When working out in cold weather, you drink less. It happens. True, you do not need to drink as much when you are not sweating as much, but it is the time of year when you will dehydrate very quickly without even being aware. Sweating is only one factor of losing water from your body. For example, a person can lose massive amounts of fluids, with open mouth heavy breathing in high-threshold training. Climate is also a factor. Even in colder climates, hydration while living in a dry, arid Southwest America will differ greatly from the constantly shifting temperatures of a Southeast winter. Hydration is crucial to peak performance. We are mostly made of water, as it accounts for about 60% of body weight in adult males and 50–55% in females. Lean muscles and the brain are around 75% water, blood is 81% and even bones are 22%.
Many athletes attempt to hydrate during the workout. WRONG. If you are not regularly consuming fluids throughout the day before you workout, you are probably already dehydrated when you begin your workout and catching up is not going to happen during the session. Another misnomer about drinking fluids is that if it is a fluid then it hydrates you. WRONG again. Carbonated drinks, coffee, and alcoholic drinks are just a few examples of fluids that work against hydration. Chugging plain water is not the answer either. Here’s why: blood sodium levels can drop dangerously low, a sign of hyponatremia. Many athletes have been given poor advice on drinking plain water. Once sodium levels hit a certain level, the ultimate result could be death. Yes, as in no longer existing. It has happened to many athletes throughout the years. Water is the key, but try infusing it with various fruit juices and an unnoticeable smidge of salt.
ASIDE: Speaking of bad advice, Dr. Roger Palfreeman, Team Sky’s top doctor, brags about Team Sky being able to be “functionally dehydrated.” To which Dr. Robert Sallis, chief medical director for the Ironman World Championship and observer to athletes for over 20 years, disagrees wholeheartedly. “It’s stupid,” says Sallis, “mental and physical performance plunges when you’re two percent dehydrated—any advantage from a reduction in weight would likely be offset by a reduction in power and mental resolve.” Well okay, Doc, but this writer would like to see what Chris Froome could do at full power. Although I do agree with Dr. Sallis, it is quite possible that Team Sky is being done a disservice by riding in a dehydrated state, whether with future physical problems or an overall shorter career span is yet to be determined. For example, run a finely tuned exotic car (like Team Sky) lacking only a single quart of engine oil. It will run and run very well . . . for a time.
According to a 2016 article in International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, thirst is the absolute last measurement to know whether you are hydrated or not. Thirst, like many other things in life, falters as we age. The body just basically adapts to remaining in a certain state over a long period of time. The American Council on Exercise gives us some overall rules of thumb:
- Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising
- Drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up
- Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise
- Drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise
That is a nice set of rules to put in your noggin, but you must take into account the aforementioned environmental aspect, your sweat rate, the length of your session, and the level of exertion. If you can dial in your hydration level, the results will be very noticeable. It is easy to notice hydration in the heat, but try getting your skills fine tuned during the colder months and see how it transitions into the riding season.