It's Getting Hot in Here: Hydration for Performance in the Heat
As the weather starts to warm up, it is time to think about the physiological impacts of heat and dehydration on athletic performance. Even being a little dehydrated can make a shard workout feel harder, can be significant, delay recovery and put the body under unnecessary stress.
Being well-hydrated helps our cardiovascular system pump blood and oxygen around the body and deliver it to working muscles. Our thermoregulation system also requires us to pump the blood to the skin’s surface so we can expel the heat generated internally to the ambient air and via sweat loss.
Why does dehydrate effects performance?
Dehydration and excessive heat can impair the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature, leading to an increased risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. The body’s natural cooling mechanisms, such as sweating, may become less efficient when dehydrated, making it challenging to dissipate heat effectively.
This puts a higher demand on the cardiovascular system as a decrease in blood volume makes the heart work harder. The effect of this is that we have increased perceived exertion, making the same level of physical activity feel more challenging and exhausting. This heightened perceived exertion can negatively impact an athlete’s motivation and ability to sustain high-intensity efforts during training or competition.
The difference between men and women- yes, men are sweaty creatures!
Like all things, some significant gender-specific considerations for hydration and heat management during exercise exist. These are also influenced by your cycle or hormones.
Sweat Rates and Electrolyte Composition: Men typically have higher sweat rates and a higher sodium concentration in their sweat compared to women. This means that men may need to replenish sodium more during exercise, while women may need to focus more on overall fluid replacement. Understanding these differences can help in developing specific hydration plans for each gender.
Hormonal Influences: Women’s hydration needs can fluctuate throughout their menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes, particularly during the luteal phase when core body temperature is slightly elevated. This phase may require additional attention to hydration and cooling strategies to offset the impact of increased heat production.
Body Composition: Women generally have more body fat than men. Since adipose tissue has a lower water content than lean tissue, this difference can affect total body water and impact hydration requirements during exercise, especially in endurance activities.
Sensitivity to Thermal Stress: Research suggests that women may have a lower sweat response and may be more sensitive to heat stress during exercise. This sensitivity can make women more susceptible to heat-related illnesses, emphasising the need for proactive heat management strategies, such as hydration, appropriate clothing, and exercise scheduling.
Fluid Retention: Menstrual cycle fluctuations can affect fluid retention in women, potentially leading to bloating and discomfort during exercise.
How can we optimise hydration before, during and after?
Before Physical Activity:
Pre-hydration: Ensure that being well hydrated and fuelled up starts the night before. Drink also before you feel thirsty.
Monitor Urine Colour: Check your urine colour; a pale yellow indicates good hydration, while darker urine suggests dehydration. Check this daily when you wake up.
Sodium Intake: Consider consuming a small amount of sodium to stimulate thirst and encourage fluid retention. This can be a little in your oats, on eggs or a small salty snack. When you sweat, you lose not just water but also essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Replenishing these electrolytes is crucial, especially during and after intense exercise.
During Physical Activity:
Hydration Schedule: Drink fluids regularly throughout your workout, particularly during longer or intense sessions. I love drinking a BCAA during a workout as it also helps me feel energised.
Electrolyte Replacement: I always keep a role of electrolyte tabs (such as hydrolyte) at the gym. It helps me rehydrate much faster than drinking water alone.
After Physical Activity:
Replenish Fluids: Drink plenty of fluids post-exercise to replace any fluid deficit. Water, sports drinks, or electrolyte-enhanced beverages can be beneficial, depending on the duration and intensity of the activity.
Monitor Weight Loss: If you are doing something intense, like a long run in the heat, weigh yourself before and after exercise to gauge fluid losses. Ensure that this is replenished.
Include Sodium and Potassium: Consume foods or drinks that contain sodium and potassium to help restore electrolyte balance and support proper muscle function and rehydration.
Recovery Drinks: Consider consuming a carbohydrate-protein recovery drink to replenish glycogen stores and aid in muscle repair and recovery.
Continue Hydration: Keep drinking fluids even after exercise to ensure complete rehydration, especially if you have further training sessions or competitions within a short timeframe.
If this is your first summer season training with 23W, we’ve got you covered.
We have a bunch of fans at the studio to supports air flow, electrolyte drinks on hand, and modify programming as needed. We typically close the studio or change the schedule when the temperature exceeds 35 degrees in the afternoon. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, train earlier in the day, and watch notifications.
Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.
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