We’re on a mission to dispel training myths and to support athletes to get the best from their training and ultimately optimise performance.

In a series of talks, starting in Harrogate, and later this year in locations around the country, we’ve brought together our Vitfor experts to provide audiences with actionable hints and tips that can be implemented immediately.

In this blog, we revisit Team Vitfor OTE athlete and Precision Hydration Expert, Andy Brodziak’s, guide to fuel and hydration.

Fuel & Hydration – keeping the body at its best

Photo of Andy Brodziak running in Team Vitfor OTE kit
Team Vitfor OTE Athlete and Precision Hydration Expert, Andy Brodziak

Most athletes understand why fuel and hydration are vital to performance, but one of the most common mistakes we see them making is in knowing exactly how and when they should take that fuel and hydration on board.

It’s not just this mistake that athletes make; others include:

  • Drinking too much water
  • Mixing carb drinks with hydro tabs
  • Not adjusting the hydration needs for indoor training
  • Only using hydro tabs for racing and not for training
  • Relying on carb drinks to do both fuel and hydration
  • Not giving any attention to pre-loading

Getting our fuel and nutrition right can take months of trial and error working with a good nutritionist. But what is important to take from Andy’s area of expertise is the need to ensure that you are attending separately to your fuel and hydration and not mixing the two.

The average athlete can lose 950mg of sodium in every litre of sweat, but the range varies from as little as 200mg to as much as 2,000mg. The average electrolyte drink contains from 200mg to 550mg of sodium, so we can already see a problem for many especially in long events where an individual’s net losses will be far greater if they are relying on a one-size-fits-all approach from standard off-the-shelf products.

Image of a hand holding a cube showing the chemical symbol for sodium

So, why is sodium so important to fuel and hydration? Research has shown that athletes who adequately replaced the sodium lost in their sweat during performance, finished more strongly than those who didn’t. Sodium plays a key role in maintaining the body’s fluid balance and cognitive function and insufficient sodium can cause hyponatremia, the symptoms of which include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Loss of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to getting hydration and sodium intake right. As well as being affected by your personal physiology, your needs will vary depending on your training and event session goals and conditions.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider two different athletes doing exactly the same 5-hour event:

Image using popular movie references to illustrate a person who sweats very little and one who sweats a lot
Athlete A: Mr Dry
Sweat rate: 0.55 litres per hour
Sodium loss 240 mg per litre
Athlete B: Mr Dripping
Sweat rate: 2.5 litres per hour
Sodium loss: 1,610 mg per litre
Total fluid loss: 2.75 litres
Total sodium loss: 0.66g
Total fluid loss: 12.5 litres
Total sodium loss: 20.13g

Your can see that there is a potential for a wide spectrum between different athletes in the same event. Whilst you can’t calculate your sodium loss, you can start by working our how much you sweat. Visit Precision Hydration’s blog on how to calculate your own sweat rate.

Table showing the measurements required to perform a sweat loss test

Calculating your sodium loss requires a proper test, but there are some signs you can look our for. For example, having excess white marks on your clothing or a salty residue in your eyes or on your skin after a training session will provide some indication.

Whatever your sodium loss, it’s worth considering a pre-load strategy. If your session is less than an hour, then standard hydration is likely to suffice. However, any more than that and you should be boosting your blood plasma volume before your session. During the session you should then drink for thirst according to your work rate and the environmental conditions.

So, let’s sum up:

  • We can see why attending to fuel and hydration separately is key to improved performance
  • Sodium is a key ingredient in maintaining the body’s fluid balance and cognitive function
  • A lack of sodium in the body can cause hyponatremia
  • There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to taking in the right amount of sodium to replace what you lose, since we all lose sodium at a different rate
  • The average athlete loses 950mg sodium per litre of sweat but rates can vary from 200mg to 2,000mg
  • You can use Precision Hydration’s Sweat Test Guide to measure your own sweat rate
  • Consider adopting a pre-load strategy to boost your blood plasma volume before your session

What you can do next:

Precision Hydration has a free online test that you can take to ascertain a starting point simply by assessing your training levels and your experience of the symptoms of sodium loss.

Of course, if you just don’t know where to start with all of this, you can talk to Andy or book an Advanced Sweat Test. From there, Andy will recommend a sodium and hydration regime to fit your physiological needs and training program.

Click here for Craig Stevenson’s Intensity, Frequency & Volume and here for Byron Spence’s Strength & Conditioning for Performance


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