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Hydrating for Training and Peak Performance

The late spring and summer seasons are prime racing time for most programs. While warm sunshine makes for more enjoyable racing than cold rain or snow, training and racing in hot weather present performance challenges for rowers. Here are some of the basic facts about how to hydrate properly.

Hydration is critical for practice, recovery, and performance.

Rowers across the age and performance spectrum can easily boost their performance and enjoyment of practices and races by hydrating better during practice and replenishing lost fluid when they’re away from the boathouse. When a rower arrives at practice dehydrated, or doesn’t drink enough during practice, he experiences many negatives as a result, even if he is only slightly dehydrated (a fluid loss of 1-2% of body weight).

These include significantly slower reaction times, a higher rate of perceived exertion (it feels harder to do a particular workout), a higher heart rate, and an impaired ability to concentrate. (McGregor, S.J. et al. The influence of intermittent high-intensity shuttle running and fluid ingestion on performance of a soccer skill. J. of Sports Sci. 17(11): 895-903, 1999.)

Just drinking when you’re thirsty won’t cut it.

Most rowers and other athletes, when allowed to drink as much or as little as they want during an hour or more of training or racing, only drink enough to replace about half of the fluid they lose during the session.

“If it’s clear, you’re golden.”

The best way to tell if you’re hydrated before practice or a race is to monitor your urine color. Very pale yellow to clear indicates good hydration. If you’re well hydrated, you will probably need to urinate every 2-3 hours. At a baseline (indoors, in air conditioning, on a day off from training), you need to drink one ounce of fluid for every two pounds of body weight. For most people (130-200 lbs.), that’s between two and three Nalgenes.

I’m probably fine…I’m not “the sweaty kid”!

Actually, EVERYONE sweats a lot when it is hot and humid out. Even if you don’t have a lot of visible perspiration during a practice, your body uses a lot of fluid to keep cool in the heat, and you also lose significant fluid through the moisture in your breath. In one hour of practice, rowers generally lose 50-85 ounces of fluid through sweat and these other systems.

Therefore, it’s important to start drinking early in practice, keep drinking at every water break, and continue to drink once practice is over.

The most important ingredient for hydration (besides water).

No, it’s not sugar. When you’re trying to drink fluids to optimize performance, your best friend is salt. In combination with six other important electrolytes and minerals – potassium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulphate – sodium is what helps your body keep water inside where it can be used to keep all your systems working properly, instead of going straight through you as sweat or urine.

Salt has been known for centuries to help people stay hydrated in hot and humid weather. Salt helps your body hold onto the water and other fluids that you ingest. Salt intake can become a concern during summer training if you are a “salty” sweater – you may find dried salt lines on your skin or workout clothes after a training session – or if your training sessions last longer than ninety minutes. If you have not been medically advised to eat a low-sodium diet, you may find that your performance improves with adding a small amount of sodium to your diet around your training schedule. Adding a pinch of salt (about ¼ teaspoon) to your pre-practice meal, or to your water or sport drink during practice, may help you hold onto the fluid you drink.

Avoid dehydration during the non-practice part of your day.

One way to make sure you recover after the dehydration you experience training in hot weather, is to weigh yourself before and after practice (drink as you normally would during the training session). Using an estimate of 16 ounces of fluid equaling one pound, your goal should be to drink twice as much fluid as weight lost during practice. For example, an athlete who lost 1.7 pounds during practice should aim to drink about 55 ounces of fluid, ideally within an hour of finishing the training session.

As discussed earlier, the best time to hydrate is at the same time as meals or snacks, when you’re consuming electrolytes and sodium that will help you hold onto the fluid you consume. Just drinking bottle after bottle of water is likely to cause bloating and increased urine output, without helping much to alleviate dehydration or its symptoms.

If you suspect that you, a teammate or an athlete you coach is experiencing significant dehydration, seek medical attention immediately. Hopefully, these hydration tips will help you maximize your training sessions and racing performance this summer. Don’t leave home without your water bottle – your body (and your teammates) will thank you!

Written by Esther Lofgren | Jul 01, 2010

Esther Lofgren is a 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s eight and a 10-time USRowing National Team member. Lofgren continues to compete nationally and internationally, most recently earning two close silver medals at the 2016 French National Sprint Championships in the eight. More information about Esther can be found at http://www.estherlofgren.com/. 

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