Getting and Staying Hydrated on Race Day

What we drink on race day will impact our performance as much as what we eat! Sailing is a strenuous physical activity. Though this video (at the bottom, be patient) is aimed at youth sailors on race day, it’s for every sailor, every day; high school and collegiate sailing teams, weekend regatta sailors, beer can racers, kids in sailing lessons, and those day sailing with the family.

Why Water is Important

Water makes up more than two-thirds of the weight of the human body so staying hydrated is super important. Water helps to lubricate and cushion our joints; it protects the brain and spinal cord; and transports waste products out of the body in the form of sweat, urine and poo. Being well hydrated helps with memory, brain function, mood, immune function and sports performance.

It’s Easy to Get Dehydrated!

It’s easier than ever to get dehydrated on the water, especially with the new tech fabrics. In the olden days when all we had was rotten cotton, we were wet sticky and uncomfortable which let us know we were sweating and needed water. Now, these wonderful fabrics wick away sweat and then dry quickly with cool offshore breezes so we can become dehydrated without even realizing it’s happening. Think beyond heat and sweat. We also lose water through the surface of skin in cold weather through shivering.

It’s not enough to drink only when we’re thirsty. Thirst is also not always a reliable indicator, especially in kids and adults over 50. For these age groups, our thirst mechanisms aren’t as sharp so the danger is that we may be slower to recognize thirst. This makes kids and the over 50 crew more at risk for becoming dehydrated.

Make a Hydration Plan

staying hydrated

Please use a reusable water bottle for your race day hydration needs!
Photo courtesy Benjamin Lambert on Unsplash.

The solution to prevent becoming dehydrated is to make a hydration plan for before, during and after our sailing adventures. We must replace any fluids lost, because dehydration can be very serious and potentially life threatening. Let’s start the plan by pre-hydrating, beginning a few days ahead of time. Pre-hydrating works well for preventing sea sickness too. The secret to staying hydrated is taking small frequent sips. Schedule them into your day. Set an alarm on your phone if you tend to get so focused that you forget. If you can’t take the time during racing or the conditions are such that it’s not an option, catch up between races, on the way back to shore and while de-rigging. Avoid chugging down large amounts of fluid. Your body will be happier with a steady supply. Where sea sickness is concerned, the chugging of fluids all at once will likely lead to them coming up all at once. Small. Frequent. Sips.

Other Sources for Staying Hydrated

staying hydrated

Apples are an excellent source of water, and portable too!
Photo courtesy Jasmine Raybon on Unsplash.

Water does the heavy lifting in our plan. It’s a super great choice. Please consider a reusable water bottle to cut down on the plastic water bottles clogging up our lakes and oceans. We can hydrate with food as well. It all counts. An apple has six ounces of fluid in it! Great options include apples, melons, berries, grapes, pineapples, peaches, carrots, celery, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, and cucumbers. Most of the foods on this list are more than 90% water, and all of them have the added benefits of fiber, vitamins and minerals! Wahoo!

Avoid caffeine and try ginger or peppermint tea instead for the energy without the crash that comes with caffeine and sugar. Speaking of sugar, if you chose Gatorade, dilute it to half strength with water or coconut water. There’s 34 grams of sugar in a 20 ounce bottle so go easy on it. If electrolyte replacement is in order, consider Pedialyte®️ or even better Shaklee’s Hydration®️, which is absorbed faster, has significantly less sugar and no artificial sweeteners.

The Rule of Thumb for Staying Hydrated

staying hydrated

Use your rule of thumb when going to the bathroom…
Photo courtesy Rawpixel on Unsplash.

The amount of water the body requires is different for everyone. It depends on the individual and the situation. Age, weight, and activity level all figure in. I’m sure there’s a complicated formula that involves fractions and exponents. I love math as much as the next guy, but I’m a bigger fan of a down and dirty way to remember things. The rule of thumb is that you’re well hydrated if you’re putting out plenty of pale yellow urine that’s the color of a Miller Lite beer – pale lemonade for the teetotalers among us.

The signs that you’re starting to lose the battle include a dry sticky mouth, a headache, tired muscles or muscle cramps, decreased urine output or dark colored urine. Signs that things are worsening and you’re headed for trouble are clues your boat mates may pick up on such as decreased coordination, disinterest in the race, irritability, or confusion. These are serious signs. We MUST stop the loss and replace the volume before it progresses to shock. Shock we don’t reverse is life threatening.

Let’s Have Each Other’s Backs Out There!

So pack a cooler with your favorite beverages and some high water content foods when you’re headed out on the water. Have a plan to stay hydrated and stick to it. Keep an eye on your mates to make sure they’re staying hydrated too. Let’s have each other’s backs out there. Go forth and be awesome.


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  1. Kay on February 1, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    It’s Great to see a nurse and sailor addressing nutrition for the very active sport of Sailboat Racing….sail fast and stay hydrated.

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