Importance of Hydration
As we exercise, our body temperature increases, and to cool down we sweat. Sweating puts our body system into negative fluid balance leading to dehydration. Drinking fluid during exercise helps to replace what is lost through sweat. Keeping hydrated is not only important for elite athletes, but also for those outdoor enthusiasts who simply want to make the most of their sport. If you are heading out for a high-intensity mountain bike ride in the hills or for a hike in knee-deep powder searching for untouched lines, then taking on fluid is highly important. The effects of dehydration range from headaches, loss of concentration, blurred vision, stomach upsets, nausea and vomiting, as well as a decline in performance. Sweat contains important electrolytes that enable our digestive system to absorb fluid and keep balanced. That’s where sports drinks play their part, as they contain the right concentration of electrolytes to replace what is lost and keep us going all day long.
The great thing about sports specific drinks is that they are quick and easy to prepare. Most come in a powdered from, and all you need to do is add the correct quantity of water. These drinks are formulated with everything you need to replace the fluid and electrolytes that you lose through your sweat, along with carbohydrate for energy. The form of carbohydrate in sports drinks is rapidly absorbed by our muscles to be used for energy during exercise.
One problem with many sports drinks is that they are formulated for strenuous exercise, to cater for athletes who want to perform at their very best on race day. Therefore, they often contain too much sugar (carbohydrate) for recreational athletes, or outdoor adventurers who are not exercising at a high intensity. Sports nutrition companies have come up with a solution to this problem by developing carbohydrate free electrolyte drinks, such as Nuun. These sports drinks contain all the electrolytes needed to replace those lost through sweat, but do not contain sugar. Several products are sweetened with an artificial sweetener to improve palatability. Some companies are now using a natural sweetener derived from the Stevia plant, which does not contain energy, but tastes sweet and enhances the flavour of the beverage.
Sports drinks are not only useful during exercise, but also before or after exercise. Those who are preparing for a competition or a long day in the outdoors will find them useful before exercise. Beginning exercise in a hydrated state will lessen your chance of suffering dehydration throughout the session. So why not start in tip top condition? After exercise, sports drinks help you recover lost body fluid and return to a hydrated state. This can be very useful if you are on a multi day trip in the outdoors and recovery for the next day’s mission is important.
Sweat Rate = Fluid Intake
Your individual sweat rate during exercise determines how much fluid you should be drinking. This is important for those athletes who want to perform at their best. As there are many factors that influence your sweat rate, such as gender, body weight, fitness level, exercise intensity and environmental factors, it pays to take some time to estimate your sweat rate. This can be done very easily, and can be very useful to give you an indication of how much fluid you should be drinking. To estimate your sweat rate you need to measure your body weight before an exercise session, and after your exercise session. Be sure to wipe all excess sweat off your body before you measure your post exercise weight. Do not consume any fluid during the session, or if this is not possible, take note of how much you drink and add this into the equation. You can then calculate your individual sweat rate by taking your pre exercise weight minus your post exercise weight. The difference in these two values is the amount of fluid lost through sweat. Divide this by your exercise time and you can work out how much sports drink you should be consuming each hour. This can be very useful for all athletes planning their race nutrition. For more information, please contact a Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian for tailored advice.
Eating during exercise is essential to keep our muscles functioning efficiently, and becomes very important for longer session. Our muscles only have the capacity to store enough energy to fuel exercise for 90-120 minutes, without topping up the tank. The amount of energy that you burn during exercise depends on many factors; including body mass, gender, exercise intensity, and environmental factors. Therefore, the amount of food that you need to eat while you are exercising is very individual. As a rough guide, consuming 1g/kg/hour of carbohydrate is a good figure to start with. For example, if you weigh 70kg, you should aim to have 70g of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. Elite athletes should seek advice from a Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian, who will suggest an individualised figure along with specific food options.
There are many options available for fuelling during exercise such as; carbohydrate gels, chews, bars and cookies. These foods are designed to deliver energy to your muscles as quickly as possible, without causing stomach upsets. The form of fuel that you choose is entirely up to your individual preferences, and what works well for you. Athletes who race at a very high intensity may prefer to use carbohydrate gels only, and this is when having a variety of flavours can be very helpful. Others may choose to have something more solid, such as chews or bars. When deciding what fuel to use in your next endurance race or event, the most important thing to consider is that you must trial it during training. Never try anything new on race day!
Recovery is one of the most important aspects of sports nutrition and is often overlooked. What you give your body directly after exercise has a direct impact on how you recover, and therefore how you approach your next exercise session. If you do not recover adequately, your performance will be compromised in your next session. This does not only apply to elite athletes who are on a strict training programme, but also for those outdoor enthusiasts, who may be out on a multi day adventure, such as a cycling tour or a hiking trip. A simple way to explain all aspects of recovery nutrition is to refer to the three R’s; Refuel, Repair and Rehydrate.
- Refuel: refers to restocking your depleted muscle energy stores, ensuring you start your next session with a full tank of gas. Carbohydrate is the required fuel source.
- Repair: refers to repairing damaged muscle fibres from exercise, and building your muscles stronger. Protein is responsible for delivering the necessary blocks needed to repair and rebuild muscle fibres.
- Rehydrate: refers to restocking your body fluid levels to replace the fluid lost through sweating. As described above, sports drinks are the most appropriate sources of fluid, especially if you finish an exercise session in a dehydrated state.
Recovery drinks are designed specifically to deliver both carbohydrate and protein at the right concentration to help you both refuel and repair your body for the next session. The best time to have a recovery drink is within 15 – 30 minutes following exercise. This is when your body is running at maximum capacity to process these nutrients and recovery efficiently and effectively.
Sports drinks, sports foods and recovery drinks can benefit a range of active individuals from fine tuned athletes to recreational weekend warriors. They are not always necessary, and real food options may be the preferred choice. But when it comes to convenience and ease of use, sports nutrition products are the pick of the two. Make sure you always read the label to make sure that you are using the correct dose when preparing sports drinks and recovery formulas. And if you require a tailored sports nutrition plan, make sure to visit a local Sports Nutritionist or Dietitan.
Torpedo7 / Sports Nutritionist