Hydration–What’s The Deal With Electrolytes, Caffeine, And Alcohol? 

A reusable water bottle is an essential piece of equipment for every athlete. You can better dial in your hydration habits when consuming out of one type of bottle consistently!
A reusable water bottle is an essential piece of equipment for every athlete. You can better dial in your hydration habits when consuming out of one type of bottle consistently!

In last month's article, we discussed why hydration is important and detailed how to create a hydration plan. Make sure you take the time to figure out your sweat rate, get your favorite re-usable water container, and understand the rate you should be drinking water throughout the day! Now that you have your hydration plan, let's dive into electrolytes and why YOU SHOULD USE THEM! 

Read Last Month's Article!

Electrolytes

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For training sessions lasting less than 60-minutes, water is the preferred source of fluid intake. For any activity lasting longer than 60-minutes consider consuming a sports drink as these contain necessary carbohydrates and electrolytes to promote performance and hydration. The electrolytes of interest for a sailor include: sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. As your fluid needs increase, your electrolytes will also increase (remember things like heat, altitude, humidity, long duration of activity, and your personal sweat rate are influencing factors).
You have two options to consume when exercising for more than 60-minutes regardless if it is in the gym, doing cardio, or sailing. We suggest working with your nutrition coach to determine which option will work best for you.

Electrolytes Lost In Sweat

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Option 1: Sports Drink + Food

This is the easiest option for a sailor because you receive the same amount of nutrition while carrying and consuming less volume. Consuming a sports drink will give you the necessary carbohydrate, electrolytes, and fluids that your body needs to maintain glycogen stores and fluid balance.

Choosing a sports drink:

  • It has good taste! If you like the flavor, you’ll likely drink more and be less likely to become dehydrated
  • 12-24 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces

    • Too much carbohydrate slows absorption; too little leaves you lagging in energy.

  • 110-170 mg of sodium per 8 ounces (20-30 mEq per L)

  • 20-50 mg of potassium per 8 ounces (2-5 mEq per L)

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Option 2: Water + Electrolytes + Food 

This option works well for athletes who don’t tolerate a sports drink or prefer to eat extra food while training. You need to mix an electrolyte tab (such as Nuun) with your water and eat additional quick-to-digest carbohydrates.

As an athlete you’ve likely experienced cramping. If the cramps are related to hydration and electrolyte balance, your body needs sodium and chloride as these are the electrolytes that are lost in highest quantity in your sweat.

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If you over hydrate while exercising, you can dilute your blood sodium levels, which develops into a potentially fatal condition known as hyponatremia. This is one reason to know your sweat rate and drink appropriately. It also supports the notion of drinking a sports drink that contains sodium as plain water will continue to dilute your blood levels, thus making things worse.

Signs and Symptoms of Hyponatremia:

  • Feeling tired

  • Bloated

  • Nauseated

  • Headachy

  • Swollen hands and feet

  • Undue fatigue

  • Confusion and disorientation

  • Decline in coordination

  • Wheezy breathing

Strategies to prevent hyponatremia:

  • Avoid water loading before the event.

  • Eat salted foods and fluids (soup, pretzels, salted oatmeal) 90 minutes before you exercise. This dose of sodium results in water retention in your body. This extra fluid not only can help you exercise longer but also may make the exercise seem easier and more enjoyable.

  • Consume an endurance sports drink with higher sodium amounts than the standard sports drink during exercise in the heat that lasts for more than 4 hours.

  • Consume salty foods during the endurance event, as tolerated (V8 juice, broth, pickles, pretzels).

  • Stop drinking water during exercise if your stomach is "sloshing", as may happen if you drink more than a quart (32 oz, or 1L) of water per hour for extended periods.

Caffeine

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A very common question regarding hydration is the effect of caffeine on hydration status and performance due to the myth of caffeine being a diuretic, or a substance that increases fluid losses by increasing urine production. There is some truth that caffeine does act as a mild diuretic, stimulating the production of urine from the kidneys, but when compared to water or caffeine-free fluid consumption, caffeine does not produce any greater increase in urine volume than do the others. Therefore, caffeine in moderation (1.4-2.7 milligrams per pound (3-6 mg/kg) of body weight day) has a spot in your high performance diet. If you were to consume excessively high doses of caffeine you may experience side effects such as nervousness, gastrointestinal distress, irritability, and insomnia.

Caffeine is considered a drug, which belongs to a group of compounds called methyl-xanthines. It is found naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, and colata nuts. In moderation, caffeine has the potential to boost your performance by stimulating your central nervous system (increasing alertness); stimulating blood circulation and heart function; and releasing epinephrine. Caffeine will affect all athletes differently. If you currently drink caffeine, there is no reason to stop but if you aren’t currently drinking caffeine be sure to experiment with it prior to competition. For any sailor, caffeine in high quantities has the potential to increase your heart rate, affect your fine motor control and technique, and/or interfere with your sleep. If you choose to consume it, it is recommended to consume the lowest effective dose possible to achieve the desired performance enhancement.

Alcohol

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Alcohol is a drug that acts as a depressant on your brain, which can slow your reaction time; impair hand-eye coordination, accuracy, and balance; and, apart from killing pain, offers no edge for athletes. You can't be sharp, quick, and drunk.

Late-night drinking that contributes to getting little sleep can wreck the next day's training session. Drinks that contain congeners, chemicals produced during the fermentation process that add flavor and aroma (red wine, cognac, whiskey) are more likely to cause hangovers than other alcoholic beverages. The best hangover remedy is to avoid drinking excessively in the first place.

Alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach into the bloodstream; it enters the bloodstream within five minutes of consumption. After a hard workout, alcohol on an empty stomach can quickly contribute to a drunken stupor. You are better off enjoying the natural high from exercise than being brought down by a few post exercise beers. Consuming alcohol immediately after finishing a workout can severely hinder your recovery. Beer is often a significant source of post exercise fluids; athletes commonly consume larger volumes of beer than they might of water or soft drinks. But the alcohol in beer has a diuretic effect- the more you drink, the more fluids you lose. This process is unhealthy for recovery and often unhealthy for the next exercise bout.

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The calories in alcohol are easily fattening. People who drink moderately often consume alcohol calories on top of their regular caloric intake because alcohol can stimulate the appetite. These excess calories promote body fat accumulation, commonly in the trunk area- the well-known beer belly. If you are trying to maintain a lean physique, abstaining is preferred. For reference, one six-pack of beer equates to 900 calories – the equivalent of four slices of pizza!

The bottom line- Avoid drinking within 60 minutes following exercise to improve recovery and minimize injury. If you are destined to drink, drink moderately. No more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 for women. If you do drink, make sure to have at least one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume!

Monitoring Daily Hydration Status

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Understanding and monitoring your daily hydration status is an important factor in holistically understanding your athletic performance, recovery, and nutritional status. Keeping a log of your urine color, as is done in the SPT's Biometric Diary, is one of the easiest ways to monitor your hydration status. Using the color scale provided, match the color of your urine to the scale to determine your hydration status. You should be taking and recording this measurement daily immediately after waking up, prior to eating or drinking anything.

 

Practical Tips to Take with You:

  • Replace fluids early and often before, during, and after activity, especially in hot environments.
  • Fluid needs are highly individualized, schedule an appointment with your nutrition coach to help you calculate your sweat rate and develop a personalized hydration schedule that meets your unique needs.
  • Monitor your urine color daily to ensure proper hydration status - clear to pale yellow color is optimal.
  • Good sources of fluid include water, sports drinks, 100% juices, soups, smoothies, fruits, and vegetables.