Drinking, or rather, Hydration

"Hydrate or Die."

This is the Camelbak company's aptly chosen motto, and I can't say how true this is. After hearing countless stories of people staying in the hospital overnight due to dehydration on things like cross-country bike rides, I think it's super important to address dehydration.

Here is the short of it: start hydrating, Right Now. Get up, get a glass or bottle of water, and come back. Do not read any further if you do not have water on hand. If you don't hydrate, it may very well be me, and not the sun or dryness, that kills you.

Pruitt argues that athletes are chronically dehydrated, and I think this is true. Rather than duplicate effort by posting the technical details of dehydration (which you can readily find on the Internet), I'll share some of my own stories.

I first began to realize that hydration was really important in college. There were times when I wasn't hungry, and was well rested, but still felt weak, tired, and somewhat nauseous. I learned, eventually, that drinking about 500ml of water would often pull me out of whatever was making me feel unwell. I now carry a water bottle with me everywhere, and fill it whenever it gets below the one-quarter mark.

As part of my diet, during which I lost about 50 pounds (details coming soon!), I started weighing myself right before going to sleep, and right after waking up and visiting the restroom. I found that I was always about 2-3 lbs lighter in the morning. As an example, I was 177.4 lbs last night, and 173.8 lbs this morning. All I did was sleep, and I lost four pounds of water weight through urine, exhalation and perspiration. Four pounds of water is about two liters, two Nalgenes, four Poland Spring bottles, three bicycle water bottles, or eight glasses.

When I ride my rollers during indoor workouts, I soak my bicycle and the floor with perspiration. My shoes become waterlogged and uncomfortable. I go through at least 750ml of water per hour just to break even. It's disgusting. However, when I ride outside, I am completely dry when I return. My heart rate and power meters tells me that I'm working at the same level of effort, which means I must be perspiring about the same amount. The roughly 20mph wind I face on the road takes all of that water away.

Your pee should be copious and clear. The military prints a color chart that they post next to urinals. If you don't believe me, check out http://www.topendsports.com/testing/tests/urine-color.htm.

When riders on my past Bike and Build trip started to get dehydrated, it was not always obvious. Sometimes, riders would seem to be fine, but then feel weak and/or pass out later in the evening, requiring a trip to the hospital (and requiring me to stay awake until 4am). Usually, when riders became quiet, started to become easily irritable, and turned down water, I knew drastic action was necessary. The last thing I ever want to see again is the sight of one of my co-riders lying weakly in a hospital bed, with an IV going in to them.

I'm guilty of dehydration myself, and went to the hospital once. In January of 2006, I was working in New York and going to the gym every day. I would do about 30-90 minutes of hard cardio, some lifting, then visit the steam room and sauna. I was not hydrating nearly enough. After about a week and a half of this, I had to take a day off of work because I had a fever and was not keeping down food. I was dehydrated. I learned my lesson.

In Wyoming, we had a trip meeting which started with everyone getting their water bottles and filling them. I was amazed that, two-thirds of the way across the country, people were still having trouble keeping hydrated. They would arrive at the end of the day, with their Camelbaks and water bottles empty. Always fill up whenever you can.

Without food, a human in good health can survive for about three weeks; without water, a the same human will survive for about three days.

In closing, and in regards to these horror stories, I will say that dehydration is easily preventable. All you need to do is drink more water than you think you need. If you hydrate in moderate excess, you will just evacuate the excess water. If you hydrate insufficiently, you will inevitably find yourself dehydrated. The interval matters, too: 250ml of water every 30 minutes is much more helpful than 1000ml of water every two hours!

I'm glad to say that I am now properly hydrated as a rule.

The Wikipedia page on dehydration is mandatory reading for any athlete, or anyone on a bicycle tour. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehydration. Don't say I didn't warn you.