As your training increases in the hot weather, running expert Graham Jessop offers his top tips on staying hydrated and shows us how to recognise the signs of dehydration.
Many people underestimate the importance of water, but keeping hydrated before, during and after exercise can significantly benefit your workouts.
Water makes up around 60-75 per cent of your body weight, serving as an important part of your nutrition and wellbeing. It affects a range of bodily functions from alertness, appetite, performance, fatigue, body temperature, joints, nutrients, waste, skin and prevention of diseases, the list could go on.
When dehydrated these functions become impaired which can affect the flow of oxygen, your performance ability and make you fatigued.
The average person should be consuming around 2.5 litres (approx 85 fl oz) for men and 2 litres (approx 68 fl oz) for women per day. 70-80% should come from water, and the rest from the food you eat. You lose more water when you exercise, so it’s vital to replace the water you lose after exercise.
Keeping hydrated however, is more than just drinking more water and these hydration tips should ensure you get your hydration strategy right whatever activity you are doing.
1. Sports drinks
During exercise, our bodies produce sweat, mostly to assist the control of body temperature. Through this sweat, electrolytes (minerals needed for chemical reactions, muscle performance and regulating water) are lost.
Drinking sports drinks can re-hydrate the body by replacing lost electrolytes, unlike water, to help you continue working out. A variety of sports drinks are available, some to provide energy or aid recovery. So choose the right drink for before, or after your workout. If you are concerned about sugar or artificial content, coconut water or homemade sports drinks can serve as a healthy substitute.
2. Food alternatives
Food can also provide a substantial source of water to help keep you hydrated. Fruit and vegetables can be used as a reliable source of both water and electrolytes and can assist your body in staying hydrated and functioning properly. Many fruits also contain a high dose of carbs which are essential for long bouts of exercise, therefore serving as a useful pre-workout snack to keep you both fuelled and hydrated.
3. Plan your pre-workout drinks
To ensure you are fully hydrated before your workout, it is best that you avoid caffeinated drinks in the hours beforehand, as they do not hydrate your body in the same way as sports drinks or water. Drink things like herbal tea, diluted juice, flavoured waters, or just plain water consistently throughout the day to ensure you are fully hydrated before your workout. Try to drink around 500ml (approx 17 fl oz) of fluids within the hours before your training.
4. Post workout hydration
Many people ignore the importance of hydration following a workout, as the feelings of relaxation and cooling down create a false sense of restoration. Yet your body needs hydration over an extended period after a workout.
Your post workout routine is important to replace the nutrients and electrolytes lost. As your body absorbs nutrients most efficiently in the following two hours after exercise, you need to ensure you drink and eat enough after training. Carbohydrate drinks such as a recovery smoothie are ideal immediately after exercise to restore both water and energy. You should be aiming to replace 150 % of the body weight lost in sweat, with the water consumed after exercise.
5. Drink before meals
Dehydration can often be confused for hunger, and although foods do provide some form of water for hydration, if the body is craving water, only fluids will suffice. Drinking a glass of water around 30 minutes before a meal will help your body identify how hungry it is and concentrate on hydrating itself. This helps to keep your body at a healthy water level, which helps your performance and can prevent you from overeating. Being dehydrated can also reduce your energy, so hydrating yourself before you refuel before or after a workout will maximise your digestion and increase your energy levels.
6. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption
It is not only during and after exercise that you need to pay attention to your fluids, but the drinks you consume throughout the entire day can affect dehydration when exercising. As diuretics, caffeine and alcohol encourage dehydration, by inhibiting the hormone needed for the absorption of water into the blood. This stops the kidneys absorbing the water, meaning it is passed out by urine.
When you’re training, particularly at a high intensity, it is important to avoid alcohol and over-consumption of caffeine. That said, there is some evidence to suggest that some consumption of caffeine could aid your running performance!
Know the Symptoms
Knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration will make it easier to identify when your body is in need of water. Here’s some top tips:
Check the colour of your urine
Urine is your body’s natural reaction to water levels and is a helpful way to catch dehydration at its early stages. Check the colour of your urine. If it’s a pale yellow colour then you know your body is hydrated. If it’s darker coloured, this is your body telling you that it is dehydrated. You can also buy urine strips or charts to determine more accurately how dehydrated you are.
Don’t ignore a dry mouth
Being thirsty or having a dry mouth is one of the first bodily signs that you need to drink more fluids. Don’t ignore your body.
The ‘pinch test’
Skin turgor is a frequently used test to identify when your body is lacking in water, due to a decrease of water in the cells which changes your skin's elasticity. Pinch the skin on the back of the hand, if the skin returns slowly back to its original position, this indicates a state of dehydration. But bear in mind that this doesn’t work for everyone.