The air was sticky, thick, hard to breathe. My gloves, full fingered, were miserable on my hands. My chamois stuck to my thighs, wrapped around my butt tight, and I hoped I wouldn’t have to pee anytime soon. There was no chance of pulling the lycra back up after peeling it off. It was June. It was Missouri. It was hot.
We were racing on my home tracks on the first really hot day of the year. Missouri heat laced with humidity. The hydration plan needed to be dialed. The local bike shop had just started carrying Skratch hydration and I was excited to try it out. I was racing 3 laps in hot conditions so I prepped 6 bottles with the Skratch mix.
The track was fast and everyone was murdering the first lap. It was sweltering but we were racing mountain bikes! I drank at the midpoint of the lap and on the ¼ mile gravel stretch to the feed zone. I drained a bottle, grabbed a freshie, and pushed on through the start-finish to lap 2. I had only drank 22oz -- my plan was to have 44.
Starting lap 2 I felt nauseous. I wanted to throw up. I tried, but only dry heaved. One of the other Cat 1 women had already dropped out due to the heat. I kept pedaling. I sipped on the bottle where I could, but it was so sugary sweet it just made my stomach feel worse. Sugar rot. But we were racing, and I had a shot at the podium, soo..Just. Keep. Pedaling.
I hit the gravel section to end lap 2. I wanted to throw the bike down and call it quits. I was so sick to my stomach that I couldn’t drink anymore. I had barely drank 8oz during lap 2. But the timing crew informed me I was sitting 3rd, so screw being sick. Throw down time. I didn’t touch another bottle for the next 40 minutes of racing. Pure relentless stupidity drove me through that last lap. My bike handling was shit, I couldn’t focus, I was barely pedaling. But I finished. 3rd of 3. Ha. You thought I was fighting some epic battle, I was just fighting for pride.
What went wrong? I completed the greatest race day faux paus. I tried something new on race day. I tried a new drink mix before experimenting with how it treated me. I filled ALL of my bottles with the cocktail. No back up, no plain water. I made myself sick with the sugar content of the drink mix. Without replenishing the water I was furiously sweating out, I went into a dangerous level of dehydration. I suffered heat exhaustion. I learned a lot that day about my body’s needs during a race and the proper way to hydrate.
Dehydration occurs when you use or sweat out or eliminate more fluid than you take in. When dehydrated your body can’t deliver fluid to organs and muscles to carry out essential functions. During activity this means the body stops delivering fluid to the muscles and diverts all blood flow to the organs. Just 1% loss of fluids causes fatigue, clumsiness, and trouble concentrating. 2% causes performance deficits and headaches may begin. At 3% fluid deficit you may get nauseous and gastric emptying will slow causing water to slosh around in your belly. 4% loss is a very dangerous level at which heat illness begins to occur. Pro tip: If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
So how do I hydrate on race day? In the morning, during breakfast, I drink a mug of tea for a little bit of caffeine to get amped. Throughout the morning I will drink about 20oz of water with Nuun Vitamins – all natural flavoring, essential vitamins, and electrolytes. You could also add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of citrus fruit for the same benefit. While pre-riding I will drink 10-20oz of water with Nuun Active – high dose of electrolytes and natural flavors. Nuun’s flavor is light, the electrolyte balance is perfect for an endurance athlete’s needs, there is no sugary aftertaste, and no gassy side effect.
For the race itself you will need 22-44oz of water per hour with 300-700mg of sodium. 1/8 tsp of table salt will give you 700mg. The sodium helps draw the water across cell membranes into the muscles and organs. Without the balance of sodium and water your body will eliminate the water and not put it to use. You also are at risk for hyponatremia – low sodium levels – which may cause fatigue, dehydration, and severe cases may be life threatening.
If the temp is mild I go with 22oz or one bottle per hour with one tab of Nuun Active. I also prep an extra bottle of plain water in case the belly starts to act up on me. Most races I do end up grabbing the bottle of plain water. I’ve found I’m pretty sensitive under extreme activity! Hotter days or longer endurance days I will prep 44oz or two bottles per hour – one with Nuun Active and one plain water.
After the race I will immediately down a 22oz bottle of water. Over the next hour I will drink 8-10oz of chocolate milk or another recovery drink. Then I will spend the rest of the day sipping on water plus electrolytes – Nuun or the salt plus citrus combo. Aim for 34-60oz over the next few hours. A more accurate way to judge how much you need to replenish post race is to weigh yourself prior to the event and then after the race. How much did you lose? Drink 16oz of water for every 1lb you lost within 4 hours of the event finish.
Practice your nutrition plan while training. Find what works best for you. Make a plan and stick to it. Don’t wing it on race day. Don’t do what your buddy or Team Sky is doing. Create a plan unique to you using the guidelines above – from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement on Hydration for Athletes. Your muscle will be hydrated, happy, and ready to rock! Train Empowered.