Aside from determination, skills, and experience, hydration is also key to achieving peak performance during a race—especially in a competition under warm weather. However, many athletes still underestimate the importance of proper hydration. That’s why in this guide, we’ll help runners overcome misconceptions, stay hydrated, and win the race.
What Happens to the Body When Racing Under Heat, Pressure, and Dehydration
Racing, regardless of the weather, can affect your body’s core temperature. Racing in heat and humid conditions can even make the situation worse as it can cause your body to lose its ability to cool down itself. When your body can’t cool down itself, pay attention to warning signs; you may lose your muscle functions, experience headache and nausea, have vision problems, and develop hypertension. These signs and symptoms may result in a medical emergency if ignored.
Even in a state of mild dehydration, according to experts, athletes wouldn’t be able to function properly as all cells from the brain to the muscles would struggle to perform as well. Blood thickens without a sufficient amount of water, making it more difficult for a person’s heart to pump oxygen-rich blood to all the cells in the body.
Why Staying Hydrated While Racing is Important
With the findings mentioned before, dehydration—mild or not—should be prevented early and during a race. “Almost every measurement of performance – aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, and reaction time – decreases with as little as 2% dehydration,” proves Noel Williams, a registered dietitian and board-certified sports dietetics specialist in the United States.
As athletes, you don’t just need to stay hydrated to quench your thirst. You need water to improve your bodily functions, which are crucial to your performance in the race, and avoid all the signs and symptoms mentioned earlier.
Every time you sweat and your body cells lose fluids, you also lose electrolytes—the essential minerals that help regulate nerve and muscle functions and maintain the body’s water balance. Blood electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate, are primarily responsible for these functions since they conduct electricity when dissolved in water.
You need these electrolytes as an athlete—especially one in a race—to ensure that all your body’s biochemical processes are working properly and your body fluid levels are normal or higher than normal before and while running. Staying adequately hydrated can reduce fatigue and ultimately reduce the risk of injury in a race.
Tips On How To Stay Hydrated When Racing In Warm Weather
Runners face many obstacles when racing, but one of their common enemies in the field is heat. Runners and other athletes in Egypt, most especially, have to experience record-setting temperature during training and competitions.
Racing in warm weather can trigger early excessive sweating, and this can lead to dehydration. As such, runners need to stay hydrated when racing in warm weather. One way to achieve this is to follow the tips below.
Drink Adequate Amounts of Fluids Before the Race
This tip is a no-brainer for all amateur and professional athletes. As a pre-competition routine, make sure that your hydration level is normal before the race to condition your body.
Drink at least 500ml of fluid two hours before a run. Regular water does the trick, but fruit juices with water and sports drinks can help boost and replenish your electrolytes during the race. About 15 minutes before the actual race, drink six to eight ounces of water. Don’t drink too much fluid as it can deplete the sodium levels of your blood, causing your muscle to weaken.
Find the Right Sports Drink for You
Again, regular water is excellent for staying hydrated. However, if you want to boost your performance, find the right and healthy sports drink for you. Sports drinks are designed to provide the right amounts of carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium to a person’s body, but some contain a lot of sugar. You need to find the best product that can give you an advantage without affecting your overall health.
“The specific amount of sugar and electrolytes in sports drinks is intended to allow for quick hydration and absorption,” says on Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s discussion about sports drinks. They are just another sugary drink for non-athletes, but their nutrients can complement high-intensity exercise or activities that last an hour or more.
When looking for sports drinks, consider your short-term goals, nutritional health, training conditions, and even gastrointestinal tolerance. You can also look for extra ingredients like beetroot extract, which can lower blood pressure and boost endurance, or ginger, which can calm a nervous stomach.
Don’t Drink Alcohol Before the Race
Drinking alcohol can compromise your sleep cycle. A bad night without sleep can affect your performance during the race. But more than that, studies also show that alcohol consumption may have physiological and hematological implications. Alcohol decreases the ability of a person’s skeletal muscles to utilize glucose and amino acids properly. When this happens, it can ultimately affect the body’s energy supply and impair the metabolic process during physical activity.
Alcohol, as a diuretic liquid, also accelerates the dehydration process when the weather’s warm. It can remove fluids from your blood through your renal system—a section of your body that comprises the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. When you consume alcohol, you’ll urinate more. Abstain from drinking alcohol at least a day before the race.
Limit Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine can indeed act as a performance booster during the race. It can improve an athlete’s mental alertness and overall mood. That’s why the majority of athletes and active persons today rely on caffeine to survive the day. They think that caffeine can help them accomplish all their agendas without experiencing fatigue.
However, being dependent on caffeine also has various implications. Too much caffeine can trigger nervousness, irritability, headache, dehydration, and heart conditions. These signs and symptoms can compromise your overall bodily functions when racing in warm weather.
You can still drink coffee, tea, soda, and other liquids with caffeine in a moderate amount before the race. However, if you really want to maintain a good hydration level, try to abstain from drinking any form of caffeine one week leading up to the race.
Consider the Temperature of Your Drink
Not many athletes and active people know this, but the temperature of a drink also affects a person’s hydration level. Both cold and warm water can help an athlete rehydrate, but its effect depends on the actual activity you plan to do.
A study entitled “The effect of water temperature and voluntary drinking on post-rehydration sweating” was conducted by researchers in Iran and published internationally to see if water temperature affects the process of rehydration among athletes training in a hot and humid environment.
The researchers found out that changing the water temperature of a drink affects the sweating response of the athletes. The average water temperature in the study was 16°C (60.8°F), which is the temperature of the cool tap water given to the athletes. The participants drank more water and sweated less. The researchers then concluded that drinking water at 16°C might be the best temperature for rehydration in athletes.
In other news, other studies have proven that warm or room-temperature water is slightly more beneficial than cold water when weight lifting. Bodybuilders and weightlifters should drink warm or room-temperature water to stay hydrated while lifting heavy objects.
Measure Your Sweat Rate
Everyone sweats differently; that’s why people have different hydration levels. Each athlete has different needs, so they consume fluids at different rates. To know the adequate amount of water you need before, during, and after the race, measure your sweat rate ahead.
Your sweat rate implies how much fluid you need to replace during and after a normal exercise or training routine. This rate can be measured with the following factors: your weight, genetic conditions, heat tolerance, and the temperature and humidity of the environment. Given that some of these factors are dependent variables—they change depending on the situation, you can only estimate your sweat rate. But don’t fret; knowing your estimated sweat rate can dramatically help you improve your rehydration routine.
Here’s a short and quick version to measure your sweat rate based on a formula provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
Formula: sweat rate = pre-exercise body weight – post-exercise body weight + fluid intake – urine volume/exercise time in hours
- Urinate and measure your pre-exercise body weight after, preferably with no clothes.
- Perform your running routine or a 1-hour running exercise, and record exactly how much fluid you consumed.
- After the running routine, dry yourself and record your post-exercise body weight, preferably with no clothes.
- Minus your total post-exercise weight from your total pre-exercise weight. The difference in weight represents the fluids you lost.
- Add the difference in your weight to the fluid consumed during the activity.
The result of the calculation is your estimated sweat rate per hour. A normal sweat rate is approximately 1 to 1.5 liter per hour. Based on your rate, you should drink 150% of your fluid deficit during your training sessions and after your race.
Balance Your Diet With Hydration
When your body utilizes your stored calories to produce energy, heat builds up inside your body every time you do a high-intensity physical activity. In this case, it’s the race. This process affects hydration. As such, you need to balance your food consumption with hydration as you train days before your race.
Add supplementary food for hydration to your balanced diet. Eat food, preferably fruits and vegetables, that are high in water. Here are some examples with references to help you measure the fluids you consume in a day:
- Watermelon (92% water)
- Strawberries (91% water)
- Peaches (89% water)
- Oranges (88% water)
- Cucumber (95% water)
- Lettuce (96% water)
- Plain yogurt (88% water)
- Tomatoes (95% water)
- Cabbage (92% water)
- Cantaloupe (90% water)
You can meal prep days before the race and while you’re training using the examples above to stay healthy and hydrated.
Drink Water At Regular Intervals During The Race
Aim to take small sips at regular intervals during the race to completely prevent dehydration. The intervals and the number of fluids, of course, vary based on your sweat rate. So, you need to strategically divide your breaks if you’re competing in a long race.
The volume and concentration of fluids entering your body influence the liquid’s ability to quench your thirst and rehydrate your body. It’s better to consume small amounts of fluids in intervals than take a big gulp of water in one go.
Listen to Your Body
The most important resource you need to win a race is your body. It can lead you to the finish line or force you to face a defeat. With that, listen to your body as you race—figure out what it needs and when it needs water to stay hydrated.
Practice Your Hydration Plan
Based on the previously mentioned tips, practice your hydration plan before the race, preferably in the same environment as the race. This final step can help you identify the needs of your body and test your tolerance. When the race begins, you’ll have a perfect routine to stay hydrated.
How Much Water is Too Much?
You need to stay hydrated before, during, and after the race. But be careful not to overhydrate. It’s easy to think that the more water you consume, the more hydrated you will be. But that’s not the case if you’re not following your sweat rate and listening to your body.
Don’t force yourself to drink more water, as it can negatively affect your performance during the race. Don’t dictate your body to drink—let it dictate you. Too much water can cause confusion, disorientation, or worse—water intoxication.
There’s no general rule that can tell a person how much water is too much. But to avoid overhydration and water intoxication, experts advise not to drink 0.8 to 1.0 liters of water or dehydration fluids per hour.
Staying hydrated is more than just drinking the right amount of water or fluids. It’s also about finding what works best for your body. To completely stay hydrated and win a race, stick to a routine that can help you memorize the needs of your body—especially when racing in warm weather. All runners, however, are different. We recommend meeting with a registered nutritionist or dietician to understand your individual needs.