A large part of success in any endurance sport is the ability to train with consistent quality over a long period of time. In order to do that, you have to put as much emphasis on your preparation for, and recovery from, every workout. A key to consistent sessions of high quality is maintaining good hydration habits.

The effects of dehydration on performance are well known. Nick Suffredin, a former scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and Race Day Fueling Expert for D3 Multisport points out that, “As little as 2 percent body weight loss can decrease your performance. As you dehydrate, your heart rate will increase and your core body temperature rises, forcing your body to work harder and limiting your performance ability.”

While many athletes take this statistic seriously on race day, many lose sight of it’s importance in training and in daily life.

“Improved hydration is one of the easiest ways for an athlete to immediately start experiencing better workouts,” says Jason Koop, Coaching Director for Carmichael Training Systems, author of “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning,” and coach to Kaci Lickteig, Dylan Bowman, and other elite ultramarathoners.

What you consume throughout the day will affect how good, or bad, your next workout is, Koop says. Being in a state of partial or severe dehydration not only lowers your performance, but it also means you’ve dug yourself into a hole that can be difficult to get out of over hours or even days.

“Hydration status takes longer to return to normal following a deficit compared to calories, so it’s important for athletes to develop good hydration habits day in and day out,” Koop says. In other words, if you go into a workout dehydrated, even good hydration during the workout will leave you in a deficit. The key is maintaining optimal hydration during the rest of your day through consistent habits.

Dialing In Your Daily Dose

Hydration is such a personal issue that experts are hesitant to give a one-size-fits-all approach. However, there are some general guidelines to get you started. The primary one is to be aware of it and make sure you’re drinking fluids regularly during the day, both with meals and intermittently during your normal daily routine.

“I would say it’s going to be unusual if endurance athletes who are training for multiple hours per day are not drinking at least 1 to 2 liters of water, juice or similar hydrating drinks (i.e. not things like alcohol or too many caffeinated beverages) on top of whatever they drink during training sessions,” says Andy Blow, the founder of Precision Hydration. But he also adds the caveat that athletes need to listen to their body as well.

In coaching his athletes, Koop takes an educational approach rather than forcing them to adhere to a rigid set of rules.

“It’s more important to teach an athlete how to be aware of their hydration status and educate them on the the best ways to respond to changing conditions,” he says. “The athlete is always the one at the end of the day that has to actually consume the food and fluids. You can’t force feed fluids to them, so education is more important than the guidelines.”

One thing that all experts agree on is that drinking enough throughout the day is a key component to successful hydration

“I focus a lot on hydration throughout the day, not just during workouts,” says Koop. Suffredin agrees saying, “It is always best to stay hydrated throughout the day and prior to training sessions. A simple way of understanding how hydrated you are is by monitoring your urine color 30 minutes prior to your training.”

Eating foods with a high water content, like fruits and vegetables, can also contribute to a positive hydration status.

The other part of dialing in your hydration is what drinks you are consuming. With no shortage of electrolyte replacement options on the market, it’s easy to constantly be drinking something with sodium, but that may not be necessary.

“Electrolyte drinks are great at times when sweat losses are high, or when your basic hydration status is compromised (i.e. with a hangover, from a previous day’s sweating, from sickness or diarrhoea etc),” Blow says. “At times when you hydration status is not being seriously challenged though water is absolutely the best thing to hydrate with.”

For beer and wine lovers, Blow has some good news.

“Although in large quantities alcohol is a diuretic, a beer, glass of wine or similar is unlikely to negatively affect hydration status, especially if you are habituated to it.” So go ahead and have that IPA or Merlot, as long as you’ve been on top of your hydration game all day.

If you do become dehydrated, you can’t simply chug your way to hydration.

“Consuming a lot of water at once doesn’t mean you are hydrated,” Suffredin says. “It is best to drink when thirsty or if you monitor your urine color to target the lemonade color vs. apple juice (dehydrated) or water (hyperhydrated).”

One time that many athletes may not utilize enough is right before going to bed. Blow recommends that athletes behind on hydration drink a strong electrolyte drink (500-750ml sodium) before bed as it is likely to be retained in the body better than water alone. 

For any endurance athlete, daily hydration should be taken seriously. Start with the general guidelines and listen to your body to find what works best for you. With some simple trial and error and good choices you can stay hydrated and ready to nail your next workout.