Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen significant advances in the science of sports nutrition, especially electrolytes, electrolyte replacement, and a far deeper understanding of how everything actually works.
Let's get rid of one big myth before we jump in to todays post:
Having clear pee, is NOT a sign you're hydrated. It is a sign you have overrun the kidneys with fluids. This can actually be a sign of too little sodium and too much water, OR CARBOHYDRATE, in your sports drink.
Now that we got that out of the way, Let's talk about the important things:
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GET YOUR HYDRATION ON POINT?
First, it depends on if you are Male of Female.
Yes, you read that right, it depends on your sex. While Men tend to remain in relatively similar hormonal states from day to day, week to week, women tend to have more fluctuations, especially between their first and second half of their cycles.
While the first half (day 1-14, called the 'Follicular phase') of their cycles, women are more similar to men in their hormonal status, and thus their ability to burn carbs for fuel, balance fluids, and remain in a more anabolic state is pretty great, and they can use "normal" hydration & fueling strategies, HOORAY!
However, in the second half of their cycle (Days 15-28, called the 'Luteal phase'), women will see an increase in their progesterone and estrogen levels, leading to a much more catabolic internal environment, and which can also lead to up to an 8% drop in Blood Plasma Volume!
While 8% may not seem like a big number, to put things in a performance perspective, as little as a 2% drop in blood plasma values can lead to a 8-12% decrease in VO2 Max Power output....talk about dragging an anchor!
Meanwhile, men tend to focus on taking in sodium- usually sodium chloride, AKA Table Salt- which can help a little bit with dehydration and water uptake, but not as much as we would like to think.
It all boils down to (pun intended) the TYPE of sodium which we are ingesting, and how well it is absorbed in the body.
There are 3 kinds of sodium available for us humans and our performance:
Each has a unique benefit as to to which energy systems that particular form of Sodium can boost performance of...not to mention how well glucose and amino acids aid in its (Sodium's) uptake (1) in the small intestines.
While Sodium Chloride tends to be the first kind (and usually the only kind) that comes to mind when we think of salt, Sodium Citrate is actually a far better sodium when it comes to endurance sports (2), as it has been shown in research studies to help boost aerobic metabolic processes. Sodium Bicarbonate on the other hand, has been shown to boost ATP-PC metabolic processes, although it may serve in long duration high intensity cycling events (3)(4).
While understanding the metabolic effects of the different sodiums is important (i.e. helping your energy systems continue to kick ass and take names), we actually want to look to have a little bit of all sodiums (ok, a bit heavier on bicarbonate), along with Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium in our sports drinks, and foods, that we consume on the bike (Banana anyone?)
Don't tell me that you didn't see the Minion Banana Gif coming... REALLY.
So what's a Girl (and a guy) supposed to do?!?!
Women should be looking for a pre-exercise drink to use during the second half of their cycle, which contains both Sodium Citrate, and Sodium Bicarbonate, along with Potassium, as this pre-loading (start around 45-60 min pre-exercise) can help boost blood volume, which along with the right hydration strategy mid-exercise, can significantly boost performance and mitigate some of the negative effects that she may feel normally during this time.
"Where did my power go?" and "Why do I feel like these intensities were easier last week?!?"
**EXPERT TIP** If you do this pre-loading with the right amount of Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Citrate, and Potassium in the mix, you should NOT have to pee before you leave or mid-exercise, because there is enough sodium to assist in the uptake of water into the body!
Women should also be looking for either a drink or powder/pills that contains Branched Chain Amino Acids (in the amount of 9 grams) to consume before endurance exercise in the Luteal phase (2nd half of their cycle), but thats another post....(And you should consult with your Sports Dietician on this as well!)
Men should be looking for sports drinks that contain not only Sodium Bicarbonate and Sodium Citrate in the mix, but also Potassium, and Calcium as well.
While Sodium is responsible for helping us maintain blood volume/ blood plasma volume, it is Potassium that regulates water in the rest of the body, and is a must....but we'll save that for another post.
Both men and women should be looking to separate their nutrition and hydration on the bike and run, as this can significantly aid in the absorption of the fluids, as drinking + taking in too much glycogen or amino acids at the same time, can cause Gastric Upset (Sour Tummy), or cause you to have to "go" while on the bike.
That being said, keep in mind that going at SOME point within a 4+ hour ride is normal... even the pro's take pee breaks!
And ladies, do you feel it's unfair that the guys have an easier time going on the go?
The Cycling apparel company Velocio has got THE bibs for you! No longer do you have to choose between shorts and easy bathroom breaks, or comfortable bib shorts! Now you get the BEST of both!
When looking for a sports drink, be a smart consumer, seeking out a drink that is roughly a 2.5-3.5% carbohydrate concentrate (Scratch labs and Osmo Nutrition are great starts), and contains a mix of the electrolytes, including the 3 different kinds of sodiums, and even some amino acids.
Never try something new on race day, unless you are literally stuck with the choice of "Try this new sports drink/food" or "Don't have anything at all and possibly die/collapse", in which case, take the nutrition (PS you shouldn't ever wind up in this position, but hey, life happens, and apparently people steal stuff out of your bento box during transition in triathlons... NOT COOL).
While in this post we've focus on Sodium; the different kinds of Sodium, their roles in endurance sports performance and it's importance in the body, especially for women in the second half of their cycle, we must bear in mind that Potassium is another significant electrolyte, as it regulates water in all other parts of the body, outside of the Blood Plasma.
That being said, all 6 electrolytes serve important roles in the body, and are necessary for prolonged performance and normal bodily functions.
The 6 electrolytes are:
Do you struggle with loss of power during longer/more intense rides, and can't figure out why?
Did this post completely revolutionize how you drink on the bike/ run?
Did this Post help you?
Tell us your story in the comments!
Learn a little more in this video on our YouTube Channel
(1)Absorption of Water and Electrolytes
(2) Effects of sodium citrate ingestion before exercise on endurance performance in well trained college runners
(3)Effects of Sodium Bicarbonate on High-Intensity Endurance Performance in Cyclists: A Double-Blind, Randomized Cross-Over Trial
(4) Effect of sodium bicarbonate on prolonged running performance: A randomized, double-blind, cross-over study
Learn more about Strength Training for CYCLING Success via Coach Brodies Training Peaks University online Course!