOTE: you should not go more than 20 minutes without some fluid replacement.

If David cannot tolerate drinking that much fluid, he should begin training his body to drink more by gradually increasing his fluid consumption over several weeks to achieve an equalized pre and post training weight.

The main point is that any fluid amount greater than the current amount consumed is necessary if weight loss is experienced during your physical activity events to stay in fluid balance and reduce the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion.

As we said before; do not rely on thirst as an indicator of fluid needs. You should become accustomed to consuming fluids without feeling “thirsty”. Enough fluid should be consumed before exercising so that your urine is a clear color. Dark urine is a sign that low-volume concentrated urine is being produced which suggests the body is retaining fluid because of under hydration. Fluid consumption is more likely to occur if it is available, therefore make sure you do not have to go looking for water on a training day or at an event.

Some general guidelines:

Before Training and Competition
Drink adequate fluids the day before
Drink at least 2 cups (17-20 ounces) of fluid 2 to 3 hours before exercise or competition

During Training and Competition
Replace Sweat Losses
Drink 7-10 oz every 10 to 20 minutes

After Training and Competition
Monitor sweat losses.
Drink 3 cups (24 oz) for every 1 lb weight loss through sweat. (You should replace 150% of sweat losses, because you are continuing to sweat.)
Rehydrate within 2 hours post-exercise

Ilana Katz has a masters degree in dietetics with an emphasis in sports nutrition. Her work has ranged from elite to recreational athletes. She specializes in body composition and weight management specific to individual goals and needs

Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), and has been certified by Ultrafit as an associate coach. Visit for more information or email him at

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