“I have water. I’m good.” I hear this comment often, whether on the skin track, a bike ride, or a long trail run. It makes sense too; as skiers, we’ve been on the receiving end of high-sugar caffeinated drink marketing for years, so the notion of drinking just water sounds much more appealing. Let’s be honest—on some ski days we go from coffee to beer, and back again. However, having adequate hydration is essential for performance and endurance and that means using an electrolyte mix to aid your body in what is lost from intense exercise.
Breanne Nalder Harward, a professional cyclist with accolades on the road and gravel circuits, knows this from her own experience. Add in that she’s also earned a Master of Science degree in Nutrition and Sports Dietetics from the University of Utah, coaches all types of athletes, and her advice is worth heeding.
“Adequate hydration is important to both the athlete’s health and performance. The word adequate is chosen here because we want to have the proper amount of water and electrolytes to keep our muscles functioning and to replenish what we lose during exercise,” says Harward, MS, RDN, and nutrition coach at PLAN7 Endurance Coaching.
Our bodies control internal temperature through a process called thermoregulation, in which we produce sweat to get rid of heat and as sweat evaporates off our skin it cools us down.
“The hotter we get during a workout, the more sweat we produce. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, premature fatigue, increased recovery time, increased blood pressure and cardiovascular stress, and raises the risk of heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion and more dangerous, heatstroke,” says Harward.
Beginning any exercise well-hydrated is particularly important since dehydration diminishes performance and overall well being. This becomes imperative in the winter since the usual cues of becoming dehydrated are less evident—even though you aren’t drenched in sweat, your body needs to re-hydrate.
Harward notes that while hydration is important, knowing exactly when, what, and how to drink during exercise is equally important. For instance, a process in which the body has more water than sodium (an electrolyte lost in perspiration) is called hyponatremia and can be a serious, potentially life-threatening issue.
“Think of a glass of water with salt. We want our bodies to have the proper solute: solvent ratio to maintain the needs of our muscles and other organs and tissues (such as the kidneys).” Hyponatremia can lead to convulsions, pulmonary edema, respiratory failure, and even cardiac arrest, Harward explains. Not only do we need to replenish lost fluid and electrolytes, but carbohydrates as well.
“For all of these reasons, we need sport drinks,” she says. “So, we must supplement our water with electrolytes and calories to stay on top of our performance.”
For short activity (less than 60 minutes) of low to moderate intensity, water is adequate, as long as you go into the workout well hydrated.
During moderate intensity (60-90 minutes), 1-2 bottles with added electrolytes are needed.
High intensity (more than 45 minutes, especially in the heat) and endurance training (more than 90 minutes) require hydration supplements. At those intensities and long durations, focus on 2 bottles per hour, at least one of those having electrolyte and carbohydrate mix.
Harward also says that sports drinks can be used for recovery as well. And while we’re referencing this to summer and future autumn workouts, as someone who ski tours daily a recovery drink has had a positive impact on my ability to keep chugging through the week. Sure I still have an après beer, but I do that after I slam a recovery drink and a bite of food.
With all this knowledge and so many products on the market, it can be overwhelming to determine which one works best. Harward says to determine your specific hydration needs and find the product that works for you. Not only by the numbers (calories, electrolytes, sugars, etc.) but the flavors, tastes, and tolerance levels.
“It is very important that you enjoy what you are drinking as it is helping you get exactly what you need for optimal performance,” she says.
With that in mind below are a few options that we tested, tasted, and sweated out over the past winter and during a recent heatwave. Use this as a guide to determine what works best for you.
This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.
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