As you already know, during exercise you lost a portion of electrolytes along with sweat. As you drink after the training, you increase the fluid levels in your body, which will lower electrolyte concentration even more. Natural foods, like fruits will replace nearly all the electrolytes, except sodium. Add two-three pinches of salt to your post-exercise recovery drink for sodium replenishment. The table below lists great fruits and juices for your recovery drink to replenish electrolytes in your body.
Notes: Liquid protein consumed within 30 minutes after exercise improves muscle repair. Including fruits and greens will deliver extra antioxidants. Stay aways from added sugars.
To fully restore the fluid and electrolyte losses after the workout, aim to drink around 24 oz (700 mL) of liquids for every pound lost. Don’t drink too fast, but instead consume your solution or water slowly over a 60-minutes period and later throughout the day. Listen to your body and use the thirst as an indicator of your hydration status. Doesn’t matter if you replaced all the fluids lost, forcing it down if you’re not thirsty is not a good idea. As a general guideline: if you urinate more often than 10 times in a 24-hour period and your urine is clear – you’re drinking too much.
Better Hydration = Better Performance
Karel, L. (1948). Gastric Absorption. Physical Reviews, 28(4), 433-450.
Cordain, L., & Friel, J. (2012). The Paleo diet for athletes: The ancient nutritional formula for peak athletic performance. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.
Land, S. (2018, March 18). Everything About Getting Enough Electrolytes While Fasting [Digital image]. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from https://i0.wp.com/www.wildfirex.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/08/Electrolytes.png?zoom=2&w=700&ssl=1
What we are trying to achieve here is to prevent more than a 2% drop in body weight caused by fluid loss (about 3 lbs (1.4 kg) of weight loss for 150 (68 kg) pound athlete). The two main goals of performance hydration is to:
Improve calorie absorption by utilizing performance hydration as a “transporter”
Maintain blood volume.
Don’t wait until you get thirsty! Remember: better hydration = better performance. Now pull out your calculator, I’ll teach you how to create your ideal hydration solution:
Carbohydrates: 4-8% solution. To calculate it, divide the grams of carbs (sugar) per serving size by the volume of the serving size (in mL), then multiply by 100 . So let’s say you want to fill your bicycle flask of 500 mL with a 6% solution we will need 30 grams of carbs (sugars).
Electrolytes. Calculations are easier here: 0.5-0.7 grams of sodium per 1 liter (34 oz) of water. So in the same 500 mL cycling water bottle you will need to add 250-350 milligrams of sodium.
The chart below describes carbohydrates and electrolytes needs for optimal hydration during exercise, based on time. Athletes don’t always need to take extra electrolytes during training or racing. Anything under 75 minutes doesn’t require extra supplementation with sodium pills or salt tablets.
Notes: Glucose can be absorbed around 1g/min and fructose has been shown (when combined with glucose/maltodextrin) to be absorbed at 1.5g/min.
The reason is why you should include calories into your hydration solution is to improve fluid absorption rate. “Fueling” and hydration should be separate from one another, so you’re not trying to get your fuel from your hydration solution. A little bit of sugar works as a transporter to pull the sodium across the intestinal barrier to keep your blood plasma volume up.
When creating your ideal performance drink strive for 2:1 ratio of glucose:fructose as it has been shown to improve absorption rate.
Drink 5-8 oz (150-250 mL) of your solution every 10-15 minutes.
Train yourself to get used to drink fluids on a schedule while exercising.
If exercising at higher temperatures or humidity, reduce the intensity to improve the gastric emptying.
Go with sports drinks over the plain water to minimize the risk of hyponatremia.
Energy expenditure is extremely high in endurance sports and a lot of athletes are failing to adequately fuel their bodies. Under-eating is commonly seen among endurance athletes.
Hydration During Exercise
Hydration is a complex topic and deserves a special attention. Hydration before, during and after exercise is discussed in the post that can be accessed here: Performance Oriented Hydration Guidelines for Athletes. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you do so, before we move on.
To refresh your memory, the goal of hydration is not to completely stop your body from loosing fluids, but to prevent it from loosing more than a 2% in body weight from fluid loss.
Drink to thirst! Quite simple. BUT make sure you don’t over drink. There is such a nasty thing called hyponatremia (low sodium concentration in the body fluids). Over drinking during exercise can cause dilution of sodium which eventually leads to health problems and even death. Utilizing sodium in your hydration solution helps to maintain blood plasma volume and reduce the risk of over-hydration.
For high intensity and workouts longer than 60 minutes we begin to utilize hydration solutions or sports drinks. When choosing a isotonic drink for your workout aim for the following carbohydrate & electrolyte concentration:
Carbohydrates: 4% – 8%. To calculate it, divide the grams of carbs (sugar) per serving size by the volume of the serving size (in mL), then multiply by 100 . So let’s say you want to fill your bicycle flask of 500 mL with a 6% solution we will need 30 grams of carbs (sugars).
Electrolytes. Formula: 0.5-0.7 grams of sodium per 1 liter (34 oz) of water. So in the same 500 mL cycling water bottle you will need to add 250-350 milligrams of sodium.
Fat or Carbohydrate for Fuel?
Adequate glycogen storage in your body is the key for optimal performance. Exercising at low and moderate intensities your body uses both: muscle glycogen and fat. The higher exercise intensity, the more carbohydrates are required to fuel your engine. Below is an example of how your body shifts from using fat for fuel towards running purely on carbohydrates. This is my VO2 test, conducted in professional laboratory:
Red column on a left is my heart rate (HR), measured in beasts per minute (bpm). Two columns on the right show the carbohydrate (CH) and fat (F) utilization related to heart rate. What we see here is that at lower intensities (<111 bpm) my body works primarily on fat as fuel. However the higher intensity of the exercise becomes, the faster my heart beats, more carbohydrates are being burned. Approximately at 111 bpm my body’s engine works as a pure hybrid, utilizing about the same amount of fat and carbohydrates for fuel. As the intensity increases, less and less fat is being used to fuel the exercise, until my body shifts completely to using carbs for fuel at 163 bpm.
Maintaining optimal carbohydrate stores is essential not only for good performance, but for protecting your health. Your nervous system, and brain primarily use carbohydrates for fuel. When glycogen stores get depleted and blood sugar level is low your brain will do anything to stop you from continuing exercising. You “hit the wall”. Pack your bags buddy, cause you are not going anywhere at this point. Consider yourself lucky if you just finish the race.
90 to 120 minutes are the short exercises and include sprint distance triathlons, time trials, some mountain bike races, 5-K, 10-K etc. What sets such events from longer-distance races is the high intensity.
The main focus is on hydration and the greatest nutritional need is WATER. Assuming adequate nutrition in the days and hours before the race, the athletes body is well prepared with glycogen stores. Taking in solid foods not necessary.
During prolonged or high-intensity physical activities, blood flows out of the least important organs, such as gut to supply your muscles and skin for optimal performance. It impairs your gut’s ability to process and absorb the foods, therefore carbohydrates at this duration is best in a liquid form. Solid foods are better tolerated at very low intensities or exercising in cold-weather.
Don’t sacrifice your health and performance training in a low-carb states during competitive seasons or when the training load is high. Training in such way will reduce your body’s ability to utilize it’s preferred source of fuel (carbohydrates) for energy, which leads to the series of health issues: hormonal disturbances (low testosterone in men), injuries, sickness, sleep disorders, burnouts, mood swings (moodiness). Don’t work AGAINST your body, but work WITH it. Fuel appropriately and it will pay you back with those fitness gains you are chasing for.
The main focus is to maintain adequate glycogen levels in muscles and liver to delay fatigue and prevent “bonking“. Some research shows that including small amounts of protein may be beneficial in improving performance during endurance events. Protein requires additional energy to break down in your gut therefore it can be too much of a load on your digestion system, causing diarrhea and nausea. Test it on yourself!
Inadequate carbohydrate fueling during high-intensity and prolonged exercise can result in muscle wasting.
High glycemic index drinks with much greater maltodextrin or glucose than fructose are preferred. Caffeinated sports drinks or gels has been shown to enhance the utilization of the glucose in sports drinks. Be careful, too much coffee may cause you shit your pant, when intensity get’s higher. Distribute 200-300 calories per hour in equal chunks, ideally from liquid sources. As always, drink enough to satisfy thirst.
Marathon, ultra-marathon, half-Ironman (70.3), Ironman (140.6), cycling races like century rides, ultra-marathon cross-country ski and rowing events fall under this category.
Participating in such events your main focus has to be on your health. Such long exercises is a true test of your nutrition and hydration strategies. Longer durations give more opportunities to fuck up, either catching hypoanatremia, or bonking on the field, running out of fuel.
Typically intensities during such events are staying low, meaning that your body is going to rely on fat for fuel. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need carbs anymore, we do, but not as much as at higher intensities. As discussed previously your body is a hybrid when it comes to fueling the muscles and the ratio of fat:carbs being utilized depends on intensity of physical activity, therefore your heart rate.
“Fat burns in a carbohydrate fire”, meaning that if carbohydrate stored as muscle glycogen runs low, the body will gradually lose its capacity to produce energy from fat.
If the athlete is behind the carbohydrate intake versus expenditure curve, catching up is difficult and may be accomplished only by slowing dramatically or stopping the exercise. Carbohydrate must be taken in right from the beginning.
The highest rate at which an athlete can expand the energy is 1000 calories/hour. It is almost impossible to replace all of it during the exercise, therefore it is really important to eat enough carbohydrates in 24-48 hours prior to the event. If you did, you’ve got about 1500-2000 calories in form of carbohydrates stored in your body, which should last you for a good part of the race, depending on intensity and time exercising.
During 4-12 hours events:
1. Consume approximately 200-400 calories / hour equally distributed every 10-20 minutes. 2. Calories should be coming from carbohydrates, ideally in liquid form.
Formula: min 0.25 – max 0.33 grams carbs per hour x body weight (lbs) Or min 1 calorie/hour x body weight (lbs)
Therefore 150 lb (68 kg) athlete should aim on consuming no less than 150 calories per hour just from carbohydrates)
In addition, taking in some protein could help to the onset of nervous system fatigue. But keep in mind that protein requires extra hydration for absorption and digestion. Too much of it can cause nausea.
Use the guidelines above as the starting point and experiment. Every body is different, therefore go and test things out yourself.
If you’re up to something like this – you’re crazy and I wish you good luck! Nutrition is critical for such events Recommendations are the same as for the previous section, but in addition the solid foods now become necessity. It may include bananas, cookies, jelly sandwiches, fruit juices etc. Foods with higher glycemic index should be chosen. Don’t forget the protein, especially branched-chain amino acids.
That’s all I had in regards to fueling during the exercise. I hope you learned something new and implementation of it will improve your performance. Below I also attached a “cheat sheet” to be used as a quick reference for Pre, During and Post race fueling.
In addition, I uploaded the Race Pace Predictor, Fueling & Bonking Calculator for cycling, made by FASTFITNESSTIPS. This is a great tool to use while planning your race fueling strategy. Here are the video instructions of how to use it: Fueling Science! How to pace your cycling to avoid bonking.
Do you want to get the taste of every shade of pain? I’ve got a perfect recipe for you – get yourself dehydrated. All you need is to lose just 1%-2% worth of your body’s weight through the fluid loss. Here is how you do it: wake up early in the morning to get that 90 minutes bike ride done, before work or school. Have nothing besides a cup or two of coffee and jump straight on the trainer. I guarantee that your heart rate won’t go higher than zone 3-4, no matter how hard you push yourself. RPE of 3-4 will feel like 7-8, making every second of your workout count as you courageously suffer through it. Besides that, you might experience some of the following symptoms, but they most likely have nothing to do with you being dehydrated. Push harder!
Headache (wether changes)
Fatigue (don’t be lazy!)
Dizziness (thats ok, just don’t close your eyes)
Increased thirst (resist! less water = higher RPE)
Tachycardia (you won’t even feel it)
Weak pulse (don’t worry about that)
Chills/cold hands (put on an extra jacket)
Organ failure (people live even with one kidney)
Shrunken brain (less weight to carry)
Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke – those are the things that will add more flavor to your experience of riding the paintrain. There are few tips on how to access those add on features and amplify your suffering:
Do some interval training outside, including extreme spikes in intensity or volume
Try exercising when sick. Disease and fewer is not an excuse to skip a workout
Put on as many clothes as you have. Let’s see how many cycling jerseys you’ve got in your closet
Neglect all the clues and heat-related illness signals your body sends you
Few more workouts like this and you begin questioning your abilities as an athlete and your existence on this planet overall. A little shit-talking voice in your head gets louder and louder, yelling at you to stop this suffer fest and quit the sport all together. Perfect! There are many other ways to get on the paintrain with a first-class seat, but I will not discuss all of them just yet. If it’s something that you’re specifically looking for, let me know and I will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to obtain the ticket to the suffer-land for free.
Let’s get serious
Let’s talk first about why exactly is hydration so important?
I bet you heard a million times that making sure you are well hydrated with clean water is essential to your well-being. I’ll just refresh a few things in your memory in regards to why you need to drink water.
About 40 liters of water contains a 150 pounds human body. Every day you loose 2-3 liters of fluids. Your body doesn’t produce water and heavily rely on external sources. Without proper amount of water, your body fails to:
Transport fuel to your working muscles
Eliminate the byproducts of your trainings from your cells
Keeping you alive and not let you dies from overheating by cooling itself down.
Digest the foods you eat and convert them into the fuel for your next training sessions.
Keep your brain functioning, making you a bit smarter than your dog. Concentration is compromised.
Maintain the blood volume. The sweat that you loose during exercise comes out of your blood plasma. Loose too much sweat -> blood volume goes down -> performance decreases.
The list goes on and on, but the main point here is that WATER IS LIFE.
When endurance athlete “hits the wall” or getting “bonked”, running out of energy, he can grab a gel or coke and rapidly put that necessary calories into the engine. Up to a certain point dehydration is manageable and there no performance decline. However, if the athlete is getting dehydrated, there is no fast way to restore hydration status. When is too late? Over 2% of body’s mass lost through the fluids links to a low performance. Your main task as an athlete is to stay above 2% or 3% off for fluids lost during exercise. Its easy to miss the point of not coming back and once you’re in the hole of dehydration, you’re not coming out of it in a course of the event. Game is over! Or it for the least your performance is highly compromised.
A symptom of dehydration is often expressed as hunger. That sound weird, but it’s true. When people reach for carbohydrate rich foods, because they’re hungry in the pm its often the fact that they simply dehydrated. By retaining hydration status during the day, it get easier to manage portion control and quality of food consumed.
On the flip side is over-hydration problem – hyponatremia. A lot of athletes are over-hydrating lowering the body sodium levels to dangerously low levels. Your blood becomes thicker and saltier and you feel thirsty. If you drink a lot of water or a lot of low-sodium fluids you actually diluting your blood down. You hold about 32 oz (950 mL) of fluids in your stomach. Depending on your body size and exercise intensity it empties at a rate about 30-42 oz (890-1242 mL) per hour. If you drink too much, too fast, your stomach gets overfilled, having no choice, but make you vomit to remove the excess. Overdrinking can cause nausea.
You noticed in the past that your sweat leaves white marks on your clothing. Sometimes less, sometimes more. With sweat you never loose just the water, but also electrolytes. Without those positively and negatively charged ions you won’t be able to contract your muscles properly, making your running form seem more like a butt injured bear running away from the hunter. Potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium are the micronutrients that in proper combination allow your body to remain in homeostasis by maintaining the fluid balance. Sodium is predominant electrolyte so you mainly loose this important nutrient with your sweat.
If you don’t replace the fluids and electrolytes lost, it will essentially pull a cascade of negative events that will make you a dehydrated bitch. Luckily for you, mother nature provided your body with reliable fluid level management feature – a thirst. When too much water leaves your cells – they shrink and your brain gets notified immediately. If you feel thirsty, you’re on your way to a suffer-land, sponsored by dehydration. Listen to your body and drink enough to satisfy thirst, not more or less.
Better Hydration = Better Performance
You may not feel thirsty during exercise, but you absolutely need to hydrate while you exercise. Plain water is the best! There are three kinds you are safe to go with:
Purified water. This water is free of contaminants and produced by deionization, distillation, reverse osmosis and carbon filtration.
Spring water. Spring water is the “natural” version of purified water. may have been disinfected, but most impurities and contaminants remain. In terms of quality, spring water is much closer to tap water than purified water.
Alkaline water. It’s less acidic than tap water, however there is little evidence that its healthier than regular tap water.
“Taste and temperature have no perceptible effect on fluid absorption”
Hypertonics. They are the high-calorie sports drinks or simply soda. Drinking these is notoptimal way to hydrate as your body has to move water out of the bloodstream into the gut to absorb the calories within the drink.
Isotonics or Hypotonics. This types of drinks are formulated to a concentration that is similar to your blood, which makes them a good hydration tools.
Coffee & Tea
Coffee is considered as probably harmless and possibly healthy. Just keep in mind that it’s a central nervous system stimulant so try not to over drink it.Commonly accepted safe dose of it is no more than 32 oz (946 ml) a day.
Tea also has caffeine in it, but way less than coffee. It is often praised for its health benefits and can help to fight free radicals, reduce the risk of heart related disease and even cancer. Herbal teas increase immunity, support weight loss, control appetite, promote better sleep and lower stress levels. It’s not a magic bullet, but if you get to pick between tea and coffee, I would go with the first one.
Juice, Energy drinks and Alcohol
Liquid produce is not healthier than whole, solid produce. Real juice, even with no added sugars is a very easy way to over-consume the calories, compared with eating whole foods. However it may come in handy after the intense workout, assisting in rehydration and delivering vitamins with minerals. To make it even a better post-workout option, add a tea spoon of pink Himalayan salt to make it more similar to rehydration sports drinks.
Energy drinks is a no-no! 5-hour Energy, NOS, Monster Energy, Red Bull, Rockstar etc. is a poison straight from a can. Sugar, enormous amount of calories and caffeine along with other stimulants will put you at risk of cardiac arrest. Save your heart and opt from such drinks, especially during the exercise.
There are no benefits to alcohol consumption. Sorry. The use of alcohol even in small amounts can negatively affect your hydration status, sleep, recovery, motivation and overall performance.Not to mention, it causes weight gain and weakens your immune system. If you are an athlete, especially during a competition season, do yourself a favor – stay away from alcohol.
Know your Sweat Rate
Everyone looses fluids differently, therefore to better understand how much you are sweating it’s important to calculate your sweat rate. Right before your next big workout, jump on scales and record your weight. When finished, re-weight yourself and calculate your sweat rate using the example of how to estimate the sweat rate for 150 lbs athlete after a 2 hour 30 minutes bike ride:
Pre-exercise weight: 150 lbs (68 kg)
Post-exercise weight: 148.5 lbs (67.3 kg)
Weight (fluids) loss: 1.5 lbs (0.7 kg) or 24.7 oz (700 mL)
Water consumed during exercise: 3 liters (100 oz)
Total Sweat Loss: 24.7 oz + 100 oz = 124.7 oz (3688 mL)