If we want our body to function properly during any sporting activity, we should not underestimate the importance of sufficient hydration. Water makes up 80% of our body and 75% of our muscles; it is the environment in which countless chemical reactions take place; and last but not least, it is the carrier of various substances. Among these are minerals such as magnesium,sodium, potassium, calcium, and chloride, which are present in our bodies in the form of electrolytes, that is, solutions composed of a mineral and a liquid. Electrolytes are contained in our blood, urine, and sweat. Increased sweating during physical activity causes these electrolytes to be lost from the body along with water. Lack of water and electrolytes then negatively affects physical performance, and muscle cramps and fatigue can occur. Find out exactly how this all works and why it's important to make sure you stay adequately hydrated, especially if you play sports, in the following article.
- The importance of hydration: water forms an important part of our body and muscles, serves many chemical reactions, and is a carrier of various substances, especially minerals. Lack of hydration can negatively affect physical performance, causing muscle cramps and fatigue;
- Role of electrolytes: electrolytes are ionized minerals that carry electrical signals in the body. The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride, and phosphorus. These substances are crucial for many bodily functions, especially during physical activity;
- Electrolyte replenishment: during intense sporting activities such as marathons or triathlons, replenishing electrolytes during activity is essential. There are many products that can help with this replenishment, including isotonic drinks, endurance gels, salt tablets, and coconut water;
- Optimal fluid intake before, during, and after physical activity: it is important to hydrate properly before, during, and after sporting activity, with amounts recommended based on body weight and activity intensity. Proper hydration can significantly improve sports performance and reduce the risk of dehydration and muscle cramps;
- Individual hydration needs: the amount of fluid an individual needs can vary depending on a number of factors, including activity intensity, environmental conditions, and body weight. It is important to find the optimum amount of fluid needed for individual needs and to practice fluid intake during training sessions.
Is hydration important?
Of course! Without water, our body simply cannot function. Even mild dehydration can disrupt the optimal fluid balance, which has a negative impact on physical performance. Our body tries to maintain so-called homeostasis, i.e., the stability of the internal environment, by managing water so that its intake and output are as balanced as possible. However, with prolonged physical activity, it is unable to maintain this balance; if we do not replenish water sufficiently, dehydration occurs. We then experience weakness, fatigue, headaches, and possibly irregular heartbeats. Since sweating removes electrolytes from the body with water, supplementing with only pure water may not improve these conditions.
What is an electrolyte and which one to think about?
I want to replenish electrolytes, so do I reach for a powder or tablet formulation? That's what electrolytes are for, isn't it? Not exactly, because an electrolyte is not a mineral. In fact, electrolytes are solutions of ionized minerals (minerals with an electrical charge) and a solvent. It is the mineral you find in supplements; the electrolyte becomes the mineral when dissolved in a polar solvent, and one such solvent is the water in your body. The resulting solution then conducts electrical excitations in our body; this is how nerve signals are transmitted. Without our perceiving it, an electric current is constantly running through our body. And which elements make up the most important electrolytes in our bodies? These are the following:
- Sodium helps maintain proper fluid balance, regulates blood pressure, and aids nerve and muscle function.
- Potassium helps regulate fluid balance, aids muscle contraction and nerve function, and may help reduce muscle spasms.
- Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function and energy production.
- Calcium is essential for muscle function and nerve transmission.
Also worth mentioning:
- Chloride helps regulate fluid balance and maintain proper blood pH.
Phosphorus is important for energy production and muscle and nerve function.
These minerals are especially important for those who engage in longer physical activities such as half marathons, marathons, cycling, or triathlons. These athletes are more likely to experience electrolyte depletion, so it is more than advisable not to wait until the activity is complete to replenish electrolytes but to replenish them during the activity.
Here are some general guidelines for replenishing electrolytes per hour of physical activity: We have selected running, cycling, and triathlon as the three most strenuous activities in which your body loses electrolytes the most due to intensity and sweating.
|Bodyweight (kg)||Sodium (mg)||Potassium (mg)||Magnesium (mg)||Calcium (mg)|
The most effective sources of electrolytes during physical activity are:
- Isotonic drinks
- Endurance gels
- Salt tablets ("salt caps") or electrolyte tablets
- Coconut water
Tip: pay attention to what you buy. Not every product on the market contains all the electrolytes at once. This is especially true for sports drinks. We recommend reading the nutritional information and ingredients before buying.
How much to drink before activity: start ahead
Hydration before physical activity is also essential to achieve maximum performance and reduce the risk of dehydration. The amount of fluid needed before physical exercise varies depending on your weight, the duration and intensity of the activity, and external factors such as temperature and humidity. However, a general rule of thumb is to drink 5-7 milliliters of fluid per kilogram of body weight at least 4 hours before activity. 2 hours before activity, drink an additional 2-3 millilitersof fluid per kilogram of your body weight. This will ensure that you enter the race or training sufficiently hydrated.
|Bodyweight (kg)||4 hrs prior (ml)||2 hrs prior (ml)|
How much to drink during a long run or bike ride?
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) generally recommends drinking approximately 500–600 ml of water or sports drink with electrolytes 2-3 hours before exercise and then an additional 200–300 ml of water or sports drink every 10–20 minutes during a race or workout. Still, keep in mind that the amount of fluid your body needs during an hour of physical activity can vary depending on factors such as the intensity of the activity (BPM rate, total duration, etc.), environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, climate, etc.), and individual parameters such as body weight and sweating rate. According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), general guidelines for fluid replenishment during a long run or bike ride should follow the table below.
|Bodyweight (kg)||Fluids intake (ml) / 10-20 min|
Tip:If you drink more than you really need, you may experience a rapid heart rate and an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that can turn into a stomach ache and make you stop. Yes, water stations during half marathons and marathons can be very tricky. Our personal advice is to find the optimal amount of fluids you actually need and practice taking them in during your training sessions.
How much to drink after a workout or race?
Try to drink the prescribed amount of fluids immediately after the activity and continue drinking at regular intervals until you feel adequately hydrated. Don't worry; your body will tell you when to stop. Consuming carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutesto an hour after exercise can aid the recovery process and promote muscle repair and glycogen production. Again, the volume, timing, and composition of your post-exercise drink will vary depending on your weight, length and intensity of activity, and the weather. However, general guidelines should be as per the following table:
|Bodyweight (kg)||Fluids (ml)||Carbohydrates (g)||Protein (g)|
Tip: If you're not a fan of sports drinks or you're not immediately hungry after a race (which is our case), try coconut water. You'll enjoy it most when properly chilled, as it refreshes your body and gives you everything you need to feel better after a race or hard workout.
Alcohol before a race or training session
Do you want to relax your nerves for the upcoming race? Alcohol should be avoided for this purpose. Consuming alcohol the night before a race can have a negative impact on your overall performance due to:
- Reduced recovery ability
- Disruption of sleep patterns
Alcohol is a diuretic that causes your body to lose fluid faster, leading to dehydration. Thus, consuming alcohol the night before a race or training session could negatively affect your performance.
Alcohol also limits the body's ability to recover from physical exertion and has other negative effects. It can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which slows down muscle and tissue recovery. Alcohol also impairs the body's ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals. This is because it interferes with the production of vasopressin, a hormone that helps control fluid balance in the body. Without enough vasopressin, the kidneys transfer water directly to the bladder, which can lead to increased urination during the night and therefore increased fluid and electrolyte loss.
Alcohol consumption can disrupt the quality of sleep, which is crucial before a race or training session. Although many people believe that they sleep better after drinking alcohol, this is not the case. In fact, alcohol impairs the body's ability to achieve deep sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is essential for the body's restorative processes, such as muscle healing and memory consolidation. Lack of REM sleep will cause poor recovery and increased fatigue, which will negatively affect any athletic performance.
- Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J., Montain, S. J., & Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(2), 377-390.
- Casa, D. J., Armstrong, L. E., Hillman, S. K., Montain, S. J., Reiff, R. V., Rich, B. S., ... & Stone, J. A. (2000). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: fluid replacement for athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 35(2), 212.
- American Council on Exercise. (2013). Electrolytes and Exercise. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/3258/electrolytes-and-exercise/
- American Council on Exercise. (n.d.). Staying Hydrated: How Much Water Do You Really Need? Retrieved from https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5058/staying-hydrated-how-much-water-do-you-really-need/
- National Athletic Trainers' Association. (2017). NATA Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for the Physically Active. Journal of Athletic Training, 52(9), 877-895. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-52.8.03
- American College of Sports Medicine. (2017). ACSM's guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (10th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.
- Casa, D. J., Armstrong, L. E., Hillman, S. K., Montain, S. J., Reiff, R. V., Rich, B. S., & Roberts, W. O. (2000). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: Fluid replacement for athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 35(2), 212–224.
- Jeukendrup, A. E. (2017). Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(14), 1415-1424. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1222901
- Burke, L. M., & Hawley, J. A. (2018). Swifter, Higher, Stronger: What's on the Menu?. Science, 362(6416), 781-787. doi: 10.1126/science.aau2093
- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 48(3), 543-568. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852