HYDRATION – A Revelation

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This is not your normal hydration article. 

It is fair to say, that this article has nothing to do about being hydrated. In reality, it is almost certainly about being in the opposite state of hydration.

Ten years ago, I was a T-Totaling cyclist, Ironman and runner. I didn’t desire alcohol, I had no need to be fair. When I did drink it was for social reasons. I guess you could say, I was ‘fitting in.’

In 2008, all that changed.

To be clear, 2008 was a tough year with divorce, job loss, and my Dad getting cancer. It’s enough to make anyone drink but I was already drinking before… nothing excessive, glass of wine here, glass of wine there. But events in 2008 and then 2009 saw me drink more.

Ten years on I now drink a great deal!

Am I an alcoholic? No.

But if I was, would I know?

Anyway, in the last 5-years my consumption has increased and a bottle of wine every day is normal. But I would say in the last 24-months and in particular, the last 12-months, I have seen that consumption increase. A bottle of wine is normal daily but if I meet friends, eat out, or if working on a race, then I can drink more.

It has become normal.

I have recently asked and questioned myself:

‘Are you are drinking too much!?’

It’s hard to be objective but I think deep down I have known the answer.

Thing is, I can leave drink alone and I don’t crave or need it. I therefore convinced myself I was okay. A good example is working on a multi-day race like Marathon des Sables. I am in the Sahara Desert and there is no alcohol unless I take it with me. I don’t take any and I don’t miss it.

So, all is okay then!?

I guess not and that is the reason for this post.

This last weekend, someone very dear and important to me, looked me in the eye and said:

‘Ease back on the booze!’

This friend was not judging, it was out of love and caring that our eyes met and this advice was relayed to me. 

It’s not always easy to be objective, one can always find an excuse for anything and one can convince oneself that all is okay.

But these words were all I needed.

I decided there and then to stop.

So yesterday, I stopped drinking.

This is not one of those posts that says drinking is bad, no. It’s a post to say that sometimes you need the love of a friend and a personal acceptance that you need to change things.

Today I change and I thank my special friend from the bottom of my heart for the honesty and trust.

Maybe you have been asking a similar question of yourself and this post can help you. I hope so.

Do you like it on your back? In your hand? Or around your waist?

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With temperatures rising and longer lighter days for many of us in Europe and North America, we can hopefully all get out and run more. But as we all know, or maybe we don’t, we need to consider several things when running in the heat:

  • It’s harder
  • You sweat more
  • You need more fluid

We need to adapt. So what happens when the mercury rises?

Question, do you prefer it:

  •  On your back?
  •  In your hand?
  •  Around your waist?

Of course I am talking about your method of hydration.

 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON RUNULTRA HERE

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Race Day Nutrition (Part Five) – Marc Laithwaite

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Your body needs fluids for various functions. Body cells and tissues are filled with fluid, the nervous system requires fluid and the fluid component of your blood (known as plasma) is also affected by your drinking habits. Exercise leads to a loss of body fluids via sweating and breathing and this loss of fluid can eventually lead to what is commonly termed dehydration.

What happens when we drink?

When you put fluids into your stomach, they pass through the stomach wall into your blood vessels and effectively become plasma. As your blood stream can pretty much reach any part of your body, any tissue or any cell, this fluid can be transferred from the blood stream into the tissues or cells.

How does fluid actually pass from one place to another?

To get the fluid from your stomach into your blood stream or from your blood stream into tissue cells requires a process termed ‘osmosis’. Salt acts like a magnet drawing fluid towards it and the concentration of salt in your blood and tissues determines the shift of fluid around your body. When you take a drink of water it reaches your stomach and waits to pass through the wall into your blood stream. Your blood is saltier than the water in your stomach and due to the higher level of salt in the blood, the water is drawn from the stomach, through the wall and into the blood. This water effectively becomes blood plasma and travels around your body. If it finds muscle tissue, which has a higher salt concentration, the ‘magnetic’ pull of the salt within the muscle will draw the fluid from the blood into the muscle.

In simple terms, when something is dehydrated, it becomes salty. By becoming salty it’s magnetic or ‘osmotic’ pull increases in power and it attracts water towards it. That’s how fluid shift and hydration works within the body, that’s ‘osmosis’.

So how much should I drink?

Most guides will recommend somewhere between 1 – 1.5 litres per hour depending upon individual sweat rates, but it is unlikely that this amount can actually be absorbed when you are exercising. As each litre of fluid weight 1kg in weight, it is possible to calculate (very roughly) fluid loss by taking weight before and after and this will give you an estimation of how much you need to drink. This is a relatively simple process, go and ride or run for a couple of hours at the same intensity as your upcoming event and wear the same clothing etc. Weigh yourself before you go out, weigh yourself when you get back and then note how much fluid you drank. For example:

Weight beforehand: 80kg
Weight afterwards: 78.4kg
Weight lost: 1.6kg
Drink taken: 500ml (500g/0.5kg) – add this on
Actual weight lost: 2.1kg

*You should also take into account urination, if you stop for a pee during the session, that should be added to the loss!

Drinking too much is worse that not drinking enough:

For many years marathon runners were encourage to drink at every aid station and the key phrase was often “don’t wait until you’re thirsty, it’s too late then!” Unfortunately a few of those people died as a consequence due to a condition known as ‘hyponatremia’, which is excessive dilution of body salts. There needs to be some common sense applied to hydration. Your body tells you when you need fluid by making you feel thirsty and then you should drink however much you’ve lost. Your body operates very much like a water tank with an overflow system. Once the tank is full, any further fluid will be dispensed with by a visit to the toilet! It’s correct to say that urinating frequently and especially if the urine is clear, is not a sign of optimal hydration, it’s a sign you’re drinking too much.

Hyponatremia can be explained in this simple manner:

Take 1 medium sized bucket and add a teaspoon of salt and a pint of water to create a salt solution. Add another pint of pure water to the same bucket and you have now diluted the salt solution (it’s a bit weaker). Add another pint of pure water to the same bucket and dilute the salt even further. Keep going until the salt solution is so weak you can hardly even taste the salt. We said earlier in this article that salt acts like a magnet and attracts water towards it:

‘When you take a drink of water it reaches your stomach and waits to pass through the wall into your blood stream. Your blood is saltier than the water in your stomach and due to the higher level of salt in the blood, the water is drawn from the stomach, through the wall and into the blood’

What if you added so much water to your body that the blood wasn’t salty at all, it was diluted so much that it lost all its pulling power?

Salt intake:

Salt intake is a big question for many athletes and the basic guidelines tend to be relatively poor. Some people sweat more than others and the weather conditions will obviously have a large bearing upon both sweat and salt loss, but let’s examine the basics. Each litre of sweat contains 2.5-3.5g of salt depending upon the individual and how well acclimatised you are to hot conditions. IMPORTANT: Salt and sodium are 2 completely different things and we are interested in SODIUM’ and not ‘SALT’. Salt is 2 parts sodium and 3 parts chloride, so 2.5g of salt = 1g sodium / 1.5g chloride.

As a simple example, a tea spoon of salt = 6 grams. The 6 grams is made up of 2.4g sodium and 3.6g chloride.

Let’s presume that you are going to sweat 1 litre every hour (you need to do the calculation from taking weight before and after) and you sweat 2.5g SALT each litre, that means you sweat 1g SODIUM every hour.

Ok, so you’re sweating 2.5g SALT and 1g SODIUM every hour, so a tea spoon of salt (6 grams as explained above) would be enough for somewhere between 2 – 2.5 hours. Most sports drinks don’t have that much salt / sodium in them, so unless you take this into account, it’s likely in a long distance endurance event, your sodium levels will drop. The body does adapt by reducing the loss of sodium (it’s thins your sweat by reducing salt/sodium), but in hot conditions, your sodium intake needs to be addressed.

Remember the isotonic issue:

We said in last week’s blog that fluid intake is important when you are eating food, to ensure that the solution in your stomach is not too concentrated. For this reason, you need to consider fluid and food intake together. If you calculate that you are sweating 1 litre per hour and your planned intake of carbohydrate is 60g per hour, then that ‘technically’ gives you a 6% solution (1000ml / 60g = 6%). The timing of you fluid should be influenced by food intake, for example, if you eat half an energy bar, take fluid with it to dilute the solution. If you missed last week’s blog (part 4) which discussed carbohydrate solutions, click the nutrition link on the left hand blog menu and you’ll find it there.

Practical application of hydration strategies:

  1. If you’re urinating frequently and it’s clear, you may be drinking too much.
  2. Bloated stomach is one of the first signs of hyponatremia, coupled with vomiting liquid. Headaches are also a common symptom.
  3. Use electrolyte tablets in hot weather, but understand that hyponatremia is generated by too much fluid, as opposed to not enough salt. You should also check your energy bars or gels as many of them have salts included.
  4. Use thirst and urine colour as indicators of hydration status. Very dark, infrequent urine is a sign of dehydration.
  5. Weigh yourself before and after exercise as a simple guide to fluid loss, each litre of water weight 1kg, each millilitre weighs 1g.
  6. Try to incorporate food or energy intake as part of your hydration strategy and consider solution strength (isotonic)
  7. If you suffer from bloated stomach due to hyponatremia, don’t take more water, take more salt
  8. People with hyponatremia often don’t urinate, don’t confuse this with dehydration

– Marc

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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Race Day Nutrition (Part Four) – Marc Laithwaite

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So last week (part three HERE) we discussed carbohydrate absorption and the role of insulin, this week, we are going to look at how to take foods on board whilst competing, to avoid stomach problems and maximise performance.

I’m having issues getting energy, what’s the solution?

Your stomach and gut acts a little like a sieve. If you pour water into it, the water passes straight through without any problems. If you pour a milkshake into the same sieve, it will pass through, but will take a little more time and will slowly drip. If you throw solid food into a sieve, it stays exactly where it is. The only way to pass solid food through a sieve would be to mix it up with water and make a thin enough solution, which could then start to drip through.

The solution which enters your stomach, is therefore very important in terms of performance. During endurance events, we eat and drink to get energy, but if the food sits in your stomach, then you aren’t actually getting any energy into your bloodstream. Not only are you receiving less energy, you are also likely to get some kind of stomach problems.

Isotonic is just the tonic

Isotonic refers to a solution which is a similar concentration to fluids in the body. Solutions of 7% are generally referred to as isotonic, this means that 7g of carbohydrate in 100ml of water is isotonic. You can count grams and millilitres as the same thing, so the calculation is simple, 100ml / 7g = 7%.

Drinks bottles generally come in 2 different sizes, 500ml and 750ml so based on the 100ml / 7g rule, the calculations would be as follows:

500ml water + 35g carbohydrate = Isotonic

750ml water + 52.5g carbohydrate = Isotonic

Some solutions are less concentrated than isotonic fluids. For example, water has no carbohydrate in it and no calories, this is classed as hypotonic (hypo = low / less than). Solutions which are more concentrated than isotonic fluids, are classed as hypertonic (hyper = high / more than). An example of a hypertonic solution would be a smoothie.

That’s fine for drinks but what about solid food?

Many athletes choose to eat solid food during their event. As stated above, anything which is above 7% solution is hypertonic. Therefore, all energy bars and solid food is hypertonic. This means that if you wish to absorb solid food effectively, you must add sufficient water to make a 7% solution. For example, a standard energy bar is approximately 50-60g in total weight. We said earlier that 7g in 100ml of fluid would be a 7% solution, so that means you would have to drink 7-800ml of water with each energy bar to make at isotonic solution (56g is 7% of 800ml). In ultra running events, there’s often solid food such as sandwiches at feed stations, so get into the habit of estimating the portion size, e.g. what does 60g of cheese sandwich look like! Eating sandwiches, pasta and cake can very quickly result in a large mass of food gathering in your stomach. As for gels, they work the same way. A single gel contains 20-30g of carbohydrate (you need to read the packet). A gel with 21g would require 300ml to make a 7% solution.

Why is solution an issue?

Taking energy bars, gels and other solid food provides energy, but you have to take a lot of fluid to create an isotonic solution in your stomach. If you fail to take sufficient fluid you will have a thick ‘hypertonic’ solution in your stomach which may not digest and may well lead to stomach problems.

Don’t forget the 60g per hour rule

As we’ve said in previous blogs, it’s unlikely that you can absorb more than 60g per hour of carbohydrate so eating too much food can have a negative impact upon digestion. Eating too much may lead to food gathering in the stomach and leading to feelings of bloating or sickness. The carbohydrate ‘maltodextrin’ seems particularly prone to doing this and all carbohydrate drinks and gels tend to consist of maltodextrin (pretty much every energy drink on the market is the same, it’s flavoured maltodextrin).

It’s known that when you get an accumulation of carbohydrate in the stomach, due to excess food intake, the body is forced to dilute the solution. The strong solution sitting in the stomach starts to draw water other parts of the the body, into the stomach, to dilute the solution and aid digestion and absorption. This action of drawing fluid into the stomach is termed ‘osmosis’.

It’s important to remember that if you do take too much energy, coupled with a lack of fluid, not only are you likely to get stomach issues, the energy will also fail to reach your blood stream and exercising muscles where it is needed. In simple terms, more food may provide you with less energy.

Practical advice:

  1. You need to stick to the 60g limit for carbohydrate intake
  2. A solution of 7% is not always attainable, aim for 10% as a minimum start point for intake:

60g energy powder + 600ml water per hour
60g energy bar + 600ml water per hour
60g of gels (2-3) + 600ml water per hour

  1. You can mix the above, e.g. 30g carbohydrate powder and 30g gels every hour, plus 600ml of water.
  2. Think about what’s the easiest to calculate and what the easiest to obtain during the event. Knowing how much energy is in drinks which are handed up at aid stations or adding your own powder on the go is not really feasible so gels and bars are often simpler to use and to quantify. In truth, you really have no idea what’s being handed up in the drinks bottles, so water is always the safe option.
  3. Feeding is easier when cycling compared to running, so if you’re doing Ironman triathlon, the bike feeding is critical to set you up for the run. If you’re running an ultra, the slower pace can help, but little and often applies.
  4. Little and frequent works best for digestion. A gel every 20-30 minutes or half a bar every 30 minutes is better than a full bar every hour. You still need to drink the correct amount of water to account for solution.
  5. Drinking water only with bars and gels has the benefits of ‘freshening your mouth’. Energy drinks, gels and bars can leave you with a constant sticky taste.

What about the food content?

There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that eating too much carbohydrate may also impact upon digestion and potential stomach problems. If you are prone to stomach issues, then gels with a higher fat content may well work best. There are some very scientific high fat gels on the market, mainly in the US, but if you Google for peanut butter flavour gels, that’s a simple option and you can easily get those in the UK. If you don’t like peanut butter flavour, there’s not much option!

The final step

Ok, so here’s your homework. Go and purchase gels or bars, which you intend to use for your event and take a look at the wrapper. What’s the total weight in grams of the product and what does the content add up to? Remember, a gel may have added water, so a 40g gel may contain 20g of carbohydrate. Don’t just use the actual product weight, you need to check the weight of the ingredients and use that as your gauge. Work out how many you will need and how often you will eat them. If your event uses specific products e.g. Ironman use Powerbar, it’s a lot easier to use these on the day and save yourself the hassle of carrying a lot of product.

Hydration?

That’s coming next week

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo