A common complaint from triathletes when they have painful training sessions or racing is muscle cramps. The number one cause for muscle cramps during exercise is lack of sufficient water and sodium intake.
To prevent muscle cramping and optimize athletic performance, Denise Barry, registered dietician for Athletes’ Performance, in Carson, CA, advises athletes to sustain good “foundation hydration”. For people who are sedentary, good foundation hydration entails drinking half an ounce of water for every one pound of body weight. Athletes, however, must drink at least one ounce of water for every pound of body weight. Athletes who perspire more and/or workout more vigorously, of course, have greater needs.
Furthermore, Barry recommends athletes begin their foundation hydration plan immediately to allow the body to adjust to the increased fluid intake. This is particularly important for longer distance triathletes, since the first leg of the race is a swim, when they are unable to drink along the course.
Athletes need to drink 20 ounces of water one hour prior to a race or workout, 7-10 ounces at the beginning, and 7-10 ounces every 15 minutes thereafter.
Athletes lose, on average, 1-3 grams of sodium per hour. However, in hotter climates and with “salty sweaters” (those people who have salt visible on their skin and/or clothes post-race/workout) may lose 5-6 grams.
Most sports drinks, like Gatorade, have 270 milligrams of sodium per eight ouce serving. Triathlon LAB has a variety of electrolyte products with or without carboydrate supplementation. Barry suggests healthy athletes drink, at least, four-8 ounce servings of these sports drinks per hour. However, athletes who perspire more heavily or when in hotter climates may need to supplement their salt intake with other sources of sodium, in order to prevent severe loss of sodium, muscle fatigue, and cramping.
When involved in vigorous activity lasting longer than one hour, participants will need to consume more carbohydrates to sustain activity, in addition to water and sodium.
Experiment with various nutrition products and timing of intake during training workouts to ensure your optimal performance on race day.