As temperatures rise, training strong and racing well requires the right fuel. Without the proper seasonal tweaks to your daily diet, the likelihood of “tanking” increases. Here I explain how and why to optimize your summer intake, including 8 tips especially geared towards those who want to enjoy their most fun, fittest summer yet.
In the warm weather of summer, your sweat rate and heart rate increase, and your blood flow decreases. This is your body’s attempt to cool you down. You might feel that your perceived effort is higher than normal, and you become dehydrated (when body functions are affected by lack of fluids) more quickly.
Proper hydration and nutrition help combat these sensations by maintaining a balance of fluid, electrolytes, and nutrients. Follow these 8 nutritional tips to keep your body adequately hydrated before, during and after training and racing — and you will supply the nutrients and electrolytes you lose so you can bounce back stronger.
Hydration: Don’t Wait Til It’s Too Late
Although individual hydration and nutritional needs vary depending on activity level, height, weight, and additional factors, staying hydrated before, during and after exercise can combat dehydration, injuries, and heat-related illness.
More water is not always better. Hyponatremia, or extremely low levels of sodium in your blood, is a dangerous and life-threatening condition, which can be caused by drinking too much water. Electrolyte imbalances – high and low – have many of the same symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. Be sure to read the tips below about maintaining proper electrolyte balance. See a registered dietician who specializes in sports nutrition to determine your needs.
TIP: At the very least, drink when you are thirsty. That said, your body can only handle so much water at once; if you wait until you are parched to chug the contents of your 32 oz. Nalgene, your kidneys and liver won’t be able to process all of it. You’ll have to take a pit stop soon!
TIP: Many athletes start their days with a glass of water. Carry a water bottle around throughout the day to ensure easy access. You’ll be more likely to sip consistently.
TIP: Check your pee. Aim for pale lemonade yellow. Dark yellow or brown urine signals high levels of dehydration.
Whenever you sweat, you lose electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which are essential to cellular functions. How much you lose depends on lots of factors, so don’t compare your training partner’s electrolyte needs to yours: electrolyte loss varies greatly. So, too, do replacement needs.
Some athletes need way more salt than others. For example, I use a very wide range of 100mg to 2,000mg/hour of sodium during exercise when working with athletes. Regardless, you need more in high heat and when working out at a high intensity than you do when it’s cool or you’re exerting an easy effort. Typically, men lose and need more salt than women, and smaller people need less.
TIP: Do you get “crusty?” Look for white residue on your clothing, visor, helmet and body. It signals salt loss.
TIP: To find your balance, start low and work your way up. Even a little can go a long way for some people.
Replace Essential Electrolytes
Electrolyte drinks and mixes help you stay on track and bounce back faster when consumed during and after activity. They help ensure that you’re replacing electrolytes in the proper balance. For example, sodium and potassium intake should be balanced for proper hydration and absorption.
But, be warned, not all are created equal. Many mainstream drinks, such as Powerade and Gatorade, are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other unnecessary additives. Although the addition of sugar and carbohydrates is beneficial for many endurance and summer athletes who deplete glycogen and glucose levels, other options exist.
TIP: Chose a drink with proper “osmolarity,” or chemical concentration, such as Skratch Labs. It includes the most easily absorbed forms and proper ratios of sodium and other electrolytes, so it is easy on the GI tract.
Nuun, for another example, features flavored tablets that fizz when dropped into water. Low in carbs and sugar, however, it is made with sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which are problematic for those with GI trouble. For them, the “natural” Nuun line (made with stevia) is an option.
Nutrition: Eat Your Water and Nutrients
A whole-foods based diet — one built on a foundation of vegetables, fruits and/or whole grains — provides hydrating benefits. Fruits and veggies have high water content, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Some cooked foods, such as a bowl of cooked oatmeal, contain more water than other choices, such as granola. Another great summer option is smoothies. During the summer, salt your food a bit more than usual.
TIP: Eat smoothies. Try this refreshing recipe as a pre-workout meal (2- to 4-hours in advance) or to kick start post-workout recovery.