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.
Today is National Fitness Day, so to celebrate we're sharing with you 3 ways that absolutely anyone can get involved - for free!
Taking part in your local Parkrun is a great way to get into fitness for the first time, surrounded by local friendly faces who are all there for the same reason. Parkrun is free for everyone and is an organised 5k run around your local park starting at 9am every Saturday. There is a nifty barcode system which means you get an official time whenever you run and this can motivate you to improve your fitness and get a better time. On the other hand, it's also just a great excuse to take a stroll or a jog on a Saturday morning and make new friends.
2. Find A Running Club
Joining your local running club can be a really easy way to get inspired and find new ways to get fit. Running is one of the most accessible sports out there as most people can do it and it's free to put on your trainers and get on the road. If you are differently abled, there is still a good chance you'll be able to get involved with your running club in some way. Running with friends or a running club can take the boredom out of it and will help keep you motivated when you're feeling uninspired. It'll also help you make new friends and find new routes in your town or city that you never even knew were there!
3. Cycle With Friends
This is another widely accessible sport if you have the right bike. If you cannot ride a standard bicycle, you should be able to adapt and find one that suits your needs. Cycling with friends is also free (after the cost of the bike) and can be a fantastic way of seeing new sights and finding new spots in your town or city. It is another social way to get fit that doesn't really feel like you're having to work too hard! You can push to make big changes to your body or you can go at your own pace and let the results come in time. It's all up to you!
National Fitness Day aims to make fitness more accessible for everyone. Let us know what fitness means to you by tweeting us @Sundried with the hashtag #Fitness2Me. The best will get featured!
When you talk to people about powerlifting, they often confuse it with Olympic weightlifting or even bodybuilding. We take a look at this often overlooked sport and debunk some of the confusion surrounding it.
What is powerlifting training?
Powerlifting is a sport consisting of three lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The goal of the sport is to lift as much weight as possible across the three lifts while following all the rules.
Powerlifting differs to Olympic weightlifting (or Oly lifting as it is sometimes called) in many ways and the two are completely different sports. In Olympic weight lifting, there are two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. For both these lifts, the weights end up above the athlete's head and a lot of skill and technique is needed to succeed. In powerlifting, it is more about brute strength and there is far less technique involved. Bodybuilding, on the other hand, differs yet again as this is all about sculpting the body and the muscles. Bodybuilders often do not have much strength at all as this sport is all about aesthetics and not about power or strength. Powerlifters may end up with big muscles as a result of training but it is not the primary focus, and many powerlifters do not look classically 'athletic'.
Benefits of powerlifting training
Apart from gaining strength, there are many benefits of powerlifting. Lifting heavy weights increases bone density which in turn reduces the risk of developing brittle bones and osteoporosis later in life. It also works every muscle group in the body in compound moves which improves co-ordination and develops the large muscle groups better than isolating exercises. Increasing muscle density also burns more fat at rest and so you end up losing weight without even trying. Being stronger overall will reduce the risk of injury in other sports like running and cycling and translates well to other aspects of life like walking up stairs or hiking, for example.
Is power lifting an Olympic sport?
Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport and is often confused with Olympic weightlifting, which does feature in the games. However, powerlifting does feature in the Paralympic games. In the Paralympics, powerlifters only complete the bench press discipline, which is considered the ultimate test of upper body strength. Some athletes are able to press more than three times their body weight which is incredible impressive.
It is open to male and female athletes with the following eight eligible physical impairments:
- impaired muscle power
- impaired passive range of movement
- limb deficiency
- leg length difference
- short stature
- hypertonia (a condition in which there is too much muscle tone so that arms or legs, for example, are stiff and difficult to move)
- ataxia (a term for a group of disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech)
- athetosis (a condition in which abnormal muscle contraction causes involuntary writhing movements)
A range of physical disabilities, including Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Cord injuries, Lower Limb Amputation, and poliomyelitis, also meet the current minimal eligibility criteria and athletes with these conditions can compete, safely and appropriately, according to the World Para Powerlifting rules. All eligible athletes compete in one sport class, but in different weight categories.
The bench press is the sport’s single discipline, with 10 different categories based on body weight. Competitors must lower the bar to the chest, hold it motionless on the chest and then press it upwards to arms length with locked elbows. Athletes are given three attempts and the winner is the athlete who lifts the highest number of kilograms.
How do powerlifting competitions work?
Anyone can enter a local or regional powerlifting competition. In order to qualify for a national or world competition, you need to achieve a certain total in your age and weight category. There are different powerlifting federations across the country and the world and these feature different weight categories. The overall governing body for powerlifting is the IPF.
Results are based on what's called the Wilks score, which takes into account body weight as well as weight lifted, to make for a fairer result, as someone with a heavier bodyweight will generally be able to lift heavier than someone who is lighter/smaller.
Being short is often an advantage in powerlifting as it means your levers (arms and legs) are shorter so you have less distance to move the weights. A higher body fat percentage also has this effect, but you need to find the right balance as a higher body fat percentage will also leave you with a higher body weight and therefore a disadvantage against lighter but stronger lifers.
There are two types of powerlifting: equipped and non-equipped (often referred to as 'raw' powerlifting.) In equipped powerlifting, lifters wear extremely tight body suits and lifting shirts as well as knee wraps and wrist wraps. This limits movement but also aids in the lifts dramatically. As a result, you are only allowed to wear wraps and lifting suits/shirts for specifically equipped competitions. For unequipped competitions, you are still allowed to wear knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and a lifting belt, but they must be a certain approved type. Some federations do not even allow knee sleeves so you must check the rules before you compete. Belts are actually encouraged during all powerlifting events as they protect your back and reduce the risk of injury when lifting extremely heavy weights.