Hydration tips for the endurance athlete

You may have heard at some point or other about the importance of hydration, in particular with regards to endurance sports like running and cycling. But what does it really mean?

Our bodies are made up of approximately 70% water and to keep our bodies performing at an optimal level we need to keep those hydration levels comparatively constant. As we exercise, we start to sweat, which means a loss of water, salts and sugars; as the levels in our body decreases our bodies become far less efficient. Hence, it makes perfect sense that the greater the deficiency, the more inefficient the body becomes.

So how much should we drink and when? Many people previously thought that drinking at regular intervals whether you were thirsty or not, with the intention of trying to get “ahead of your thirst” (i.e. drink before you are thirsty) was the answer. Some experts thought that by the time you were thirsty, it was too late, you were already somewhat dehydrated and this would have an adverse effect on your performance.

However, studies out of South Africa by the well-respected Dr Tim Noakes suggest that this minor dehydration has no effect on your performance. His studies show that drinking during exercise only when you are thirsty has no negative effect on your performance or health. In fact, studies show that drinking at a high rate (i.e. to try to get ahead of your thirst) has no advantages at all and has been seen to negatively affect some athletes by causing acute stomach distress by drinking too much.

Dr Noakes admitted that drinking to thirst is not the ideal indicator of your hydration status, however it does appear to be a good indicator of optimal drinking rate and the limited dehydration that may occur from drinking to thirst will have no harmful effects on your performance.

Like many fundamental principles relating to training and particularly training for endurance sports, you should always try this out in training. The old adage of “practise makes perfect” and “don’t try anything new on race day” applies here. Every individual is different; therefore it is imperative to test and trial different hydration strategies in your training sessions and see what works best for you.

Good luck and enjoy your endurance training journey!

Mark Whittle
Team GB Triathlete & Triathlon Coach

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