Did you know that you can actually lose more than one litre of fluid for every hour that you exercise? And, if this fluid is not replaced you will see a fall in your performance. This is why we at HIGH5 are huge advocates of hydration. But it can be a minefield. What is hydration? How do you know if you're dehydrated? What hydration products will help me? When, why, how do I take them? We know, the questions are endless! But we've got the answers in clear and simple terms. Here's your guide to all things hydration.
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- What is hydration & why does it matter in sport
- How do I stay hydrated during sport?
- What are electrolytes?
- What happens if I'm dehydrated & how can that impact my performance?
- How do I know if I'm dehydrated?
- Hydration & cramp
- What hydration supplements are available & how do I choose the best one for me?
- Best hydration products for running
- Best hydration products for cycling
- FAQs on hydration
- Fun facts on hydration
- The bottom line
What is hydration and why does it matter in sport?
Did you know that more than half of your body is made up of water? In fact, your body needs water for a number of every day bodily processes such as transporting nutrients and oxygen around the body, regulating your temperature and getting rid of waste products. It is therefore vital that your body is always topped up with water. And even more so when you're doing exercise. Why? Well, when you sweat and breathe faster you lose more fluid. 'Hydration' is ensuring your body is replenishing the fluids it is losing and being sufficiently 'topped up' with water.
How do I stay hydrated during sport?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends a daily intake of 2.5 litres of water for men and 2.0 litres of water for women. This should come mainly from drinks and some from food - approx 20-30% from food like fruit and vegetables. During sport, eating and drinking is not always easy - your mind is on other things and you may not be able to carry food or drink easily. There is such a thing as 'pre hydration' where you make sure you're well hydrated before exercise and 're hydration' where you ensure you top up your fluids after exercise. But, depending on how long you're exercising for and how much you sweat, the likelihood is you will need to take on fluid during exercise. Little and often is always best and there are ways to make it easier and enjoyable - there are bottles designed to be easy to carry while you run or fit into a bottle cage on a bike and hydration supplements are a tasty and efficient way to get fluid in (see below for the different hydration supplements available).
What are electrolytes and how do they relate to hydration?
Sweat is not just made up of water, it is water and vital minerals. Another word for these essential minerals are electrolytes. Electrolytes are made up of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium and chloride. When you sweat you lose water and electrolytes which can lead to dehydration if not replenished.
What happens if I'm dehydrated and how can that impact my performance?
Dehydration will impact your health in general as well as your sport performance. How it impacts you depends on how dehydrated you are but generally speaking, you will feel tired more quickly, you won't be able to control your temperature as well and if you're dehydrated before you start exercising you will make your heart work harder. All of this can lead to a drop in performance. In fact, research shows that losses of 2% or more of fluid can reduce your mental performance, including short term memory, motor speed and attention. And it is not just sport performance that dehydration impacts, it can potentially be risky to your health too.
How do I know if I'm dehydrated?
Now you know the impact of dehydration but how can you avoid it? Get to know the signs of dehydration. Firstly, if you feel thirsty you are most likely in need of some hydration. Going by thirst can be good practise but there are many athletes that still don’t drink enough. Secondly, another clue is the number of times you need to go to the toilet and the colour of your urine, which should be pale yellow. If you don’t have to go as often as you normally would, and your urine is of a dark colour, it’s likely that you’re dehydrated. Thirdly, having a headache, and feeling lethargic and tired can also be a sign of dehydration. And, finally, during exercise, a dry mouth or lip can also be a strong indicator.
If you want to get real precise then there is an online calculator that lets you easily calculate sweat rates, which can help you work out how much you should be drinking. If you want to know more about dehydration and how to avoid it? We've got a blog on it.
Hydration & cramp
There's no quick answer to what causes cramps and how to avoid them but what the science does tell us is there are three important areas that should be part of any anti cramp strategy - the first two involve hydration!
1. Stay adequately hydrated - all electrical signalling activity in the muscles takes place in an aqueous (water) environment and even small shortfalls in hydration levels could lead to impaired electrical signalling and an increased risk of cramping.
2. Adequate intake of electrolyte minerals - in particular, sodium and potassium because they’re involved in conducting electrical signals to/from muscles, and calcium and magnesium, which are essential for the contraction and relaxation of muscle fibres.
3. Replenishing energy in the form of carbohydrate - because even small drops in the level of stored muscle carbohydrate (glycogen – your body’s premium fuel for exercise) can lead to increased fatigue, which may in turn increases the risk of muscle cramps.
Maintaining optimum hydration, electrolyte balance and muscle glycogen levels can be tricky without hydration supplements, keep reading to find out what hydration supplements there are... Want to know more about how to avoid cramp? We've got a whole guide on it.
What hydration supplements are available & how do I choose the best one for me?
Because hydration is so important for sport and exercise, there are supplements especially designed to keep you hydrated. Here's a run down of what's available and how to choose the best one for you:
Electrolyte hydration drink tablets
What are they: Effervescent tablets that dissolve in water. Our ZERO hydration tablets are sugar free, zero calories and contain five electrolytes (Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium & Chloride) and vitamin c.
Why choose them: An easy way to ensure you're replenishing the electrolytes you lose through sweat, just drop a tablet into your water and it will quickly dissolve, replenish electrolytes (and make your water taste great!). Use these for when you're exercising for 90 minutes or less (you have enough energy stored in your muscles to fuel) or for every day to ensure you sufficiently hydrated. Working out for 90 minutes or more? You'll need some energy so keep reading!
What are they: Isotonic drinks tend to be powders that you mix with water. They are designed to keep you hydrated, as well as provide you with energy. Our hydration drink, Isotonic Hydration, contains five electrolytes and a fast-release multi-carbohydrate blend for energy too.
Why choose them: When exercising for over 90 minutes you need to focus on both hydration and energy to keep you going for longer. Carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions enhance the absorption of water and helps your endurance performance.
What are they: Energy drinks can come as a powder you mix with water and are made to optimise your energy intake during exercise so you can keep going for longer. Our Energy Drink contains carbohydrates for energy as well as some electrolytes to keep you hydrated too.
Why choose them: If you're exercising for 90 minutes or more then you will need to refuel during exercise and Energy Drink is designed to maximise your energy intake over anything else. If you have hydration covered by a ZERO hydration tablet in your water and you just want to focus on energy then Energy Drink is ideal.
Energy and protein drinks
What are they: These are 'all in one' products that offer energy during sport as well as muscle recovery for afters. Our Energy Drink with Protein is a blend of carbs, protein and key electrolytes to help you to sustain performance and hydration as well as promote the growth and recovery of normal muscles, which can result in stronger, more resilient muscle.
Why choose them: Ideal if you're after one product that does several things. It has also been designed for periods of hard training, multi-day endurance events and when you anticipate a big step up in training intensity or volume, such as a training camp.
Best hydration products for running?
Running for less than one hour? Focus on hydration over energy. Prehydrate by putting a ZERO in some water before you leave home.
Running for more than one hour? You will need to hydrate during your run so put a ZERO in a run bottle or specially designed running back pack. You might also want to think about energy too, so you could fill your bottle with Isotonic Hydration for hydration AND energy. Or top up your energy with energy bars or energy gels.
Best hydration products for cycling?
Cycling for less than 90 minutes? Focus on hydration over energy and pop a ZERO in your bottle.
FAQs on hydration
Do I need to think about hydration all year round?
In short, yes. And more so when it is hot. You sweat all year round so you need to hydrate all year round!
Can I ever be too hydrated?
Yes, during exercise, athletes can be at risk from hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication, which is generally the result of drinking excessive amounts of plain water with no electrolytes during endurance events. This causes a low concentration of sodium in the blood. Some of the symptoms include muscle cramps, headache, feeling disorientated and vomiting. Avoid this by taking on electrolytes as well as water with something like a ZERO tablet in your water.
Can I be adequately hydrated from water alone?
While water does contain trace minerals, electrolyte drinks have been designed specifically to have an optimal balance of electrolytes so as an insurance policy it is best to get your electrolytes from a product like ZERO rather than relying on water along.
Do I need to think about hydration when I'm not exercising?
Yes, your body needs fluids whether you're exercising or not. And don't forget that when you sweat you lose water and electrolytes so replenish both with ZERO.
What's the difference between ZERO, Isotonic Hydration and Energy Drink?
ZERO has zero sugars and zero calories and purely designed for hydration with the key electrolytes in each tablet. Isotonic Hydration contains carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes for hydration. Energy Drink has more carbohydrates in a 2:1 fructose ratio and is designed to optimise your energy intake during sport. While it does contain some electrolytes to support hydration, it is designed to give you energy.
Keen to know more about hydration... here are our favourite facts:
- More than half of your body is made up of water... continue reading.
- On average, you gain and lose around two and a half litres of water a day... continue reading.
- Your brain is heavily made up of water... continue reading.
- Dehydration makes you feel tired more quickly and prevents your body from controlling its temperature... continue reading.
- Electrolytes are minerals in your body that help your body’s blood chemistry, muscle action and process... continue reading.
- Your daily intake should be 2.5 litres of water for men and 2.0 litres of water for women... continue reading.
- Fruit and vegetables are high in water... continue reading.
- Pre-hydration matters!... continue reading.
- Being dehydrated can affect your energy levels... continue reading.
- Exercising for 90 mins or less? Use an electrolyte drink... continue reading.
- Exercising for 90 mins or more? Use a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution... continue reading.
- Even with a good hydration strategy, you often finish exercise dehydrated... continue reading.
The bottom line
- Your body needs to be hydrated for it to function. This is especially important during exercise because when you sweat you lose fluid and vital minerals (electrolytes) that need to be replenished.
- During sport, eating and drinking is not always easy. There is such a thing as 'pre hydration' where you make sure you're well hydrated before exercise and 're hydration' where you ensure you top up your fluids after exercise. But, depending on how long you're exercising for and how much you sweat, the likelihood is you will need to take on fluid during exercise.
- Dehydration will impact your health in general as well as your sport performance. Generally speaking, you will feel tired more quickly, you won't be able to control your temperature as well and if you're dehydrated before you start exercising you will make your heart work harder. All of this can lead to a drop in performance.
- The signs of dehydration are feeling thirsty, the colour of your urine (it should be pale yellow), a headache, feeling lethargic and tired and a dry mouth or lip can also be a strong indicator.
- Staying hydrated can be a way to avoid cramp
- Because hydration is so important for sport and exercise, there are supplements designed to keep you hydrated.