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The Importance of Hydration with Nigel Mitchell

Introducing Nigel

Nigel Mitchell is Head of Nutrition at British Cycling and Team Sky. Day by day he advises riders on what they should and shouldn't eat and drink, depending on where they are in their cycle of training and performance.

Over the next few weeks we'll be asking Nigel everything he knows. What does Victoria Pendleton really have for breakfast? What does Brad Wiggins need to drink on a stage of the Tour de France?

Nigel will also be answering your questions in an exclusive web chat for members coming soon. Email him your questions and we'll feature the best ones!

General body hydration

So why is it important to know about hydration. Nigel outlines here why water is key and chore to our survival.

‘The human body is roughly made up of about 70% water and if we don't drink enough we can suffer from chronic or long term mild dehydration. Drinks such as coffee, tea and alcohol can cause a mild diuretic affect because what's contained in them increases the speed of fluid loss. The volume in the blood gets reduced when you become dehydrated and fluid in the muscle reduces a bit.

‘This means that optimum level of performance in the muscle reduces so when we dehydrate our muscle doesn't function as well.'

Daily fluid consumption

Many people don't realise how much they need to drink and Nigel suggests that...

‘If you're well conditioned, you basically sweat more and turnover of fluid can increase. My suggestion is to take in 500ml of fluid in every couple of hours when you're not exercising. Tea and coffee counts but you should try and drink water as well. Herbal tea is also a good office drink - it has carbon effects to keep you stable and is perfect for the '3 O'clock lull'.

It's never harmful to drink too much though. In every day situations, even if you're doing a couple of hours exercise after work - water does the job.

The hour ride

Usually when popping out for a quick spin after work, it can be quite easy to think you don't need to drink as much. But the importance of drinking regular fluids, Nigel says is critical.

‘For people who generally drink less or sweat a lot a sports drink such as Gatorade (used by both GB and Team Sky) is ideal because it includes carbohydrates and electrolytes which will provide maintenance of blood sugar levels (to stop you bonking out!) but also the electrolytes make sure that the fluid is going into the system.

‘A lot of people think they're ok with just water (and they might be) but if you're tired after a ride then for recovery having something slightly more technical like a sports drink is perfect. It's just worth experimenting to see what works best for you.'

Knowing your body

Fairly experienced cyclists will tend to get used to knowing what fluid intake their body needs but Nigel insists it's just as easy for cycling novices to make sure they are correctly hydrated. ‘The more conditioned and better trained we are, the more we will start to understand our body. If someone's going out cycling three times a week and they're not used to how much they should be drinking, using products like Gatorade can help prevent hydration problems. The better conditioned you then become, the more you know how much fluid you will need to drink.

‘For example, if you're in good condition and fitness and you're heading out on a four hour ride, the best combination is to take a mixture of drinks, like a bottle of water and Gatorade. At Team Sky the procedure we have for riders usually involves a bottle of electrolyte drink and a bottle of water every hour. As it gets warmer we encourage the riders to maintain a bottle of electrolyte drink but take on two bottles of water per hour.'

‘The basic principal behind this hydration theory is that there's no harm in drinking more, but you will do yourself harm if you are not drinking enough. You're more susceptible to suffering in the heat when dehydrated and if you don't drink enough it can take you a long time to recover and make you'll feel unwell.

More to come...

We have plenty more advice and tips from Nigel to come over the next few weeks as we look at the importance of hydration and nutrition to training and why the professionals need to maintain a healthy lifestyle for maximum performance.