Like most Westerners, I am well aware that I live in an arid climate. Especially in the warmer months, I think that most of us are careful about taking water with us when we hit the trails. Go hiking, take a water bottle. Go for a run, recharge with electrolytes. Out on the bike, a Camelbak or bottles are required.
But what about winter sports such as nordic, backcountry and alpine skiing? I started skiing with a Camelbak four seasons ago and I love it. When I start feeling tired, I know that it is (past) time for a drink. Water is fuel and while I’ve never done any research to back this up, I know that I feel better and more energetic when I’m drinking water on the slopes. I ski better, too.
A couple of weeks ago, I actually got some facts while I visiting Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs, courtesy of Eucerin Skin First. Carmichael Training Systems was founded by Chris Carmichael, a former professional cyclist. He has also coached Lance Armstrong. This is a man who knows performance and how to maximize the performance of some of the world’s top athletes. While CTS focuses on endurance sports such as triathlon, cycling and running, it is open to any athlete who sweats and wants to improve. I figure these people know what they are talking about and when it comes to hydration. Here’s what they told me.
Fluids are Essential
Fluids regulate the body’s temperature, move oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and allow our bodies to function properly at a cellular level. Drinking enough fluids when you are under exertion reduces the risk of illness due to heat (not so much a problem for winter athletes), improves performance, and reduces fatigue.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration is the loss of body water, primarily through sweating. Do we sweat when we ski? You had better believe it, especially if we’re skating on a nordic track or ripping through moguls (not to mention skinning up a mountain). When we lose body water, our hearts works harder and our ability to regulate body temperature is diminished. The human body is approximately 60% water. If we lose 2% of our body weight during exercise, our performance can be impaired by up to 20%. The goal: Stay at 95-100% hydration all the time.
What Should We Drink?
Water is the easiest and cheapest drink around. Water mixed with a small amount of salt is even better, especially for lower intensity exercise lasting less than 90 minutes (for example skiing 10k on cross-country skis). Sodium is helpful because it plays a role in helping the body absorb glucose and water from the gut. Sodium also helps to maintain fluid in blood plasma (so that you can sweat) by increasing fluid retention. And, ironically, the salty taste makes you actually want to drink more. Which is a good thing!
For training or competition that lasts longer than 90 minutes or is of especially high-intensity, the body will need carbohydrates and electrolytes, so water isn’t enough.
Exercise lasting more than one hour, or of a high-intensity (say in a competition) requires carbohydrate fuel in addition to liquid. Sports drinks are blended to replace fluid, provide some fuel and slow dehydration. They can also contain a lot of sugar. If you are primarily needing hydration, stick to a low-carb drink that is around 3% carbohydrate and has more sodium. If your primary need is fuel, choose a drink that has greater than 8% carbohydrate and less sodium. If that is too confusing, here’s a rule of thumb: Food in the pocket, hydration in the bottle.
Want to make your own sports drink? One packet of Emergen-C and 1/8 teaspoon of salt per cup of water.
How Much Fluid Do You Need?
As a baseline, people need a minimum of 6-8 eight-ounce cups of fluid per day, spread throughout the day. During exercise, you need to drink as much fluid as you are losing. Since this isn’t always possible, it is important to start off any physical activity hydrated.
Prior to hitting the slopes or the trail, try to drink about 2 cups of water or other non-caffeinated, non-carbohydrate fluid. Then, we you are exerting yourself, try to drink a minimum of 1/2 cup, or 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes depending upon how hard you are training. That seems unrealistic to me when skiing, but highly doable and necessary when biking. The reason CTS recommends drinking small amounts throughout exercise is because your body can only absorb small amounts of fluid at a time. Do the best you can.
At the end of your workout, or day on the snow, CTS recommends drinking 1.5 times the amount of body weight you have lost in order to restore fluid balance. That means if you sweated out one ounce of fluid, you’ll need to drink 1.5 ounces.
Again, it can be hard to tell how much fluid you may have lost, so before you grab that apres ski beer or hot chocolate, grab a tall glass of water. You’ll be glad you did.
Many thanks to Dean Golich at CTS for this information.
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