Hydration for Athletes is Important, Especially at High Altitude
Hydration for athletes is a commonly overlooked aspect to physical performance among mountain junkies. It is especially crucial to consider hydration guidelines for high altitude when spending long days in the mountains. When I am out for a long day hike, I usually forget to drink enough water until I am parched and beginning to lose speed and energy. By the time our sense of thirst sets in, significant fluid losses have already occurred through sweating and breathing.
At high elevations and in cold weather, there is even greater risk of dehydration. This happens for a couple different reasons:
- There is less oxygen in the air at high, mountainous regions on the earth than there is a sea level. Our lungs have to work extra hard to consume enough oxygen. However, this process also causes us to exhale more water vapor in the process.
- When it is cold outside, our blood tends to stay at the core of our body to protect our organs, instead of flowing to our extremities. This can confuse our kidneys, the fluid regulators, to think that we have more fluid in us than we do because it senses this false surge of blood pressure. It then tells the body to release fluids (i.e. urine).
Simple Hydration Tips for Athletes
1. Hydrate before you go out. If you are planning to be outside for longer than 6 hours, drink half of a liter of water or other fluids before going out. Start with some warm lemon water when you wake up and half a pint glass of water before leaving the house. This way you will be starting your trip by hydrating your body and fueling your adventure properly.
2. Iso-tonic solutions. Generally, a hydrating drink for athletes includes carbs, electrolytes and water. This mixture enhances the body’s ability to absorb the water and maintains the fluid balance within our bodies. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and potassium that allow for electrical impulses to be pass along cell membranes, muscle contraction, intra- and extra-cellular fluid osmotic concentration and many other important things. When exercising for longer than 2 hours, electrolytes can become depleted or we may drink so much water than electrolytes become diluted. There are several mountaineering-specific iso-tonic solutions on the market, but salty foods can also provide sodium and chloride.
3. Invest in gear. Using a water filter, jet boil and/or a camel back are great hydration tips for athletes. This is especially true if you are going to on a multi-day outings. However, for day trips, never underestimate the power of a simple tight-fitting thermus for hot cider or even a little coffee. These will keep you warm if you are hiking in the winter months. If you have the ability to invest in any of the equipment for water purification, you will save energy by reducing the weight on your pack.
4. Consider the weather. You will sweat more in hot, humid weather (obviously), so plan to drink more during the hotter months of the year. In cold weather, you still need more fluids than a temperate climate but not as much as in hot weather when you are sweating a great deal.
5. Consider foods that hydrate too. I always bring dehydrated goods on multi-day back packing trips. Instant soups, teas, hot chocolate, ramen noodles- all of these require the addition of water and will help you hydrate. They will have some salt for some electrolyte replacement and are very light weight. Even fruits and vegetables will add some hydration to your diet, so bring a container of grapes, cucumbers or clementines for shorter trips that don’t require ultra-light meal planning.
6. Time. Think about how much time you plan to spend outside away from access to fresh, clean water. It is typically recommended that we drink our weight in ounces. So, a 200 lb person should drink about 200 oz of fluid per day. This number increases when we are outside exerting ourselves. Fluid needs vary greatly from person to person but an average of .5-1 liter of fluid per hour should suffice for most people, but plan according to weather and other factors.
7. Know thyself. How much water do you normally require during other activities? This is the best starting point to figuring out how much water or fluids you should plan on your next adventure.