How to Stay Hydrated During the Tour of Sufferlandria
(Presented by Andy Blow of Precision Hydration, Official Hydration Solution of the 2019 Tour of Sufferlandria)
In the same way that using Four-Dimensional Power to personalize your workouts can help you get more out of training, personalizing your hydration strategy could really help you improve your performance, especially during something as grueling as The Tour of Sufferlandria. (Does ‘grueling’ do it justice?! Probably not…)
That’s because everyone loses a different amount of sodium in their sweat and, if you don’t get replacing that right, you risk hydration-related issues like cramp, dehydration and hyponatremia.
Sodium helps you maintain your blood plasma volume, which reduces cardiovascular strain and helps you avoid fatigue (and potentially cramp), so sodium supplements should be part of your hydration plan for any multi-day cycling event.
What’s interesting is that how much salt you lose in your sweat is largely genetically determined rather than being overly influenced by things like diet and acclimation to a new climate, so nailing your hydration plan is very much something you need to experiment with yourself rather than blindly following generic advice.
As you train for this year’s serving of agony and despair, here are some things to test so that you have things dialled in when the 2nd of February rolls around…
What to do before each stage
When people talk about hydration, most of the time it's about what and how much athletes should drink during exercise.
These are clearly important questions, but your performance is also massively influenced by how hydrated you are when you start exercising in the first place.
Once you begin suffering (and sweating) you're generally going to be fighting a losing battle against fluid and electrolyte loss, so starting off properly hydrated can be extremely beneficial.
Despite the relatively obvious benefits of starting exercise well hydrated, a recent study of over 400 amateur athletes showed that around 31% of them were turning up to training sessions (and, in some cases, races) dehydrated!
Here are some tips to help you start each stage of the Tour well hydrated
- DON’T just drink lots of water in the build up. You can end up diluting your body’s sodium levels before you start, increasing the risk of hyponatremia. At best you’ll end up with a lot of fluid sloshing around in your stomach/bladder.
- Add some sodium to your pre-stage drinks (and meals) to help you absorb and retain more fluid in your bloodstream. This means you’ll have a bigger reservoir of electrolytes/ fluids to draw upon once the race begins and you start sweating some of it out. Having more blood makes it easier for your cardiovascular system to meet the competing demands of cooling you down and delivering oxygen to your muscles.
- Drink a stronger electrolyte drink about 90 mins before you start each stage to top-up your blood plasma volume. Aim for drinks containing >1,000mg of sodium per litre; Precision Hydration 1500 is ideal for helping you start hydrated, for example. Finish your drink >45 minutes before you set off to give your body time to fully absorb what it needs and remove any excess.
Related: Learn more about how to start hydrated.
What to drink during each stage
With most of the stages lasting around one hour, there’s a limit to how much fluid you’ll be able to take on (especially given how much suffering you’ll be doing), which is why starting hydrated is so important.
That said, some fluid/electrolyte intake is going to be required to maintain your performance during each agonising stage.
It's always tricky to nail this down to an exact number, you have to learn to listen to your body to get it just right. But, very few athletes can drink much more than 750ml-1L (25oz-34oz) an hour so - unless experience tells you otherwise - it’s unlikely you’ll need to drink more than that, especially if you started well hydrated.
We’d recommend having a bottle or two of water or, if you’re a heavier/saltier sweater, an electrolyte drink on hand and drinking that to thirst during each stage. Our free Sweat Test can give you an idea of the right strength(s) for you based on how you sweat.
During the longer (weekend) stages, you might decide to drink another bottle of a stronger electrolyte drink in between the individual sessions to help top-up your fluid/electrolyte levels before you get back on the bike for another slice of Pain Pie.
Feeling thirsty? Have a dry mouth? You may not be drinking enough. Try to respond to the early signs of thirst and not leave it too late.
Bloated? Fluid sloshing around in your stomach? Need to pee during the ride? You might be drinking too much. Don't force fluids down if you don’t feel you want them.
Worried about cramping up? Learn more about avoiding cramp.
What to drink after each stage
These days most experts agree (for the most part) that prolonged exercise nearly always ends up in some level of uncorrected dehydration. People rarely drink enough to replace 100% of their sweat losses and, as a result, post exercise rehydration is extremely important because this is when the body is best placed to rebalance its fluid and electrolyte levels.
100% of your sweat losses (both fluid and sodium) need to be replaced at some point if your recovery is to be considered ‘complete’.
And a complete recovery is essential before you go out again - say to complete the next section of the longer ToS stages - that’s if you want to perform at your best. If you don’t fully recover, it’s highly likely you’ll run into problems when you try to dig deep.
Your rehydrating strategy after exercise is dependent on two key factors:
- The level of dehydration you’re at when you finish
- How soon afterwards you need to be 100% ready to perform again
When your sweat losses are low
When your sweat losses have been fairly low and when you don’t need to perform again for a while, simply drinking and eating normally is usually enough to replace all of the fluids and electrolytes you lost.
Homeostasis stimulates you to drink to satisfy your thirst, you get a bit of sodium from your food, and your body does it’s rebalancing act with what you consume and pee out. Before you know it, everything is back to normal.
Admittedly that’s an unlikely outcome of the torture you’re committing yourself to in this particular case, but it’s often the case after many ‘standard’ training sessions at other times of the year.
When your sweat losses are high
But, when your sweat losses are high, or you have to restore fluid balance rapidly because you’re exercising again later in that day (say during the longer ToS stages), a more proactive approach to rehydration may be needed to help your body restore equilibrium in a short space of time.
In these circumstances, we recommend mixing up a 500ml (16oz) bottle or two of a stronger sports drink like Precision Hydration 1500 to drink to thirst in those first few hours after you finish.
Learn more about aiding your recovery through rehydration
I hope you find this useful as you prepare for your quest for honor, glory and victory. If it’s useful, you can use the code SUFFER to get your first box or tube of Precision Hydration’s multi-strength electrolyte supplements free (plus a small shipping fee) if you’d like to test a hydration plan that matches how you sweat.
May your suffering be long and fruitful,
—Andy Blow, Replenisher of Holy Water and Founder of Precision Hydration
Andy has a degree in Sport and Exercise Science and was once the Team Sports Scientist for the Benetton and Renault F1 teams. He has a few top 10 Ironman and 70.3 finishes and an Xterra World Age Group title to his name and these days competes in swim / run and the occasional paddling event.