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4 Strategies for Optimum Hydration

by Greg DiRenzo, CPT


With the recent tragedy of a fellow racer, I felt the need to put together these tips. I knew Josh and met him many years ago when I was working with Brandon Mays while he was on 65’s, the year we won a title at Loretta Lynn’s. Josh was always smiling and an overall great kid. Godspeed 811! - Greg DiRenzo

4 Near fail proof strategies for optimum hydration!

Ok so what is the most important part of any athlete's diet? Protein? or Salt? or Carbs? or Fats?

Here is a’s not what the athlete eats!!!!!

Most of you have but some of you may never have considered hydration as part of your diet, or really something of vital significance to your athletic success, but the effect it can have on your performance is beyond belief. Top athletes break records ultimately because of research into how an athlete’s body behaves during competition. Only until the past decade or so, it wasn’t completely understood how important this is. Hydration is one imperative and fascinating area that should be of interest to all of us.

Below I have listed 4 strategies I would like to share with you.

Hydration Strategy #1:
Sports drinks or water - the best choice for sports performers revealed! Hydrate, Rehydrate, Replenish, Refuel.

We all know one of water's most extraordinary property – the ability to stop our bodies overheating by evaporating via the skin in the form of sweat. This is particularly important during exercise, when heat output increases dramatically. My hydration strategies involve ensuring good hydration prior to training/competition, maintaining it during training/competition and then replacing any shortfall as soon as possible afterwards.

However, hydration isn’t just about water: fluid loss via among other things, sweating involves the loss of electrolyte minerals – calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride.

Electrolytes serve three general functions in the body:

  • they control osmosis of water between body compartments
  • many are essential minerals
  • they help maintain the acid-base balance required for normal cellular activities

There are many reasons why replacement of these minerals via an electrolyte mineral-containing drink may be better then drinking pure water alone. Drinks containing electrolyte minerals – particularly sodium - are known to stimulate thirst, thereby stimulating a greater voluntary intake of fluid. There is also evidence that drinks containing sodium stimulate the rate and completeness of re-hydration after a bout of exercise. Although the amounts lost in sweat are generally in proportion to total body stores, prolonged heavy sweating can lead to significant mineral losses (particularly of sodium), which has been linked with such side effects as but not limited to cramping.

Drinking pure water effectively dilutes the concentration of electrolyte minerals in the blood, which can impair a number of normal physiological processes.

An extreme example of such an impairment is ‘hyponatraemia’, when low plasma sodium levels can be literally life threatening. Personally with my athletes I use PacificHealth Laboratories products (their Accelerade and Endurox lines). Kevin is my guy, he always helps me out with strategies and tips along with new products they release.

Related Article: Water vs. Sports Drink

Hydration Stragety #2:
Exactly how much YOU should drink! - Find out!!!! All you need is a scale, some common sense and some personal responsibility.

Over recent times there has been a tendency to move away from the ACSM suggestion that everyone, runners and cyclists in particular should aim to replace as much fluid as they lose in sweat with the aim of finishing the race weighing the same as when they started. There is probably no real danger to either performance or health from mild levels of dehydration. Yes, severe dehydration will certainly result in a loss of performance capacity, but a little dehydration means less weight to carry over those last few miles if you are a runner or cyclist, and that may present some benefits. But in MX it is more important to stay hydrated rather than worry about the extra pound or two you retain during hydration.

As a rule of thumb, during an endurance event you should aim to drink just enough to be sure you lose no more than about 1-3% of your pre-event weight. That may seem a difficult strategy to put in place but it can definitely be accomplished. For example, if you are 150 pounds, your fluid loss should be no more than 1.5-4.5 pounds of body weight after the event. (Start weight = 150 pounds; end weight 148.5 – 145.5 pounds – ballpark).

Related Article: Hydration: Get Your Drink On

Hydration Strategy #3:
The link between hydration and cramps. The popular theory that exercise induced muscle cramping is caused by fluid imbalances, particularly dehydration and abnormalities in blood electrolyte levels, has been examined by a recent study of long-distance runners. The results of their trials give us the definitive answer to the link between hydration and cramps. Electrolyte and fluid disturbances have been associated with muscle cramps in certain clinical conditions, and it is therefore often assumed that EAMC (Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps) has the same cause despite a striking lack of evidence to that effect.

This study set out to determine whether acute EAMC in distance runners is related to changes in serum electrolyte concentrations and hydration status. 72 male runners participating in the Two Oceans Ultra-marathon, a 56k road race held annually in Cape Town South Africa, was asked about their history of EAMC and then followed up for the development of the condition during the race.

All subjects were weighed before and immediately after the race to assess changes in hydration status. Blood samples were taken before, immediately after and 60 minutes after the race and analyzed for glucose, protein, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium concentrations, as well as various markers of hydration status. The results will not be what you expect, but well be something you, as an athlete, should know.

Of the 72 runners in the study, 45 had a history of EAMC, while 27 had no previous experience of EAMC. In the event, 21 of the 45 runners with a history of cramping suffered acute EAMC either during the race or within 60 minutes of completing it, while 22 of the 27 runners with no history of cramping formed a ‘control’ group for comparison purposes.

Key findings were as follows:

  • All episodes of cramping occurred in the latter half of the race or immediately afterwards, with most affected runners reporting three or more episodes. Most commonly affected muscles were hamstrings (48%) and quadriceps (38%). Most cramps were moderate-to-severe in intensity and best relieved by slowing the pace or passive stretching. There were no significant differences between the groups for pre- or post-race body weight, percent change in body weight, blood volume, plasma volume, or red cell volume, indicating no difference in hydration status;
  • Immediate post-race serum sodium concentration was significantly lower in the cramp group, while serum magnesium concentration was significantly higher. However, these differences were considered to be too small to be of clinical significance.
  • ‘Furthermore,’ report the researchers, ‘the decrease in serum sodium concentration following the race in the cramp group is probably related to an increased fluid intake during the race in this group. Although drinking patterns were not measured directly, increased drinking in the cramp group is likely because of the well publicized belief that cramping is caused by dehydration.’

This assumption was supported by the finding that runners with EAMC were less dehydrated than non-cramping runners immediately after the race, with percent decreases in body weight (pre to post-race) of 2.9% and 3.6% respectively.

Related Article: Racing in the Heat: How to Stay Properly Hydrated

Hydration Strategy #4:
Three stages of exercise hydration - the rules!!!!!!!

  • Pre Exercise - Make sure your normal diet contains plenty of water and other substances known to help with hydration. Hydration starts long before the morning of the event! 36 hours is my rule of thumb – especially if it is going to be hot and humid!
  • Post Exercise - Drinks containing electrolytes (especially sodium) stimulate the desire to drink and may therefore be preferable to plain water. There’s also evidence that these drinks are absorbed more efficiently from the small intestine, especially when carbohydrate is present. Plus, a drink with protein also aids in the recovery process of tissue that is broken down during the event.
  • Hydrating Yourself DURING your event - Weather and exercise intensity affect fluid needs; the higher the temperature, humidity and exercise intensity, the greater the rate of fluid replacement required. Also, you should never experiment with a new drink during competition or the event, try it in training first to see how your body tolerates it!

Related Article: What to Drink on Race Day

About the Author: Greg has over two decades of experience in exercise science and sports training. He holds several certifications in individual and group fitness instruction including TRX and sports performance. In motocross, he has worked with Phil Nicoletti, Jimmy Albertson and Trey Canard during Trey's 2008 East Coast Lites championship run. Visit Greg's website at ProFormers Training, on Twitter or Facebook. This guy is everywhere!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Mike Bottos July 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    I am a avid motocross and supercross fan and have raced for many years. My question is for my 12 year old doughter Brooke. She is a track runner ( 100 and 200 ) . Can you give us any tips on what to eat the day before a race and the day of. Brooke had her worst meet ever she said she felt very slow. We can't figure out why.

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 11, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Mike - check out this article and see if it helps.

  3. Gravatar
    Greg DiRenzo July 11, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Mike-check out what Tim recommended, if you have specifics or other questions email I'm sure we can dial her in for her event.

  4. Gravatar
    Bill Lichtle February 01, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you Greg for writing this article motocrossers and anyone who participates in high intensity sports need to understand the importance of hydration and the danger of overheat exertion, which is the mission of the 811 Foundation we are putting together in my brother's name.

  5. Gravatar
    Arthur April 28, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Thank you for this Awesome Article i plan on taking my race run hydration to the next level, I think it is exactly what i was lacking.

    2 questions

    I'm really not a fan of sports drinks and hence have always just drank pure water during all events but your article has opened my eyes on the importance of Sodium,Calcium etc..

    Would taking actual mineral tablets before the exercise and drinking plain water not perform the same function ?

    also what is your opinion on those "Re-hydrate" sachets you can purchase at your local Pharmacy, could you use these on a daily basis, with training of course ?

    Thanks for the read.

  6. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer April 28, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Arthur, this a really good question so can you do me a favor and post this on forum? Thanks!

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