Hydration and electrolytes – how important are they?

November 25th 2019

By Matt Hill
Categories: Athlete Resources

Hydration and electrolytes – how important are they?

Podcast by The Fat Black Podcast with Peter Defty

So, this week´s podcast is a reminder about hydration and how important it is to get right – through constant practice through winter.

Next year’s season will go much better if you master it now and keep it going through spring and into summer; when higher temperatures require more adaptable hydration strategies.

However, hydration is not just drinking water, as we have mentioned many times before. Your body needs electrolytes; basically, salts (and primarily sodium). Electrolytes allow the body to function properly (muscle contractions, neuromuscular signalling, sweating, etc), therefore it is essential to get the salts rather than plain water.

This week’s podcast covers the topic very well, indicating that your need for salt, rather than nutrition, is the major factor for success, especially when the conditions are hot and/or humid. Appropriate hydration (listening to your body – drinking salts to thirst) should be a priority – rather than sticking to rigid time frames.

The second take away point being that you don’t “need” to conduct sweat rate testing, which is being pushed by many commercial “scientific” sports drink providers. Many providers don’t provide enough salts while adding too much sugar, caffeine and other unnecessary items. These tests are a waste of time and money!

Some of you have completed sweat rate tests (with us or others) to indicate how much body weight you lose in training. It is virtually impossible to replenish what you lose in terms of fluids. Electrolyte balance is the key, not necessarily water intake/replenishment.

Remember, like all tests, sweat rate test results (and so the quantity of tablets prescribed) are only relevant to the conditions at the time of the test.

We want you to be in tune with your body, and just like effort perception, hydration can also be perceived. You can tell how “thirsty” you are from the amount of liquid you expire, the salt lost by the saltiness of your sweat and the build-up of white salty crystals on your body and clothes, the dryness in your mouth, a desire for salty foods, etc. Listen to these signals and get the salty fluids in.

Expanding on the need not to test, this recent blog from Brett Sutton covers why it is not necessary for scientific testing when it comes to athletic success in racing, and he specifically mentions sweat testing.

As always, learn to understand your own body and its needs to determine how to get the best out of it!