Getting hydration right and putting out peak performance go hand in hand. Get the first one wrong and you most certainly won't do as well as you could–in any and all regards. Why are hydrating and electrolytes so important? Because they help with all different kinds of basic bodily functions, including proper and smooth muscle contraction.
As the Official Hydration Partner for the California Death Ride we recently published the below content for any participants that wanted to know in more detail what hydration for athletes or cyclists is all about. But whether you cycle or do any other (especially endurance) sport the below applies. To give you context, the Death Ride start was at 5,500 ft of elevation, spanning 103 miles, with 6 rated climbs over 3 Sierra Nevada passes, 14,000+ ft' elevation gain, and participants had to expect summer heat. Pro cyclist Peter Stetina (who did the recon for the ride) called the new course "probably one of the hardest rides in the U.S.." So, there’s that.
Most cyclists that have spent a hot minute or two in the saddle put some form of electrolyte product in their water bottles. In other sports using electrolyte products is less common. But whether you are a cyclist or athlete of a different sport, knowing how to prepare right and to optimally hydrate during an event, to either perform better or have a more enjoyable time, is key and often unknown territory for even pretty experienced athletes. As with everything else in life, there are plenty of opinions on hydration strategies but we at ATAQ focus and rely on what the latest scientific studies tell us. Below are some insights and tips to improve your performance and to avoid potentially dealing with severe side effects and symptoms from dehydration.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN PLANNING YOUR HYDRATION
1. HOW MUCH SHOULD I DRINK DURING ENDURANCE EFFORTS? Getting hydration right is not a matter of just drinking enough during training or an event. You need to hydrate before, during, and after. Also, it’s easy to start off dehydrated with a morning start time. It’s recommended to start drinking 14-20 oz two hours prior to activity but if you have a super early start do the best you can as soon as you get up.Endurance athletes should drink beverages with added electrolytes during prolonged exercise to avoid dehydration; it's recommended to consume between 20 and 40 oz per hour. Drink more during the early stages of your workout or event as fluids are better absorbed during that time.
An athlete can lose up to 2.2 lbs of water per hour, which is somewhere between 1% and 2% of the body weight of the average cyclist. If an athlete loses 3% of their body weight in water, their performance begins to suffer dramatically as it affects their ability to maintain body temperature through evaporative sweating/cooling. The following symptoms have been observed when losing percentages of body weight in water:
Loss of water by percentage of body weight and correlating symptoms
Thirst, sweat, tired
Increased thirst, excessive sweat, reduced performance up 10%
Headache, dizziness, fatigue, performance decline up to 30%
Severe weakness and potential collapse
Risk of coma, death
BOTTOM LINE: You need to down a BIG GULP, about 2 of your water bottles for EVERY HOUR or 1 bottle EVERY ½ HOUR. Once you are done you should drink 20 oz of water for every pound you lost during exercise to rehydrate and recover faster. If you have a reminder function on your watch or your head unit, set it up to remind you to keep drinking.
2. HOW DO ELEVATION & TEMPERATURE AFFECT DEHYDRATION? All of the above is based on normal climate, sea level elevation and can change dramatically with increased temperatures and altitude.
ELEVATION: Staying properly hydrated is especially important and becomes a serious task at high elevation. According to the Wilderness Medical Society, your body loses water through respiration at a high altitude roughly twice as fast as it does at sea level. Keep in mind just because you're not soaked in sweat, that doesn't mean you're not dehydrated. Evaporation of water from the body increases at high altitudes due to low humidity and exposure to sun and wind.
TEMPERATURE: Perspiration is your body’s way of regulating body temperature. Outside factors like (head) wind might keep you cool and from noticing how much you sweat. As activity level increases and the body temperature changes from warm to hot, the sweating rate increases. Cycling and heat acclimatization can increase sweat rate by 10% to 20% percent or 6 oz to 8 oz per hour. In temperatures over 70º F and 70% humidity electrolyte loss and imbalances can also result in hyponatremia (low blood sugar).
BOTTOM LINE: Monitor your water intake and when in doubt drink!
3. WHY ARE ELECTROLYTES SO IMPORTANT FOR ATHLETES? While just water is fine for short workouts or the beginning of a harder day you’ll need to replenish electrolytes within an hour of relatively intense activity. Proper hydration with a complete electrolyte replenishment profile (all 4 key minerals–potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium) is mission-critical to deliver top-of-the-game physical and mental performance as well as maintaining health.
POTASSIUM: Potassium is lost with sweat and urine in greater quantities than the other electrolytes and most people have potassium deficiencies, jeopardizing optimal physical and mental performance output. Potassium intake is especially important for athletes. It plays an important role in the storage of carbohydrates that function as a crucial element to producing energy for your muscles. Proper muscle contraction is also dependent on available potassium levels. Potassium deficiency was highlighted as a public health concern in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Therefore replenishment of potassium at higher levels than sodium is recommended.
SODIUM: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting dietary intake to less than 2,400 mg per day (which equates to about 1 teaspoon of salt per day). However, the average American consumes approximately 6,000-7,000 mg per day! Contrary to many athletes’ perception and belief, the human body needs very minute amounts of sodium to function normally. The average person only needs 250 mg of sodium per day, athletes maybe 500 mg (during regular training days), which is easily supplied by natural, unprocessed foods. While exact needs can vary from athlete to athlete, most perform best using anywhere from 80-300 mg sodium per hour in prolonged endurance events. Too much sodium during exercise can lead to swelling, headache, high blood pressure, an enlarged heart, and heart failure.
MAGNESIUM: Magnesium is a nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy. Magnesium is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure and making protein, bone, and DNA. Magnesium participates in the process of energy metabolism and assists the maintenance of normal muscle contraction and relaxation, all of which are important to an athlete. Despite the critical role in energy metabolism, maintaining magnesium intake at an adequate level has been frequently overlooked among athletes. The demand for magnesium is likely to increase during accelerated metabolic situations, thus, physically active individuals may have higher magnesium requirements in order to maintain optimal exercise performance. A suboptimal or even deficient magnesium status may lead to inefficient energy metabolism and decreased endurance. In aerobic exercise, a higher intake of magnesium has been shown to be associated with less oxygen needs and better cardiorespiratory indices. As magnesium deficiency worsens, symptoms may include; numbness, tingling, muscle cramps, seizures, muscle spasticity, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms.
CALCIUM: Calcium is one of those underappreciated workhorses of the body. It stabilizes blood pressure, maintains brain function, and also helps your muscles contract. In fact, the role of calcium is so vital throughout your body, that it will pull calcium from bones to make sure everything else functions properly if you’re not taking in enough from your diet. Each time a muscle is about to contract, calcium is pumped into the muscle fiber, enabling it to shorten.
Electrolytes help to:
- Regulate fluid balance
- Regulate blood pressure
- Improve muscle contraction
- Maintain correct blood acidity (pH)
- Improve sustained endurance and power output
- Transmit signals from nerves, muscles, and cells
Dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies can lead to:
- Slower reflexes
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms
Rapid heart rate
BOTTOM LINE: Make sure you replenish all four electrolytes during hard training workouts and endurance events. Put an extra emphasis on potassium and don’t worry so much about the salt. Your regular diet has you pretty much covered.
WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER USING ATAQ ELECTROLYTE HYDRATION?
Ok, this was a lot of information but it can make or break your ride and the ability to cross the finish line. The above is general information and applicable for any hydration product, some are better than others so check your label and know what to look for. You may have your favorite brand and plan to carry your own product but you don’t have to. As the electrolyte hydration provider for the Death Ride, the ATAQ drink mix will be available to you at all 9 aid stations along the course. So let me explain a little bit about our product, its advantages and how you’ll benefit from using it.
THE RIGHT ELECTROLYTE RATIO: ATAQ's electrolyte formula follows a 4-3-2-1 ratio, replenishing minerals at the same ratio (4 parts potassium, 3 parts sodium, 2 parts magnesium, 1 part calcium) you are losing them with sweat. The amount and mix of electrolytes provides athletes with the optimal balance to support them during peak performance and endurance efforts.
BETAINE, A SECRET WEAPON NO ONE ELSE HAS: Giving our formula a true edge over any other hydration product is the addition of natural betaine, which you also lose with sweat. It plays a key role in your overall performance ability. Betaine is found in many healthy foods, such as whole grains, spinach, and beets. It's a natural nutrient that helps improve overall strength, power, and muscle endurance, maintains optimal fluid balance, and has anti-inflammatory benefits.
A double-blind placebo study from The University of Connecticut found a 30% performance increase after 7 days of betaine intake and 60% performance increase after 14 days of betaine intake.
CLEAN INGREDIENTS, SUPER EASY ON THE STOMACH: ATAQ’s drink mix is non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, and only uses natural ingredients. We don’t use artificial sweeteners, colors, or any preservatives. Those are some of the reasons why it’s easily digested and doesn’t upset your stomach the way some sugary and artificial alternatives do. And for all the speed racers that might have to pee in the cup once in a while, we kept the product WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) compliant. :-)
SUBTLE FLAVOR YOU CAN DRINK FOR HOURS: Often overlooked but super important, especially for endurance events, is the role of taste. We went subtle to keep flavor fatigue at bay. When you don’t like what you need to drink it’s easy to delay the intake. Nothing worse than being on a long ride and dreading every sip. You’ll be dehydrated in no time. For that reason, our products feel more like a mildly flavored water that you’ll enjoy drinking.