Avoiding Water While Working Out

My post from last week on water intake prompted this inquiry from a regular reader in the Philippines.

Thanks for the information on fluids. I run 5–10 K without water until I get back home. I guess my greater concern is under-hydrating. I bike too but usually carry a 3-li-bladder which I refill after 30K. Some of my buddies limit their fluid intake taking in as little water as possible. I always say this could be harmful to them but old-tales of low fluid intake from old-timer bikers always out-reason me. What say?

Art,
This is a very good question and observation. It indeed is a old-timers’ myth. I’ve run into the same. It may be borne from the thought that drinking fluids while working out gives you cramps. Like the myth that cold water is bad for you science has proven it all wrong. (Cold water is absorbed in the body faster than warmer water.) The keys of course are moderation in quantity so as not to cause complications and to stay hydrated both before and after workouts because it is rare that an athlete can take in all they lose in the workout.

Some points:
Hydration is highly individual. So doing the weighing exercise before and after a workout is one good technique to help to determine if you need to take in more fluids on a ride/run.

Under-hydrating is by far more common than over-hydrating. Use that weighing-in test to see if you need more fluids or not. As little as 2-3% body weight loss begins to affect performance. For a 70K (154#) guy that is only 2K (4-5 pounds or so).

On a bike you can easily hydrate without the bloating or cramping possibilities that you will be more prone to in running. It is also so easy to carry more than enough fluids on a bike instead of on your person. Therefore, there is no excuse at all for not taking in adequate fluids.

“Heat” effects can begin in temps as low as 70F degrees (27C or so)! It has been shown that environmental temperatures above 65F (23C) WILL slow athletes down. And the effect is more dramatic in a non-acclimated athlete, a poorly conditioned athlete, youth and elderly. But make no mistake about it, even those who “love” the heat and “run great” in the heat slow down… most likely just not as much as others.

[By the way, if you set a PR in some race in temps above these thresholds you can guarantee that on the same course with temps 20F degrees lower you would have run even faster.]

Also individual adaptation is critical and knowing what you can handle as an athlete. I run 45 minutes or so without even a thought of stopping for fluids; even here in the desert with temps hitting well over 40C or 100F! It is NOT that I am advocating it. I’m just saying I know I easily handle it. And I’m smart enough to take fluids before and after to accommodate the effort.

In modest temps (25C/77F and less, or so) I can routinely go an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half without thoughts of fluids.

[I’ve lived in the desert for 32 years and have learned about myself and heat both when I’m in shape as well as out of shape.]

Heat can build up in your body rapidly in an unprepared athlete. In as little as 10 minutes it could put you out of commission! This by the way is separate from dehydration (our main topic here). You don’t become dehydrated in 10 minutes (unless you were dehydrated already going into the effort from not drinking fluids all day). Even a well hydrated body that is not acclimated to heat will succumb to the heat MUCH faster than an acclimated person. So, very short distances can yield heat related injuries.

Certainly the longer the run or ride the more the need is for fluids… hot or not.

Bottom-line however is that to avoid fluids while working out is fool-hearty at best and stupid and dangerous at least.

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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8 Responses to Avoiding Water While Working Out

  1. Christina says:

    Interesting post. In the summer I won’t even run 3 miles without my water. I consider myself wimpy in that aspect but I’ve tried running without water and end up having a bad run because I’m so focused on not having water and being thirsty. So I’ve learned to carry my “safety blanket” with me.

  2. Jimmy Holub says:

    Actually, the correct temperature conversions are:

    65 degF = 18.3 degC
    70 degF = 21.1 degC

    23 degC = 73.4 degF
    25 degC = 77.0 degF
    27 degC = 80.6 degF
    40 degC = 104.0 degF

  3. Dean Hebert says:

    Good enough… thanks for being detail oriented. But note, I worded these as estimates and abouts and more thans…. I wasn’t looking for perfect conversions. 🙂 I leave that to the techies like you… I’m glad you keep me honest!!!!

  4. Jeff Kal. says:

    Hey Dean, read an article a while back about TRAINING your kidneys to conserve water. The article (I forget exactly where i read it) said that you can train your kidneys if you LIMIT your intake and don’t overdo the water on a routine basis. It works for me, I’ve never ever had a problem with dehydration. I never drink water to excess on a daily basis (in fact i rarely do) but replenish after workouts and drink during workouts if I go long (1.75 hours or more). anyway, i’m babbling, maybe you know the article.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Jeff,
      That sounds somewhat familiar… but can’t quote it for sure. My medical background puts me on the other side of that practice. I would be very cautious to advocate something like that. Though, it is true your body can conserve water that practice really has the potential of backfiring – more bad things than good things could happen. The fact is that our bodies need water for almost every function to work right. And since our bodies are mostly water… we gotta keep it up. On the other hand what I would say is that you are obviously getting sufficient fluids regardless of the timing of the intake otherwise you’d be suffering pretty bad… or in the emergency room all the time!!!

  5. Jeff Kal. says:

    my point was this really, I see athletes that drag around gallon jugs of water at our school — ” My coach told me I have to drink a gallon of water a day.” I think that’s rubbish. You are flushing your electrolytes and training your kidneys to NOT conserve water. I tell my runners (we’re in Northern Michigan where its NEVER really that hot) to just drink water normally and DONT overdo it and you’ll be fine.

  6. Dean Hebert says:

    Interesting … they advocate thirst as your guide… but the one thing they seem to avoid discussing is other research which specifically states that thirst is not a good indicator of hydration because it lags behind body need.

    I agree with you and OVER hydration is absolutely not healthy either. I’m also with you on “the don’t over do it” side of water intake. I do think we’ve been sold a bill of goods by fluid makers that isn’t accurate and is in their own interests… $$$$.

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