When people talk about hydration, most of the time it's about what and how much athletes should drink during exercise. This is clearly important, but your performance is also massively influenced by how hydrated you are when you start exercising in the first place. Drinking a strong electrolyte drink to optimise your hydration status before long, hot or really hard training sessions and events can significantly improve your performance.
We call this "pre-loading" and the practice has been widely studied in the last 20 years or so, both with astronauts and athletes. Whilst there's not a completely bullet-proof consensus on the subject - there rarely is - there's strong evidence that taking in additional sodium with fluids before you start sweating is effective in promoting increased acute fluid retention and in improving endurance performance, especially in the heat.
This blog aims to give you a more solid understanding of what you can do to arrive at the start of your next event optimally hydrated.
Once you start sweating, you're fighting a losing battle.
Once you begin sweating you're generally going to be fighting a losing battle against fluid and electrolyte loss, so starting off properly hydrated can be extremely beneficial. When you're properly hydrated, you have a larger reserve of fluid to draw from over time than if you're dehydrated.
Starting well hydrated has other benefits too. Optimal hydration maximises your blood volume and this helps general cardiovascular function and your ability to dissipate the heat produced by your working muscles. This reduces fatigue and enables you to maintain your performance for longer.
Despite the relatively obvious benefits of starting exercise well hydrated, a recent study of over 400 amateur athletes showed that around 31% of them were turning up to training sessions (and, in some cases, competitions) dehydrated!
In amongst the data there were strong indications that this was very likely to be compromising their performance. This will probably seem like common sense, especially if you’ve ever tried exercising when you know you're a bit ‘dry’. Who in their right mind would want to start exercising hard in a dehydrated state if they're trying to perform at their best?
This study certainly backs up previous work I've read on the subject and the kind of things we've seen over many years working with athletes in different scenarios. It's certainly not uncommon to see people only really thinking about hydration once they turn up to a session rather than preparing in advance.
Often this just happens because those of us who are not full time athletes are running around flat out between workouts and aren’t always able to think about preparing properly for them 100% of the time. That's just life.
But it can also be a problem for full-time athletes when training two or more times a day, or at times when they’re just under a very high total training load. That's because uncorrected dehydration from a prior training session can make it’s presence felt when the next session gets underway.
We tend to overcompensate before the big day and this can severely impact performance.
Although athletes turning up to training a bit low on fluids is relatively common, it's generally less of an issue before major competitions. That’s not to say that turning up to an event dehydrated never happens, I'm sure it does.
But, because most athletes care a lot about their performance in big events, there's a tendency to increase fluid intake before the big day because extra priority is placed on all aspects of last minute preparation.
The irony of this extra emphasis on pre-event hydration is that quite a lot of athletes can go from slightly under-drinking before training to significantly over-drinking pre-competition and this can lead to a different set of problems including hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels caused by inadequately replacing the sodium lost when sweating and further dilution by drinking plain water or weak sports drinks), something that can be pretty catastrophic for health and performance if it goes unchecked. A recent study found that 10% of athletes tested at the Ironman European Championships had hyponatremia, which shows you the extent to which hydration issues might be impacting performance.
What can athletes can learn from astronauts?
The importance of sodium to hydration and maintaining your performance was further proven by research conducted at NASA at the end of the 20th century.
NASA’s astronauts were commonly found to be suffering with low blood pressure because they were losing bodily fluids (and therefore blood volume) during their time in microgravity. One NASA paper I read suggested that astronauts live with as much as a 3-4% deficit in total body fluid levels during a typical mission. It was causing them to feel weak, light headed and even to black out on re-entry or once they landed back on terra firma. That's not something you want to be dealing with when you’re trying to land a rather expensive space craft!
To combat this, NASA tested lots of drinks containing different carbohydrates and electrolyte mixtures and found that the more sodium you put in a drink, the more effective the drink would be at being retained in the body and bloodstream and correcting dehydration.
So, how do you preload effectively?
It’s about striking a balance between being aggressive enough to drive some extra fluid retention in your blood stream without this leading to gastro-intestinal issues or excessive fluid build-up making you feel bloated and sluggish.
Typical sports drinks - which generally contain ~200 to 500mg of sodium per litre - simply don’t cut it when it comes to preloading as they're just way too dilute to make a meaningful difference to blood volume. The reality is it’s not vastly different from drinking water.
At the other extreme, most of the scientific studies that have been conducted in this area have looked at using extremely strong electrolyte drinks containing ~3,600mg of sodium per litre. That's like drinking a bag of saline solution that would normally be put into you via an IV! Whilst this has been shown to be highly effective at boosting blood plasma volume, it’s has a tendency to cause upset stomachs, sickness or diarrhoea - something that is obviously very counterproductive when you're trying to improve your performance!
One study back in 2014 looked at the effectiveness of 4 drink concentrations - Water, 1,380mg/l, 2,750mg/l and 3,680mg/l - to compare the effect they had on blood volume pre-exercise v how much sickness and diarrhoea they caused.
The athletes drank a set amount (17ml per kg of body weight, so about 1.2l for an average sized 70kg athlete) of each of the drinks and the more sodium that was in it, the more blood volume was increased, as you'd expect. But with the strongest drink, 6 of the 8 athletes experienced diarrhoea compared with zero issues with the 1,380mg/l drink and plain water.
That paper was of real interest to me as at Precision Hydration we’d already been experimenting with different concentrations of drink to use for preloading. I’d had lots of GI problems when trying 3,000mg/l+ drinks, so was already using less strong stuff and I was still finding it beneficial, so it was good to get some scientific confirmation that we were on the right track.
In the end we settled on a strength of 1,500mg/l (32oz) for our preloading drinks and these are available in the all-natural PH 1500 drink mix format as well as zero-calorie H2Pro Hydrate 1500 effervescent tablets. 1,500mg/l seemed to be the ‘sweet spot’ in that it's very palatable and easy on the gut (we never get comments about stomach upsets from using it) whilst still being effective at boosting your blood plasma volumes and getting you optimally hydrated before your start sweating.
If you want to test whether preloading improves your performance, follow this protocol before your next long/intense training session or B-race.
What to do
- Drink 1 x PH 1500 with 500ml (16oz) of water the evening before your activity.
- Drink 1 x PH 1500 with 500ml (16oz) of water about 90 minutes before you start. Finish your drink at least 45 minutes before you start to give your body time to fully absorb what it needs and pee out any excess.
- Drink the PH 1500 in water you’d have drank anyway to ensure you don’t overdo it.
- DON’T just drink lots of water in the build-up to a race. You can end up diluting your body’s sodium levels before you start, increasing the risk of hyponatremia.
- Boosting your blood plasma volume before intense exercise is a proven way to enhance your performance, especially in hot conditions.
- Having more blood makes it easier for your cardiovascular system to meet the competing demands of cooling you down and delivering oxygen to your muscles.
- PH 1500 is very effective at increasing your plasma volume as it contains 3x more sodium than a typical sports drink. That extra sodium helps to pull water into your bloodstream and keep it there. This may allow you to get away with drinking considerably less in shorter/harder events where previously they would have had to try to consume more on the move (not easy when you’re flat out!). It can also help reduce the amount of times you need to pee before you start.
- Preloading with PH 1500 can also help you avoid/alleviate muscle cramps, especially if you’re prone to suffering from them late on in events and especially when it’s hot. 89% of athletes with cramp who try preloading PH 1500 say that it solves their problems.
- You can’t preload anywhere near as effectively with weaker sports drinks as you’ll lose a large proportion of the fluid as urine. Or it’ll slosh around in your stomach without being properly absorbed.
If you’re looking for a way to optimise your performance then testing sodium preloading is definitely worth a try. If you have any questions about how to preload effectively or need help optimising your approach, drop us an email.
If you decide you’d like to use our all-natural, multi-strength electrolytes to personalise your hydration strategy, just use the code SUNDRIED to get 15% off your first order.
Andy Blow has a few top 10 Ironman and 70.3 finishes and an Xterra World Age Group title to his name. He founded Precision Hydration to help athletes solve their hydration issues. He has a degree in Sport and Exercise Science and was once the Team Sports Scientist for Benetton and Renault F1 teams.
Over training is something that most athletes are likely to encounter at some point in their life. It can be tough to spot, but it's important to address. We investigate the causes, the signs, and how to solve it.
Causes of Over training
Over training is exactly what it says on the tin: when you over-train your body so that it can't recover properly. If you are training particularly hard for an event and limiting your calorie intake to try and get lean or lose weight, there is a high risk of developing the symptoms of over training. It takes quite a lot to get to this point, so it is more common in long-distance runners who are running hundreds of miles a month or bodybuilders who are lifting weights every day while trying to drop body fat than your average gym-goer.
If you are over training, you will be deficient in many of the vital vitamins and minerals the body needs to function properly and you will notice the signs but perhaps not realise they are due to over training as these symptoms can also be caused by many other factors.
Signs of Over training
Persistent muscle soreness
If you are feeling sore and achy for longer periods than normal this could be due to over training. Your muscles need time to recover properly and with the right nutrition.
Elevated resting heart rate
Keeping an eye on your resting heart rate is a great way to check that you're not over training. If your resting heart rate is elevated for more than 3 days, you could be over training. Most smart watches and fitness trackers will track your heart rate all day so it is easier than ever to keep it in check.
Increased susceptibility to infections
Over training will cause your immune system to become weaker so you will notice that you'll be suffering from colds more often and other low-level immune conditions. If you feel like you are always getting ill, it could be a sign of over training.
In the same way, you could also notice that you're suffering from injuries more often than usual as well. They could be little things like pulling a muscle or developing cramp every time you train, but these are all signs of over training.
Insomnia, or lack of sleep, is something that can be caused by a number of health issues. However, if you are also developing the other symptoms of over training, this one will be easy to spot.
Take a break
This is the most obvious solution but it's also the most important. It can be hard to allow yourself enough rest days, especially when training for an event, but it's so important to listen to your body and allow it to recover properly when you are training hard. Don't train muscles when they are already aching and don't push through injuries.
Reduce the volume
If you usually do 5 sets of an exercise, drop it to 2 or 3. If you usually lift 80% of your max, reduce it to 50-60% until you are feeling better. Reduce your mileage if you are a runner or triathlete. Ease yourself back into training full pelt when you are ready.
Increase calorie intake
If you are trying to lose weight or strip body fat, it may be tempting to restrict your calorie intake too much. However, a restrictive diet will mean you lose out on vital vitamins and minerals and this will lead to the symptoms of over training.
Listen to your body!There is nothing more important than being healthy and well. No race or competition should come before your health. Listen to your body and take it easy, you will see better results if you work together with your body rather than against it.
Have you ever wondered why your friends can dance so much better than you? Or why you sometimes trip over your own feet? Do they throw you things and you always drop them? It's most likely because you have reduced proprioception.
Proprioception is your awareness of your own body and movements. Improving your proprioception can help improve your balance, coordination, and make every day tasks easier. It could even improve your confidence and mental health as you will feel more at home in your own body and more in control of your life.
So do you want to be able to execute an awesome catch when your friend throws you something or move with more confidence? Try the following exercises to improve your proprioception and see if it could help improve other areas of your life too.
Perform exercises and daily tasks with your eyes closed
Have you ever noticed that balancing on one leg is much harder when you close your eyes? When you close your eyes, you lose the visual cues that your brain is used to so it has to work harder to balance. With your eyes closed, you are forced to become more attuned to your surroundings and you will be able to practise controlling your body and your movements.
If you practise daily tasks with your eyes closed (sensible options only please, no cutting or chopping with sharp knives in the kitchen!) you will find that your brain can connect more closely to your muscles and you will be able to improve your coordination and proprioception.
Learn a dance routine or try a group exercise class
Dancing is one of the best ways to improve your coordination and proprioception because it involves the entire body and requires the brain to coordinate every muscle group at once in a required sequence. If you think you have two left feet, try learning and practising a specific dance routine every day – you'll be surprised how quickly you improve!
Similarly, participating in a group exercise class can have a similar effect as you will be copying what the instructor is doing and commanding your body to move in the same way. This is great practice for improving your coordination and you'll be getting super fit at the same time!
Practise catching with one hand
We all have a dominant and less dominant side. It can be useful to improve the coordination and abilities of the less dominant side, such as practising catching with your left hand if your right-handed (and vice versa). Catching a ball with one hand specifically improves your hand-eye coordination which refers to the way your hands react to what your eyes see. If you miss the ball, it might be because you are closing your fingers too fast or not fast enough. By practising this exercise, you can train your hands and eyes to work together better and in turn improve your proprioception and hand-eye coordination.
Cycling can get a little scary at times, especially on busy roads or technical race courses. If you find that your training and racing is being hindered by a lack of bike handling skills and nervousness on the roads, we're here to help.
Practice your bike handling skills
This is something that all cyclists should be doing in order to improve their training and racing. If you lack proper bike handling skills, you will find that technical courses are a nightmare and that unforeseen circumstances like bad weather could mean a premature end to your race.
Skills such as riding on loose gravel, on wet roads, down steep descents, and round sharp bends are things that come with practice. Start off slow and somewhere you know well and build yourself up; the more you practice, the more your confidence will grow. Other skills such as single-leg riding can be practised indoor on a Wattbike, turbo trainer, or even just a stationary gym bike.
Ride in a group
They say there's safety in numbers, and this can certainly be true when cycling. When cycling in a fairly large group, you'll find that hazards become less scary as you can watch those up ahead tackle them first and motorists should give you more space.
Of course, that's not to say that cycling in a group is always safer and that you're guaranteed not to have run-ins with cars. However, working together as a team to overcome tough conditions can really help with your confidence.
Other skills to practice when riding in a group include making contact with other cyclists and riding very close to others. Your instinctive reaction when touched by another cyclist will be to look around at the person you've touched, but it's important to stay looking ahead at where you're going. Practice making quick contact with a friend or fellow group rider and then move on to practising keeping your hand on their shoulder as you ride. Skills such as this can improve your confidence in mass start events and will mean you know what to expect.
Get comfortable in the saddle
Receiving a proper bike fit from an accredited bike store can make a huge difference to your cycling, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Unless you're looking to really maximise your power output and aero position for serious racing, a basic bike fit can be inexpensive or even free of charge.
If you're comfortable in the saddle and your position over the handlebars feels good, you will feel much safer on the bike. If you constantly feel like you're over-reaching for the handlebars and brakes or that your legs are overstretched and you can't reach the ground comfortably, you might feel more nervous on your bike. Once you feel secure and like the bike is an extension of yourself, you will be able to handle it much more confidently and co-operate better together. Make sure you're in control of the bike and not the other way round!
Do a sportive
If you're nervous to ride on busy roads or in places you don't know well, it's a good idea to ride an organised race or sportive. These will always be well sign-posted so that you can't go the wrong way and you will be forced to face any challenging conditions that you'd usually avoid on your own.
This will be a great way of getting out of your comfort zone by riding somewhere unknown and having to face challenges head-on.
For many people, holding a handstand is the ultimate sign of fitness and strength as well as being fun to practice and satisfying when you get it right. But it is a difficult move, so how do you train for it and how do you hold a handstand for a long time? Read our guide to find out!
How do you train to do a handstand?
Mastering a handstand is like mastering any skill; it takes a lot of time, practice, and patience. You will need to work on your strength, especially in the upper body and core, by doing other exercises and workouts, which will in turn help you to get better at holding a handstand for a long time.
One of the main muscles used when holding a handstand is the core. Your core (or abs) will be holding your legs steady and keeping you balanced. Do plenty of core workouts and ab exercises to strengthen this part of the body to help you stay balanced and hold your perfect handstand.
As well as your core, your upper body will be holding your weight so you will need to be strong in this area. Do upper body strength training as well as body weight training to train your upper body muscles such as your shoulders so that they are strong enough to hold your weight.
How do I practice a handstand at home?
Practising a handstand at home is easy and you have lots of options. The best way to practice a handstand at home is by using a straight wall that you can kick up against. By allowing the wall to support your feet and legs, you can get used to the feeling of being upside down and holding your weight on your arms. You might find this quite taxing, so practice holding a handstand against a wall for a few minutes each day until your upper body gets stronger.
Once you find holding a handstand against a wall easier, you can try kicking up near the wall, but not letting your feet rest on it unless absolutely necessary. Hold the handstand yourself for as long as possible, then let your feet rest against the wall. Again, practice this for a few minutes each day until it gets easier. Then you should be ready to practice holding a full handstand!
If you have someone that can help you, another option is having someone hold your feet for you. This can be very helpful as they can adjust how much support they give you until they are barely supporting you, but still giving enough that you don't fall back down. Practice this a few times each day, with your supporter loosening their grip each time until you are used to the feeling of holding your own weight.
How do you do a controlled handstand?
The secret to doing the perfect handstand is maintaining it for a long time and keeping it controlled. It may seem like it just takes practice, however you also need to have strong core muscles and good balance. These are both things you can work on to improve your handstand technique and keep it controlled.
The best way to do a controlled handstand is to take your time and use your muscles to support you, rather than kicking your legs up wildly and hoping for the best. Breathe slowly and focus on your muscles working, keep everything tight and control that handstand!