We just finished one of our open-water camps in Çıralı, Antalya Province, Turkey (more in September!) – the water was a bit cool for some (25 C / 78 F) but the weather was hot. It created a situation where one could lose a lot of fluid during the heat of the day, and then head out to swim yet not realize how dehydrated he had become because of the refreshingly cool water.
The problem is once you hit the water it is a bit late to think about hydrating.
So how do you hydrate?
There could be a wide range of opinions about this one. I will simply share what works for me.
Since coming to live in this hot, humid Mediterranean climate (in the 4 summer months) I’ve found that plain water was just not quenching my thirst. And for some strange reason I have struggled to remind myself to drink frequently and sufficiently. I think part of the problem was that there was less satisfaction associated with plain water and so less urge to get some.
A few years ago, after reading Thor Heyerdahl‘s raft trip across the southern Pacific on the Kontiki in 1947 I was clued into the potential benefits of drinking slightly salinated water. And then I have run across more stories of sailor (and castaways) surviving on salty water. So a couple years ago I started experimenting with making my own salinated water. Sure enough it quenched my thirst and I found I wanted to drink more often.
And another interesting affect… when I would drink plain water I found that I just had to go pee more often, as if I was just passing the water through my system rather than filling it with fluid. When I started drinking salted water my need to go to the toilet decreased dramatically though I was increasing my intake. From that I have assumed that I am retaining the water better.
At first, I was adding a little sugar to my solution, but because I consider sugar to be one of the arch enemies of health I have been gradually removing refined sugar from my diet as much as possible (with a few personal exceptions – like fine ice cream and mother-in-law’s apple pie!), and now I am down to this simple recipe:
0.5 liter of water (strangely, I prefer my water to be room temperature)
Squeezed 1/4 slice of lemon (or a few squirts of 100% lemon juice)
3 shakes of salt from our salt shaker (sorry, I don’t have a precise measurement – just ‘salt to taste’!)
I train regularly here in a very salty section of the Med. I do get salt-burns on my mouth and tongue after an hour or so in the water, yet my system craves it when I get out (I keep slightly salted peanuts and raisins in my swim bag for snacking afterward). Salt doesn’t soak into the skin but it does get sweated out – and in swimming it is probably leaching out of our body far more rapidly than we realize.
I must admit that I am a bit cynical about the craze for in-workout hydration – it true that we need replenishment of our electrolytes after exertion, yet it is also an extremely successful marketing ploy to athletes that I am wary of. Do what you will, but for 25 years I cannot recall ever having a water bottle waiting for me at the end of my lane during a swim practice and I can’t see how I have suffered for it. If I am drinking too much just before practice I would just have to go pee a few times in the middle of the practice anyway. No problem for an open-water swimmer, but a bit annoying for pool practice.
Rather than think about what to drink during practice or just before, I think the emphasis should be on how we hydrate ourselves everyday as a normal habit. The body adapts to what it is repeatedly subject to. When combining good daily hydration with good mineral intake our systems will begin to prepare itself to go a longer haul of an event without having to hydrate so often during it – certainly not during a mere 60 minute practice. I can imagine how the body’s tissues are more prepared to store up fluids gradually throughout the day and then access them during a practice when we make system saturation a part of every day, not just practice time. Drinking just before the race or practice is too little too late in many cases.
A couple times I’ve intentionally gone on 3 hour swims (10k) with no breakfast and no water breaks in warm water and hot weather to test myself and did fine. But I have a long-practiced pattern of eating foods and drinking that has trained my body to go like this, without discomfort. I am not sharing that to suggest that that anyone should skip hydrating, but to point out that we train the metabolism every day, every minute, not just in practice, and certainly not only on race day.
My friends share their reasons and methods for taking in certain mineral supplements in their water (like potassium and magnesium, in addition to sodium) at certain times. I don’t have much experience with direct supplements like that so I won’t make much comment on it. Instead, I live in a land of abundant and cheap fruit and vegetables and so me and my family eat a scandalous amount of them (raw) – so I stand a good chance of not needing mineral supplements. But I do encourage you to investigate this topic, examine your diet and consider how you may benefit from adding some specific mineral supplements to your hydration – and go for the natural form in fruits and vegetables first, if possible.
Two more thoughts…
1) If you feel thirsty then this (as commonly agreed) is a sign you are already lacking a great deal of fluid. So the trick is to develop a habit of drinking fluid in smaller portions but more frequently throughout the day, every day, regardless of activity level. Try adding a little salt and lemon to please the tongue.
2) I have a simple test for sufficient hydration: if I need to get up in the middle of the night to pee, then I have drank enough fluid that day. But if I don’t have to get up, then I have not hydrated enough.
But there is a false side of this test – if I have drank wine or beer or tea before bed those can have a diuretic effect (provoking the production of urine) and so I have to go pee but this may still mask my dehydration. So a rule of thumb for me is to drink the same amount of water for each cup of tea or glass of wine.
So I invite you to go grab a drink and ponder your approach to hydration.