Infinit Nutrition Canada - Premium Sport-Specific Nutrition

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Staying Hydrated Is So Simple. Why Do Many Endurance Athletes Train and Race In A Dehydrated State?


My pain is your gain!  A bit of background, I raced Lake Placid Ironman 6 years in a row starting in 2002.  As is the case for many first timers, this initial one was a bit of a kick in the gut.  I really wasn't prepared for what was to come.  In 2003 & 2004, I learned a lot more lessons, while I continued to increase my fitness level and the results were better and better.  In 2005, I was coached by Richard Pady and now on Infinit - had the race of my dreams - went from 11:29 in 2004 to a 10:45, was elated.  But wanted more!!!  I now felt I was close enough to compete for my dream of going to Kona, figured I would have to go 10:10 - 10:15.  Qualified for Boston in the fall of 2005, my run was there, my swim, well improved enough to limit losses in the water and the bike was stronger than ever with all the Computrainer miles.  So how did it go?  Well, I fell flat on my face.

The race started off perfectly - I swam a 1:08:30 (1:49 - fast for me), I biked a 5:28 on a tough Placid course (good enough for 96 overall out of more than 2000 athletes). Now all I needed to do was run the way I was running off the bike all season long.  I was hoping to run 7:30 to start and fade a bit to near 8.  It was clear during my first mile that I was in trouble - I ran the first mile at 7:55 and really struggled to hold that, as the miles went by - the pace continued to balloon - ended up running the whole thing, but with a pace of 9:15, finished with a 4:02, more than 35 minutes slower then I was trained to go.  As soon as I finished, I knew I was in trouble, nauseous, dizzy, chilled - shortly after they woke me up in the med tent, I had passed out.  I still marvel at the mind's ability to push through - I ended the race at 162 pounds after starting at 172.  Clearly, I was dehydrated, severely!

So, of course, I was down with the result, was happy I got through it but did a lot of soul searching, trying to figure out how it was I got so dehydrated.  I took a bottle an hour, maybe a bit more - thought I was good.  This is where the learning came - I spent a lot of time reading and researching how to know how hydrated you are, my rate of fluid loss and most importantly how much do I have to ingest to stay reasonably hydrated.  After very carefully taking pre-workout and post-workout weights, while monitoring my total intake - I was able to determine my fluid loss rate was 1200 ml/hr.  This was an "ah-ha!" moment.  Think about it - over a 10 hr race, I am losing 1200 ml/hr and I was taking in just above 600 ml per hr - not a surprise I ended the race severely dehydrated.  FYI this was the case for all the previous races as well.

Now fast forward to when we get an opportunity to interact with an athlete during a custom consult.  Of course, we create a blend that has the right amount and mix of carbs, flavour preferences are aligned with customer expectations, electrolyte levels are good and the total calories result in a blend that is a good concentration (so it easily empties and absorbs).  But something that is just important is the work we do on hydration with each athlete.  Being well hydrated helps us perform now, but maybe more importantly, it allows us to recover fast - the faster we recover, the better we feel.  It may be normal for endurance athletes to be sore and fatigued after long workouts, but it doesn't have to be that way.  If you are fading at the end of long training sessions, cramping, feeling any symptoms like being dizzy, nauseous or chilled it could be you are dehydrated.  The best way to avoid this is to stop guessing.

Every athlete we get to work with, we spend 10 minutes on hydration and then send them a tool to capture their data and calculate their personal fluid loss rate.  Really an education tool, you can start to see how increasing intensity or riding in hotter temperatures drives the sweat response upwards.  Your body strives to keep the core body temperature constant, increasing power (intensity) and training/racing in heat increases the core body temperature and your body's response to control it, sweating.  This was a light bulb moment for me in 2006 and has been a key enabler for many athletes we have had the pleasure to work with.

The Sweat Test:

  1. Pick a run at least 90 mins or ride greater than 2 hrs. 
  2. Weigh yourself with a digital scale with no clothes on, after you have urinated (empty bladder). Record weight.
  3. Workout. Drink normally, but make sure you know how much you consumed during the training. 
  4. As soon after the training as possible, weigh yourself again with no clothes (dry off if sweaty), after you have urinated.  Record weight. 
  5. Then you simply enter the weights, pre and post, the duration of the exercise in minutes and finally the total fluids you ingested.  Say a 3 hr ride you had 3 bottles, this would be 1800 ml.
  6. The tool does the calculations for you, it will show your level of dehydration and your fluid loss rate/hr. Good to do multiple tests over a season to see how intensity and temperature affect your results. This increases your learnings and gives you a bigger library of data to draw on.
  7. How to use the fluid rate loss data.  Using my typical value of 1200 ml/hr, for the intensity I train at and the usual Windsor weather, you want to take in about 75% of your number.  For that 1200 ml that is 900 ml/hr or a bottle and a half.
If you want to be on top of the podium or at least your best, you have to hydrate!
So now you have the ability to measure your level of dehydration, calculate your fluid rate loss and how to stay reasonably hydrated.  Doing so will have you feeling better on your longer efforts as well you will recovery optimally.  If you are ever "off" after longer efforts, don't feel like eating/drinking, overly tired, nauseous there is a good chance you haven't hydrated effectively.  Don't let something this simple get in the way of your true potential, like it did for me back in 2006......aggghhh!!!

- Darcy Haggith, President, Infinit Nutrition Canada