STORY BY VOLKER NOLTE | PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
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When it comes to hydrating properly for rowing, there are plenty of misconceptions. Recently, I saw some oarsmen out for a one-hour row carrying a two-liter bottle of fluid, which they began drinking at the first turn after a two-kilometer warm-up, even though the temperature was in the 70s.
We spend lots of money on extra-light boats only to weigh them down with unnecessary bottles of thirst-quenchers. And we interrupt our training sessions to guzzle special drinks that cost a a pretty penny, not to mention the environmental impact of all those disposable plastic containers.
Your body needs adequate hydration to regulate its temperature, provide oxygen and nutrients to cells, lubricate joints, prevent infection, and maintain organ function. Water and electrolytes, especially sodium, are required to perform all these duties, and we have sensors that summon these substances from the intestines to the bloodstream when needed and excrete them through the kidneys when there’s an excess. When your body is hydrated optimally, you can perform physically and mentally at your best.
The body sheds water and electrolytes constantly as it seeks to maintain optimal function, especially when you’re burning large amounts of energy while engaging in an intense activity such as rowing. During exercise, a person of normal size and weight typically sweats about a liter per hour, but you can excrete as many as three liters of water during vigorous exercise in hot weather. That’s why you must replenish fluids regularly and why sensors signal your brain when there’s a deficit, triggering thirst. We can take in about eight-tenths to a full liter of fluid per hour, and the water we drink enters the blood within five minutes.
The body is able to tolerate fluctuations in fluid intake and compensate through existing stores without affecting performance. This means you can exercise and sweat for a certain period of time without having to worry about rehydrating constantly. Research suggests that a fluid loss of two to three percent can impair aerobic and cognitive function. For a well-hydrated rower weighing 150 pounds, this may occur after sweating off three to five pounds of water weight.
Most rowers exercise only once a day and for less than an hour. For such athletes, it’s sufficient to drink about 200 to 400 milliliters of water (seven to 14 ounces, or about a half point to a pint) about 20 minutes before training and then drink something they like, such as chocolate milk or orange or apple juice immediately after training, provided they follow a healthy diet. Meals provide most of your fluid needs as well as adequate electrolyte replacement, especially when the energy you consume equals the energy you expend. To be safe, you could carry a small reusable water bottle in the boat with 200 to 400 milliliters of cool water and take sips in the middle of training when you feel like it.
If you’re an athlete who works out twice or more a day or you row for more than 60 minutes, you need to be more proactive; a little cold water may not be enough. You must learn to drink regularly during exertion and recovery to replace the water and salt you’ve lost through perspiration.
Be careful, however, not to overdo it. In recent years, several runners have keeled over during marathons because they drank too much water before or during the race. The condition is called hyponatremia, and it results from excessive fluid intake. The solution: teaching runners to drink when they’re thirsty.
Which is sound advice for all athletes, including us rowers.