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Hydration: The Key To Successful Performance

Hydration, especially in the hot summer months, is crucial for endurance athletes.

Hydration, especially in the hot summer months, is crucial for endurance athletes.

One might not normally consider such, but the cornerstone for any successful nutrition plan is anchored in the waters of hydration. As we enter the season of warmer weather, the topic of hydration becomes a more prevalent discussion.

However, the multi-facets of why it is so important are by no means seasonal. The signs and symptoms of an inadequate hydration regime are much more acute and debilitating then deficiencies in one’s nutritional program. Although they both require continual maintenance, assuring one’s hydration will enable and support one’s nutrition and optimal performance.

On a macro level, the goals of hydration are generally portrayed as staving off cramps, slaking thirst, providing fuel, and preventing dehydration. Given that approximately 70 percent of an adult’s body is composed of water, there is a lot more going on than that. However, hydration is more than just water; it’s the nutrients and minerals that it carries throughout the body, the oxygen that moves through our lungs, the force that aids digestion, and the liquid that cools the body. For an athlete, and anyone, hydration makes it all happen.

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Almost every function in the body is supported by or associated with water. Personally, when questioning, I always look back to try and find the direction for contemporary solutions. Travelers and endurance runners from traditional societies needed sources of water, which they got from springs that contained minerals it had dissolved from the earth. What are referred to today as electrolytes were crucial in their ability to cover great distances in dessert conditions. Especially given that, depending on intensity, duration, temperatures and humidity, the body can lose more than a quart of water in one hour, hydration filled all of its necessary roles for performance.

These electrolytes, the most important for athletes being Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Chloride, all play important roles in maintaining bodily movement. Individuals have shown immense capacity to remain mobile on little to no food, but without water the body shuts down in a fraction of that time. All of the cells in our body require electrolytes to stimulate electrical impulses across membranes. Among others, this stimulus helps regulate nerve function, blood pressure, tissue repair and muscle contraction.

These muscle contractions not only to keep the legs going, but also trigger digestion and breathing. Understanding that these minerals are excreted via urine and sweat, athletes whose workouts last longer than 60 minutes should ensure their hydration contains the necessary electrolytes to maintain the necessary balance of water and minerals that are distributed throughout the body.

As water runs through the channels of the earth, it also moves throughout our bodies and similarly dissolves and carries nutrients as well as oxygen and waste to account for all the needs of a runner. It’s a complete system and blood, which is composed of 92 percent water, is the medium by which it is all transported. Your nutrition is only as good as your body’s ability to absorb/digest it.

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Water aids in the body’s ability to digest food as well as uptake valuable nutrients it needs for daily and physical activity. For instance, B Vitamins that are integral in the body’s ability to process carbohydrates and protein, two of the main sources of energy and recovery for athletes, are water soluble. A deficient amount of water in the body will not permit this process to take place.

The digestive system also relies on water and without sufficient amounts, the body can experience constipation and, in turn, create gastrointestinal distress that can debilitate any runner. The third part of this hydrational triad is oxygen. Once the lungs have inspired oxygen, it is transported throughout the body via the blood based upon preferential needs to process fuel/nutrients that provide the energy to power the body.

As an essentially closed system, the body needs to be as efficient as possible. Hence, once nutrients are delivered throughout the body, waste is subsequently collected and transported out. The relationship that water, as well as sodium, has with the kidneys is what dictates this system. Once the blood collects carbon dioxide from the respiratory process along with metabolic waste from muscular activity, it is all filtered through the kidneys and then excreted via urine. This is where the body maintains proper electrolyte balance and blood pressure to effectively regulate and sustain physical activity.

As important as all of this is, nothing exists in a vacuum. Without a proper cooling system the body will not be able to maintain these other functions. When exercising, the body releases heat by expanding blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. This results in more blood flow, regulated by blood pressure, and more heat is dissipated from the body and into the air with the help of the cooling effect from sweat. Without this internal cooling liquid, the body stays hotter because it takes a higher ambient temperature to trigger the dilation of blood vessels.

The ability for an athlete to mitigate this once it happens goes well beyond being on a training run or racecourse, as anyone who has found themselves in the medical tent with an I.V. can attest to. Studies have found that as little as a two percent loss of body weight through sweating creates a drop in blood volume, which creates more effort by the heart to circulate blood.

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Like nutrition, hydration needs to be trained and well planned and not everyone should prescribe to the same methods. In general, an individual should consume around eight cups of water per day, provided his or her diet contains the necessary minerals and nutrients the body needs for optimal functioning. USA Track & Field, along with the American College of Sports Medicine, suggests drinking 17-20 ounces of water or sports drink 2-3 hrs prior to running, 10-12 ounces 15 minutes before, and then 3-6 ounces every 20 minutes. It ultimately depends on personal trial and error. I begin my hydration 30 minutes prior to running and drink 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes with supplemental electrolytes.

Hydration is the system by which water enters the body. Dehydration is what happens without it. The next time you take a sip, remember its more than just water you are drinking. It’s life!