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Improving recovery after exercise through better hydration

When our phone's battery is low, we switch to power save mode. We close apps, dim the screen, and lower the volume. We don't ask too much of it and tend to proactively hunt down an opportunity to recharge. 

Similarly, we shouldn’t ask too much of our body when it’s under recovered or we risk it shutting down our progress. Either through an overuse injury (average recovery time 9 – 12 weeks) or a performance plateau. 

Our bodies perform better, and can handle more, when they’re recharged. 

You feel more alert, less stiff, and experience fewer aches and pains. Your legs feel fresh, the same training sessions become easier and more enjoyable and you achieve more.

Unfortunately, unlike our phones, we don't have a battery icon on our foreheads showing our level of depletion.

What can you do to ensure you’re fully charged for your next session?

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You can set the conditions for better recovery by focusing on the two ways to recover faster after intense exercise. 

First, you can impact the magnitude of recovery needed with robust Golden Hour protocols. 

Second, you can increase the rate of recovery through good hydration, dietary habits, and rest. (The Big-3)

By focusing on these two areas, we can recover faster, reduce the risk of injury, and increasing our performance and enjoyment.

How good Hydration habits deliver faster recovery after exercise

Outside of exercises and the 60 mins after exercise (the Golden Hour) staying well hydrated will enable the following restorative benefits:

  1. Flush out toxins: Adequate hydration is necessary for the body to eliminate waste toxins. Drinking enough water helps flush out harmful substances and waste products that build up in the body and cause damage to cells and tissues.
  2. Absorption of nutrients: Water is necessary for the absorption of nutrients from food. Without enough water, the body may not be able to efficiently extract and utilise essential nutrients it needs to repair and restore damaged tissues.
  3. Maintain fluid balance: Water is essential for maintaining the body's fluid balance. When the body is dehydrated, it can lead to imbalances that can affect the functioning of vital organs, including the kidneys and heart. This can interfere with the body's ability to repair and restore itself.
  4. Supports immune function: Dehydration will weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Proper hydration helps to support the immune system, allowing the body to better defend against harmful nastiest and promote healing. Illness as much as injury can impact your training and derail the enjoyment of your sport and progress towards your goals 
  5. Regulate body temperature: As highlighted above, water is essential for regulating body temperature. This is as important during periods of rest and recovery as it is during exercise. The body needs to maintain a stable temperature to promote healing and restoration. Drinking enough water can help to regulate body temperature, allowing the body to focus on repairing and restoring itself.
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How are fluids lost during exercise?

During intense exercise, our metabolic activity increases. We lose fluid as we breath more heavily and also as we get hot - our body works harder to keep us cool. 

Two things happen to help regulate the body’s temperature: 

  1. Vasodilation: The blood vessels leading to the skin widen, enabling more blood to flow to the skin
  2. We sweat more: The brain’s sensors (in the hypothalamus) that respond to temperature change activate sweat glands to excrete more. Sweat is 99% water (1% electrolytes). As sweat evaporates, heat is removed and lost to the atmosphere through evaporative cooling. 

During and after intense exercise, a significant quantity of fluid can be lost. During a hard 10k race or 90 minutes of football as much as 2 litres of fluid can be lost. 

Research has shown that losing as little as 2% of total body weight can significantly impact athletic performance.

Breaking down the consequences of being under hydrated going into a performance:

  1. Decreased Endurance: You body is less able to efficiently transport oxygen to your muscles causing both a higher rate of fatigue and an increased level of total fatigue.
  2. Reduced Power & Strength: A consequence of being under hydrated is lower blood volume. Less blood is pumped with every heart beat, decreasing power and strength. This will make explosive bursts of effort harder, and harder to call upon, when you need them.
  3. Poor Decision Making: If your sporting performance benefits from thinking clearly and making good decisions being under hydrated will be a limiting factor. It can impede cognitive function as well as focus.  
  4. Slower “in game” recovery. If your sports offer moments of recovery, transitionary phases of where exertion is lower the body’s ability to capture the benefits of these moments is significantly lower when under hydrated.
  5. Higher Injury Risk: All of these factors can lead to injury but additionally, a reduced ability to maintain core body temperature can lead to muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Staying hydrated during your recovery phase and in advance of your next performance is important to reach peak performance.

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13 ways to ensure you drink enough water:

A healthy adult should consume 2 – 3 litres of water each day. More if you are active and more if the ambient temperature is high.

Optimal water consumption is not evenly distributed. You should drink more in the morning to kick start your metabolism and more after sport to replenish lost fluids. Also, try not to drink more than 250 ml in the 90 minutes before bed – to not disturb your sleep. And aim to have consumed 70% of your daily intake by mid-afternoon for the same reason. 

With busy schedules and life’s distractions it’s easy to forget to drink the recommended amount. Here are some ways for you to stay on track.

  1. Keep a water bottle with you: Carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day is an easy way to ensure you always have access to fluids. Whether you're at work, at home, or on the go, having a water bottle handy can help remind you to drink more water.
  2. Make your water visible – even in multiple locations: Place water bottles or glasses in visible locations around your home or workplace. Seeing water in multiple locations will encourage you to drink more frequently throughout the day.
  3. Set a reminder to drink water: Use a reminder app or a timer on your phone to remind you to drink water at regular intervals. This can be especially helpful if you have a busy schedule and have tried and forgotten to drink more fluids in the past.
  4. Track water consumption – use an app or set goals: Use an app or a simple chart to track your water intake and set hydration goals for yourself. This can help you stay accountable and motivated to drink enough fluids throughout the day. Your app might also give you a prompt
  5. Make drinking water part of your routine: Incorporate drinking water into your daily routine by making it a habit. For example, drink a glass of water first thing in the morning or whilst preparing food.
  6. Finish a glass of water with every meal: Make it a goal to finish a glass of water with every meal. This will help you stay hydrated and prevent overeating.
  7. Take a glass of water to bed: Keeping a glass of water on your bedside table can help you stay hydrated throughout the night. This is especially important if you tend to wake up feeling thirsty. If there’s water left in the morning, make it the first thing you drink.
  8. Infuse your water: If you’d like variation, add fruit or herbs to your water to make it more enjoyable to drink. This can also help you stay motivated to drink more fluids throughout the day.
  9. Drink sparkling water: If you find plain water boring, try switching to sparkling water. It's a refreshing and hydrating alternative that can help you stay on track with your hydration goals.
  10. Drink herbal teas: Herbal teas are a great way to stay hydrated while also enjoying a warm and comforting beverage. Plus, many herbal teas have added health benefits.
  11. Use a straw: Drinking water through a straw can make it more enjoyable and help you drink more fluids throughout the day.
  12. Use a smart water bottle: There are water bottles available that come with built-in tracking systems or reminders to help you stay hydrated throughout the day.
  13. Ask for water when eating out: When dining out, always ask for water with your meal. This will not only help you stay hydrated but can also help you avoid overeating or drinking too much alcohol.

Incorporating these hydration hacks into your daily routine will help ensure you stay hydrated and maintain a high recovery rate as your body replenishes itself between training efforts.

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How do the professional athletes approach hydration?

  1. Pre-hydration. They’ll begin hydrating in advance of training sessions. Sipping 300 – 500ml of cold fluids during the 15 – 30 mins before training. If they’re planning a tough session this fluid might also contain a 6 – 8% concentration of carbohydrates. 
  2. Monitor urine colour. It might sound a bit icky and unscientific, but professional athletes are taught the correct hue of yellow. Clear urine signals a state of over hydration, whilst any hint of orange or gold means they’ve been operating in a dehydrated state. This should prompt changes being made to their hydration protocols. 
  3. Sweat rate measurement & analysis. This determines how much they sweat and what nutrients are lost. This informs what must be replaced to maintain performance. The gold standard starts with a whole body wash de-ionised water before the athlete is made to sweat in a lab and every bead of sweat is collected!  
  4. Individual plans. Many pros will work as intensively on their hydration plans a their diet plans with their nutritionist. Their regimes will reflect, and adapt to, the demands of competition, training sessions of different intensities and rest. 
  5. Individual drinks. You’ll often see endurance competitors with their own drink. Furthermore, the blend of that drink might differ depending on the stage of the performance when in competition or the intensity of the training session they’re undertaking. There’s no escaping the route to this approach comes through experimentation and refinement. Being informed by the feeling of the performance and the data in the performance.

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