Swimmers - What’s Your HQ (Hydration Quotient)?

If you’re a swimmer, you probably already know how important training is to achieve your goals. Every lap in the pool takes its toll on the body yet swimmers have the unique ability to forget how their body is coping through sweating. As sweat dissolves in the water, it can be hard to know if you’re becoming dehydrated. Land athletes can measure their sweat rate but what do swimmers do?

Your hydration intelligence is an important factor in your performance. You don’t want to drink too much and then swim but you also don’t want to risk dehydration. How do you know how much you should drink? You can’t exactly drink while you are swimming, so when is best and how? Should you take in more than just water? If your trainer or coach is telling all of his or her swimmers to drink a certain amount of certain fluids, that advice may not be as accurate as you’d expect.

Related: What’s Your Sport HQ? Think You Know? Maybe Not.

The truth is, every body is different. What your body needs is likely not the same as the guy in the lane next to you. Even when temperatures and climate are controlled, such as in an indoor facility, how your body exerts energy, metabolizes nutrients and performs under pressure is very different from anyone else on your team.

At Trago, we’re not here to sell you a product. We want to equip you with the information you can use to train smarter so you can optimize every workout. We want you to be your best because we’re all about athletes. We’ve compiled some helpful tips and information you can use to boost your hydration and training IQ so you can perform at your very best. We’ve even talked with our scientists to find out their best training tips. Read on and see what you may not already know.


USA Swimming

USA Swimming is likely considered the preeminent authority when it comes to swim training and performance:

  • “As athletes progress, workouts get longer and tougher. It’s well established that exercise beyond 90 minutes benefits from a supplemental fuel source. The sports drink can provide it. But we still have hydration to think about. Drinks that are too strong, or “concentrated,” can provide the fuel but also inhibit fluid absorption and often lead to cramping.”
  • “Athletes need a little over 1 gram of carbohydrate for every kilogram they weigh (lbs/2.2) each hour after workout. And they need it within the first hour.”
  • “Beware of high protein drinks, as they often forgo the carbohydrate, and carbohydrate is what you are trying to replenish within that first hour after workout. If an additional carbohydrate source is not supplied, the body taps into stored protein, a.k.a. your muscles.”
  • “Staying hydrated during the day is just as critical as hydrating during and after workouts. Most athletes can do this by incorporating a variety of fluids into their daily diet. Juices are often healthier than sports drinks in that their sugars are natural and can be diluted with water. You can combine this with salty snacks.”
  • “While science tells us that swimmers should hydrate every 20 minutes, how does one make that happen in the pool? My advice is to bring drinks to the edge of the pool, at the end of the lane where you are swimming and being coached. At each pause in sets, take two to three swigs of fluid.”
  • “Energy drinks are NOT appropriate for fluid replacement during exercise. They are full of caffeine and other stimulants that may make you feel jittery and lead to dehydration. They also contain too many carbs to be useful for fluid replacement and may lead to stomach distress if consumed too close to the beginning of exercise.”

Related: Hydration as A 24-Hours A Day Routine


Swimming World Magazine

Swimming World Magazine offers more excellent advice for swimmers:

  • “While dehydration is a danger during any sport of physical exertion, it is more so during swimming. This is true for two reasons. First, when you exercise, you sweat. When you are in the water swimming, you do not realize that you are still sweating and losing fluid. Second, because you are surrounded by water, your brain is tricked to think you have all the fluid you need, and does not signal you mouth and throat to be thirsty.”
  • “Maintaining good hydration is particularly important to competitive and distance swimmers as the continuity of good hydration is important to kidney health. Red blood cell production begins in our kidneys and maintaining a good red blood cell count will directly impact our athletic performance, aerobic fitness and maximal oxygen consumption capacity (also called VO2 max). Our kidneys also play a key role in electrolyte balance.”
  • “Athletes are recommended to weigh themselves daily prior to training so they can become aware of decreases in body weight due to dehydration. Athletes who are down 1-2% in body weight can be assumed to be dehydrated.”
  • “Performance can suffer when a swimmer loses as little as 2% body weight as sweat. Average sweat losses have been estimated at 365 ml/hr and 415 ml/hr for female and male swimmers respectively, with sweat losses greater during the anaerobic threshold sessions than aerobic sessions.”
  • “It is a good strategy to be in electrolyte balance prior to your swim, race or competition. A good source of electrolytes comes from food. Fruits and vegetables, including canned or frozen vegetables like corn, carrots and green beans, are high in electrolytes, as are bread, milk and fruit. Water with a small pinch of salt, sugar and flour added to it will provide electrolytes and energy.”
  • “Muscle cramps are symptoms of improper hydration or electrolyte imbalance. It’s a good idea to take a salt pill with water at the onset of cramping to quickly stop the cramping.”
  • “Surprisingly, dehydration is a cold water hazard. Our body’s metabolism is revved up more so in cold water as the body strives to maintain a healthy core body temperature. More hydration is needed when swimming in cold water.”
  • “During exercise in a hot environment, a substantial rise in core body temperature is often linked with the onset of fatigue and dehydration. Fluid replacement before and during prolonged swimming in the warm water has been shown to be effective in reducing the elevation of body temperature and in extending swimming endurance and capacity. Long swims in a wetsuit in warm water can cause the body to overheat more quickly.”
  • “Recent studies have shown that ingestion of a cold drink before and during exercise in the heat reduced physiological strain during exercise, leading to an improved endurance capacity. Exercise time was longer with the cold drink than with the warm drink, as the cold drink lowered heart rate, and lowered skin and core temperature. Drinking cold drinks during exercise also reduced the need to sweat, resulting in a longer sweating capacity.”


Trago Scientists

If you can’t find what you need from USA Swimming and Swimming World Magazine, it’s probably not out there. But we partner with leading industry scientists to create our products and our nutritional supplements. We asked them what advice they could offer and here’s what Mark Kovacs of the Kovacs Institute had to say:

“When athletes are performing physical activity over 60 minutes at a high intensity, such as with swimming, it is usually necessary to incorporate a beverage that has carbohydrates to provide necessary energy. Anywhere from 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of intense exercise above the first 60 minutes are recommended based on the research.”

Whether you are an indoor swimmer or train and compete in open waters, staying hydrated is a science. You cannot wait until you feel thirsty or tired. Your training regimen should include practicing when, how and what you will drink along your route. Experiment with how much you drink at each interval and before and after a workout to see how your body responds.

Again, your body is different from anyone else’s so what works for a training partner may not work for you. During a competition is not the time to learn about your hydration needs. Your hydration quotient should be as well known as your lap times. One thing is for certain, the more comfortable you are with your hydration IQ, the better your performance will be.

Tags: heat, hydration, nutrition, open water swim, swim, swimming event, trago, water