Tour de France - Importance of Hydration April 02, 2019 02:34 Not a Member yet? $25/month Get Purple Patch Education Membership, A complete performance education program for coaches and athletes. SUBSCRIBE You need to sign in to view this page. Tour de France I hope that many of you have been able to watch some of the stages of this year's Tour de France. The annual pilgrimage through the roads of France (and Corsica for 2013) for the world's bests cyclists is unquestionably one of the most demanding sporting events in the world. More than three weeks of grueling racing through every imaginable weather, terrain and challenge places physiological and emotional stress beyond what most of us mere mortals can begin to imagine. Beyond being highly trained for the demands of the racing, the sport also requires massive thought and focus on several other supporting components of performance, including equipment, recovery, fueling, nutrition and, as we will review today, hydration. None of these components will make a champion,but any of them ignored will certainly destroy dreams and opportunities for a champion. Today I will focus on hydration with a focus on why it is important and how, if executed correctly, can facilitate optimal performance and recovery. The importance of hydration in endurance events: Let's first consider the role of proper hydration in endurance events. Most of us have some grasp on the fact that proper hydration is preferable over dehydration for athletes but do you know what proper hydration will accomplish? Well, a few of the positives of proper hydration are a delay of the onset of fatigue during training and competition, the ability to maintain focus during hard exertions, an improved recovery process to facilitate repeated performance and the maintenance of the immune system and health status. If we can keep an athlete hydrated they can stay focused, delay fatigue, recover well and have the potential to maximize their fitness and performance readiness. The Tour puzzle: In an event such as the Tour de France, which asks the athletes to back up massive efforts day after day, the challenge comes in multiple forms. We are interested in daily performance but also prevention of the athletes getting into too much of a negative physiological or nutrition 'hole'. The athletes must do all that is possible to support the physical riding with enough calories during and between the competition hours, minimize dehydration during the riding and restore hydration status following each day. If they can achieve these areas they will limit any additional assaults on their immune system through accidental 'athletic starvation' or highly dehydrated states. Both of which are highly corrosive to the immune system and to athletic performance. The strategy becomes a daily approach of damage limitation and of replenishment and is one of the gateways to allow for high quality daily performance, optimal recovery, as well as the riders staying healthy. You can almost think about the best performers being the riders who suffer and slow down the least relative to their competition or another way to look at it is damage limitation. Hydration is a key part of this damage limitation strategy. The sciency-bit. How does it work? You will likely know that water is key to cellular function and life but let's consider how it helps endurance performance. It is key to realize that you cannot remain fully hydrated on any single day of an event such as this. Every athlete will get dehydrated throughout the course of a day's riding at the Tour. The key is to get less dehydrated. The reason for this focuses mainly around the volume of blood in our body. To simplify the role of blood in our body we should consider two primary roles of our blood in endurance exercise, the first being the delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to our muscles for energy production (and the removal of nasty waste products), the other being the delivery of blood to the skin to dissipate the corrosive heat that is generated with work (exercise). When riders begin the Tour, in their fully hydrated state, their blood volume is optimal, so there is 'plenty to go around' and the muscles receive plenty of oxygen and the heat generated is easily dissipated. As the race continues the riders will become more and more dehydrated and as the blood is made up of plenty of water, our blood volume begins to drop. As the blood volume drops, coupled with increasing heat production as the work rate continues, the competition for blood within the body increases. In this battle the skin will always win as increasing heat can be life-threatening but how fast you ride you bike has little consequence to your brain and vital organs. This means more of your 'lowered blood volume' will get pushed to the skin, leaving less for the muscle and an early onset of fatigue. Not a good thing for elite athletes, hence it is easy to understand why hydration status should be preserved as much as possible. But this isn't all! In addition to maintaining hydration status the athlete must also continue to fuel their racing with adequate calories and hydration has an important role in this process also. When you sit at your dining room table and eat a meal, your absorption of ingested calories is highly efficient and unless you gorge yourself or eat too quickly, you shouldn't experience too much gastrointestinal distress. When you are exercising hard or racing your bike through the Pyrenees and Alps, the same cannot be said. Much of the blood normally used to facilitate absorption is being rushed to the muscles or skin, hence absorption is severely limited, yet the athletes still require calories to fuel the work. To achieve this the athletes need to 'micro-dose' caloric ingestion with small yet frequent feedings. To maximize absorption these calories need to be diluted down to around a 4 to 6% solution of calories relative to hydration. We get our athletes to think of their hydration as the transporter of calories and the shuttle that will keep them not only hydrated but well fueled. Recovery: Of course, once the day's racing is over, they have to step up and do it again the next day. The game now shifts to maximizing recovery and restoring hydration status to be able to race well on consecutive days. This is absolutely key to success and all riders will make a habit or ritual of rehydration following the racing of the day. It takes many hours to properly rehydrate following each stage so the frequent drinking of fluids throughout the afternoon and evening is critical. If the rider does a good job of re-hydrating they will maximize muscular recovery, restore hydration status back to 'normal' (as as close to it as possible) for the next day and open up the opportunity for good sleep at night. The key message is that, in events such as the Tour de France, the daily racing is already a massive stress. The key for the riders is to do all they can to minimize the negative effects of that stress, as well as prevent any additional suppression of their immune system and health through lack of execution on a completely controllable factor such as hydration. Ironically, you might not be racing in Le Tour this year but the same concept absolutely applies to you. Life is already stressful enough, don't add additional stress to your life by living it in a dehydrated state! Find your performance and support your life through optimal hydration. Your body will thank you and reward you with your optimal daily performance potential. Cheers, Matt Dixon Related articles Thirsty Work: IRONMAN Racing and Hydration Fueling for Racing Recipe of the Month Is depriving yourself of calories In training a good idea?