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Racing in the Heat: Proper Hydration

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

Part of proper hydration is staying cool before, during, and after riding.

Summertime is upon us and with that so is the heat and humidity. Personally, I enjoy the rising mercury and look forward to getting outdoors to ride and train. It never fails though; I always seem to forget how easy it is to become dehydrated in the hot sun. The first time I go out and ride in the heat, I always end up with the classic symptoms of dehydration; dry mouth, headache, fatigue and sometimes nausea. You see, I live in an area that is very cool in the winter and very hot in the summer. So when summer roles around, my body is not acclimated to the increased temperatures. It never fails, before the second lap my body feels as though it is going to ignite. If the same thing happens to you, it’s not your imagination. According to the American Council on Exercise, your body temperature can raise as much as 5 degrees F in the first 15 minutes of exercise. If you were to continue at that pace for very long, fatigue and heat exhaustion would no doubt take over. I lived in Florida for a few years and never seemed to have the same problems with adjusting to the heat. When you live in an area that is always hot and humid, you learn quickly and never forget how important proper hydration is.

What happens to me each summer is completely preventable. Drinking enough fluid, whether it is water or a sports drink is imperative for training and racing in hot weather. In order to maintain proper body temperature, bodily fluids must be replenished as they are lost. The amount of fluid that you loose training or racing depends on many factors including your individual fitness level, how well acclimated you are to the environment that you train or ride in, the type of clothing you wear and the intensity at which you train or ride. For motocross, almost all these factors are stacked against us, since races are held outdoors in the heat and humidity, riding gear is extremely hot, and we all understand how much energy is required to race. Undoubtedly the motocross athlete will lose a substantial amount of liquid in the form of sweat during a race.

Hydration is an important factor in optimizing your athletic performance both while training and on the bike. In motocross, we ride, race, and sometimes train in conditions of extreme heat and humidity which can rapidly lead to dehydration. Dehydration is very preventable and if not avoided will result in decreased performance. Something any racer never wants to hear. Those of us that train during the week and race on the weekends, from the weekend warrior to the competitive rider, cannot depend on thirst for fluid replacement. Chances are, by the time you actually feel thirsty, your body is well on its way to becoming severely dehydrated. The following section will provide tips on how to maintain proper hydration and to optimize performance even in the most extreme race conditions like those present at Loretta Lynns.

  • Start Hydrating Early. Drink 1-2 cups of water when you first get up in the morning. If you are addicted to coffee, try drinking one cup of water for every cup of coffee throughout the day.
  • Keep a bottle of water with you all day long. This is the beauty of bottled water. It may not be any different then tap water but it is way more portable.
  • Drink Before you get thirsty. Thirst is a sign that your body is already dehydrated.
  • Drink 2-2 ½ cups of liquid 1-2 hours before exercising and then another 1-2 cups 30 minutes before exercise.
  • Drink 1 cup of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise. Drinking while you race can be difficult, but a camel pack is a great way to get a sip on those long practice rides. Hydrating while you train should pose no problems once you get used to always having a bottle with you.
  • Replenish lost fluids. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should consume 2 cups of fluid for every pound lost during exercise (Remember 8 ounces = 1 cup). To get an idea of just how much you need to drink, you should weigh yourself before and after you train or ride. Any weight decrease is probably due to water loss (sorry +35 guys, but you didn't just lose 2 pounds of body fat). If you lose 2 or more pounds during your workout you should drink 3 cups (24 oz.) of fluid for each pound lost.
  • Keep drinking even after your thirst is quenched. After exercise, it is more likely than not that you will be dehydrated to some extend.

How much salt do you actually need?
For non-athletes, the body only needs 500 milligrams of sodium and most dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Most athletes easily consume 3,000 to 5,000 milligrams of sodium daily, mostly via processed foods. Most athletes consume adequate sodium, even without adding salt to their food. For example, you get sodium via bread (150 milligrams per slice), cheese (220 milligrams per ounce), eggs (60 milligrams per egg), and yogurt (125 milligrams per 8 ounces). Athletes who are extreme sweaters likely need more sodium, but generally consume more, particularly if they eat fast foods. Just two slices of cheese pizza (1,200 milligrams) or a hamburger (1,400 milligrams) can easily replace sodium losses; no sweat!

You should follow the same guidelines when exercising indoors. Even if the air conditioning is on, you still sweat a lot if you spend 45-minutes or more rigerously exercising. Don’t assume you have to be outdoors for serious dehydration to occur.

At the Track Tips
How can you be sure you're drinking enough water? Besides weighing yourself (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), the next time you visit your local porta potty take a look and note the color of you urine. Unless you are taking vitamins and such that change the color or your urine, you are properly hydrated when your pee is nice and clear. If it's deep yellow, you are dehydrated!

Remove your race clothes and boots between motos. I know it looks cool and you want everyone at the track to know that you race, but what is more important, off the track image or on the track results? You would be surprised at how much you sweat just sitting there in race boots and pants. This is especially true for you parents with youngsters at the races. Get them out of those hot clothes when they are not riding.

Cooling off immediately following your race is imperative to slowing the sweat process and returning the body to a normal temperature.

Water or Sports Drink?
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking water for exercise under 1 hour and a sports drink for anything longer. If you are a light hearted weekend warrior that trains for 30 to 45-minutes a session, water is more than sufficient for hydration. If you choose water, drink cold water. Cold water is absorbed more rapidly and will aid in decreasing body temperature.

Research shows that for exercise lasting longer than 45-minutes to an hour or high intensity workouts of any duration like crossfit, cycling, riding motocross or intense weight training, a sports drink may be beneficial in delaying muscle fatigue by providing your body with additional energy. Ryan Villopoto's trainer, Aldon Baker recommends diluting your favorite sports drink with water for best results. This tends to be easier on the stomach and cheaper in the long run. A sports drink offers the following benefits over water.

  • Sports drinks contain water, carbohydrates and electrolytes (generally sodium and potassium). A poor mans sports drink can be made by mixing one cup water, one cup orange juice and a pinch of salt.
  • Sports drinks will replenish fluids while containing a small amount of carbohydrate and electrolytes.
  • A steady source of carbohydrates during exercise fights off fatigue and enhances performance by fueling the muscles during exercise.
  • Studies show that a solution containing electrolytes and carbohydrates may be absorbed more quickly and helps to retain fluids consumed after prolonged intense exercise.
  • A good-tasting sports drink may encourage you to consume more fluid.

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
    Alex Jaroshevich July 05, 2012 at 7:09 am

    This needs more exposure, great article! MX athletes go through heat exhaustion more than documented. Headaches, dizziness are first signs! A lot of people drink alcohol too around recreational MX which has got to be the worst thing possible!

  2. Gravatar
    Trevor July 19, 2012 at 10:32 am

    what about gatorade with sugar? is it harmful to drink a suger sports drink after a moto? or just sugar free?

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer July 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I don't see a problem (generally speaking) with some sugar in Gatorade. Especially if you are in pretty good shape. Sugar is not evil....TOO much sugar is evil!

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