TrainingPeaks CoachCast

Ep. 17: Hydration Strategy with Andy Blow

March 25, 2019 Season 1 Episode 17
TrainingPeaks CoachCast
Ep. 17: Hydration Strategy with Andy Blow
Chapters
TrainingPeaks CoachCast
Ep. 17: Hydration Strategy with Andy Blow
Mar 25, 2019 Season 1 Episode 17
TrainingPeaks
Dave sat down with Andy Blow, co-founder of Precision Hydration, to discuss his journey as an athlete and sports scientist to build more effective hydration supplements and plans.
Show Notes Transcript

Are you or your athletes struggling with GI issues, fatigue, and poor performance during races even after adjusting your nutrition strategy? You might be suffering from hyponatremia, an imbalance of sodium sometimes caused by over-hydrating. 

After suffering from hyponatremia himself, Andy Blow, co-founder of Precision Hydration, started his journey to help athletes solve their own hydration problems. Andy struggled with performance issues in hot, humid races, and discovered that his sweat was particularly salty. More importantly, he realized that there were effective ways to measure sweat composition and subsequently replace the water and salt as it was lost. Now, Andy works to help make sure other athletes have the hydration plans, supplements, and knowledge to perform better in challenging conditions.

Introduction:
0:00
On today's episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, your source for the latest information about the art, science, and business of coaching.
Introduction:
0:10
Have your athletes been doing everything right when it comes to nutrition, but still suffer from GI issues or poor performance? Maybe it's not nutrition after all, but hypernatremia.
Dave Schell:
0:25
Hey guys, Dave Schell here and on this week's episode of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast, I sat down with Andy Blow, the founder of Precision Hydration. Andy's a former triathlete who've suffered from poor performance and GI issues. What Andy found after digging in and doing some research was that he was a really salty sweater and so the issue was that he wasn't replenishing the salt he was sweating out in his hydration drink. So in talking with Andy I had several revelations, one of which is that I too probably am a salty sweater and could benefit from more salt in my drink. Hope you enjoy.
Dave Schell:
1:01
Welcome to the TrainingPeaks CoachCast. I'm your host Dave Schell and today I am joined by Andy Blow, Andy as a former elite triathlete, sports scientist, and founder of Precision Hydration. Andy, thanks for joining us.
Andy Blow:
1:14
Hi, Dave. Yeah, thanks for having me on.
Dave Schell:
1:15
So before we get started, could you just tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself in your own words?
Andy Blow:
1:21
Yeah, as you say, I used to do triathlon. Elite's a strong word. I don't know if I was really elite, but I raced at a sort of semi or professional level for a few years doing IRONMAN, uh, amongst other things, Xterra,, as well. And it was through doing sport myself, although I have a background in sports science and physiology, it was really through doing the sport myself that I learned the hard way about hydration and how that can impact your performance.
Dave Schell:
1:47
And, so, what is it exactly that led you to create Precision Hydration?
Andy Blow:
1:52
I think in a nutshell, I basically tended to perform really quite well by my own standards in cooler conditions. I would go to Kona in the heat and humidity or places like that and I would just suck really badly. And that was, I always put that down, at first, the fact I was not, I just thought I wasn't good in the heat. Some people are, some people aren't. But, I later learned that I was messing up my hydration and I got hypernatremia pretty badly a couple of occasions and really that that was a big wake up call. I learned a lot about electrolyte and fluid balance and actually managed to towards the end of my career put out some pretty decent performances in the heat because of what I'd learned. So, then working with athletes, the natural thing to do was pass that learning on and try and expand it and it, it just gradually evolve into what is now Precision Hydration.
Dave Schell:
2:44
So what exactly, you said that you were having trouble with your hydration strategy, I guess I would ask you, did you have a hydration strategy when you were racing or was it just kind of drink plain water or were you drinking sports drinks? What was it that wasn't working for you?
Andy Blow:
2:57
Yeah, I was a sports science student in the 1990s when the hydration messaging was pretty clearly like drink a lot and dehydration was the big enemy. You need to drink a lot. And so I was definitely in the zone for thinking I needed to drink loads. So I probably, I did drink quite a lot of water when I was racing. I did drink sports drinks as well, but it was all, the philosophy was basically the more is better. And if my performance started to dip in the heat, I would assume I'd need to drink even more. Uh, what I, what I didn't appreciate was that if you're, when you're sweating you often are losing a lot of salt. And the fact was, which I learned retrospectively, is that I lose a ton of salt in my sweat. And some people do, it's a genetic factor. Uh, and I wasn't a, I wasn't replacing that anywhere near the rate. So I was, I was like over-replacing fluid and under-replacing salts. And that led me to be, you know, pretty nauseas in races, cramping, walking, delirious. And really not enjoying myself very much. So, it was, it was through learning those two facts, you know, I sweat more salt and I need to reign in actually the fluid intake that caused me to, you know, that was a light bulb moment for me when I figured that out.
Dave Schell:
4:05
It seems like I coach athletes and it seems like over the last couple of years or so, one of the things I've had to battle is that everybody wants to take salt pills. Like they think if I'm doing something or if it's going to be hot, I need salt pills. So, why couldn't an athlete just supplement salt with water to counteract that salty sweat?
Andy Blow:
4:26
Yeah, I think in a lot of cases they can. What it comes down to is, is really some athletes probably require little or no salt supplementation. Some athletes require absolutely tons of salt supplementation and everyone else exists on a continuum between those two points and where the messaging in the industry struggles is that people like a definitive yes or no answer. Do I need to take salt or not? Do I need to drink this drink or not? And it's all about individualization. You know, for me, I used to take a lot of salt capsules when I learned that I needed to take a lot, and that made a huge difference to my performance. And to a degree, if you need a lot of salt, it kind of doesn't matter where it comes from. You can take a salty drink, you can eat saltier foods, you can take salt capsules, but it's the ratio of salt with fluid that you take in that matters for you as an individual. I was very guilty of copying what other athletes did or listening to, you know, advice or reading things on the Internet that, um, would send me off in a different direction. But, often they're, they're quite, they're either quite individual to someone else or they're quite extreme viewpoints. And, really the message that we try to promote through Precision Hydration is, as an individual, your needs are fairly unique to you. You need to figure out what those are and then pursue a strategy that works for you.
Dave Schell:
5:47
And, so, how would a coach or an athlete go about figuring out what is, what is their sweat rate and individualize that strategy.
Andy Blow:
5:56
Yeah, there's, there's two factors to sweating. There's how much you sweat and then there's what's in the sweat. And some people sweat a lot and they often know it because they see that that's a very visibly obvious, you know, I'm, I'm that guy on the indoor trainer who's got a lake underneath them who, you know, I rust up my bikes if I train on them indoors all the time because I sweat on them so much. And we meet people all the time who've got massive high sweat rates. But. Um, just because you've got massive high sweat rate doesn't mean you've got a massively high sweat sodium concentration as well. I happen to have that as well. But really, so starting with sweat rate you can predict it from just what you know about yourself. You know, do you feel like you sweat more or less than other people and have a guest or you can weigh yourself before and after exercise and get an estimate of that. On our website there's a, we've written a blog because so many people ask us that question with a link to a free spreadsheet. They can download, plug in their numbers for their sweat sodium. Sorry, for their, uh, their body weight pre and post exercise with correction for how much they drank and it tells them their sweat rate. And that's a useful starting point just to get a handle on it. And you know, sometimes we see sweat rates in people as low as half a liter per hour or 16 ounces an hour. Sometimes it can be, you know, an average might be a liter or 32 ounces an hour in hot conditions or bigger athletes or athletes working really hard. They might sweat two or even three liters, you know, an hour, which is, I don't know what that is ounces. It's like a 70 or 80 plus ounces an hour.
Dave Schell:
7:32
I was going to say, that's close to a gallon, right?
Andy Blow:
7:33
Yeah, exactly. And, and so the variation is quite large, but that's kind of easy to pin down. And what's slightly harder to figure out on your own is how much salt you lose in your sweat. There are lots of telltale signs though. If you've got salt crust on your skin after races, if you crave salt, if you often get muscle cramps, if you just basically feel like crap when you race in the heat, then they're all good indications. If the salts, the sweats things in your eyes, they're all good indications that you are losing more salt than average. Um, we've actually got an online sweat test if you like on our website, which is precision hydration.com. You can click through that for free, ask you a lot of questions and then suggest whether you might be a light, moderate or heavy sweat and sodium losing athlete and give you some, a steer on some strategies you can take in those cases. And then beyond that, we also have technology where we can test athletes' sweat. So we can actually take a sweat sample, measure the electrolyte concentration, and, and really, you know, much more accurately define what you're losing.
Dave Schell:
8:41
So let me start first with the questionnaire online and I don't know if you saw, but the kind of light bulb went off in my head because as you were describing some of those things I've, I've definitely noticed on my helmet straps, sometimes I've got the white and things like that and I figured it was just cumulative over time. Um, but then you said something about it stinging your eyes and that's something I've been battling for the last couple of years. Where it's like I have to sometimes stop riding until I get to sweat out of my eyes. So it sounds like I might be one of those salty sweaters.
Andy Blow:
9:15
Yeah, it could well be. The athletes who know their bodies well, when you start to point them in the right direction, you know, suggesting the things they might be looking for. They either do what you do just then, like you say, the light bulb kind of goes on or they say, "I don't know why you're asking me these questions. It's not an issue." And the guys for whom it's like not an issue or they don't perceive it to be often it's not. Whereas when people do you know, think, oh yeah, well I have felt like this or that and yeah, when, when I do sweat if I've got a cut or if it goes in my eyes, it really stings. Then that can be an indication that you're losing a bit more salt and it's very simple from there really. You just experiment with the levels that you're taking in. A lot of commercial sports nutrition products contain electrolytes and they do a lot of marketing around the fact that they do, but generally they contain fairly low or moderate amounts which are good for a good amount of people, but they're not so relevant for people who lose tons of sweat, tons of salt and who do really, really long, hot endurance events. And that's a big part of our niche audience if you like, are people that are doing more crazy or extreme stuff or have more crazy extreme losses and they, they tend to approach this and go, "I'm so glad I found you guys because I thought, you know, I was taking this whatever product and it, it was not really working, but now I've tried something which is like three times stronger and all of a sudden it's made a huge difference."
Dave Schell:
10:41
Yeah. And so I want to go back to actually getting tested. So going and doing that test, is that something that's widely available to athletes or is it pretty specialized where they'd have to find somebody in their area or are they even going to be able to find somebody in their area to do that more?
Andy Blow:
10:58
Yeah, it depends. It depends where they are. Our network of test centers is expanding all the time. We have a number across the US now in, in a lot of, you know, places like Colorado and Boulder where there's a lot of endurance athletes. We've got test centers and we've got them in, we've got one in New York and we, one in California, um, we've got a couple in Texas now. So the network is building, but oftentimes people have to travel for that. We go on the road a fair bit and do testing events and we take requests from people, you know, we don't mind showing up and testing a bunch of athletes 'sweat if, uh, if they want to have us for a few days so they can, they can look on our website basically. And try and hunt out a place and you know, all the time we're trying to make it more widely available.
Dave Schell:
11:42
Okay. So when an athlete or a coach determines that sweat rate, is there something that's different about Precision Hydration that is going to adjust the amount of sodium in the drink or is it you're just drinking more or less of it?
Andy Blow:
11:56
Um, yeah, there's nothing, well one thing we always try to be very up front about is, you know, we don't, we don't pretend to be selling anything magic here. You know, we have different levels of electrolytes in different drinks. So we have a sort of base formulation with either no calories or a few calories in there and then a variable amount of sodium. Because when you're competing as an endurance athlete or training hard, you need three things. You need calories, you need water, and you need salt, and you need those things in different proportions. And if everyone drinks the same product to use the same product, they're all kind of getting a one-size-fits-all approach. So all we do is we offer three or four different sizes if you like, or three or four different strengths and you, you pick the one that's most appropriate to you and go from there. And the important thing is the recommendations that you get from either an online sweat test or an actual sweat test are to put you in the right ballpark for you to do some constructive trial and error your own and get to the, get to the ideal solution for you.
Dave Schell:
12:56
You had mentioned, um, some of the risks of hypernatremia. Um, you said you would get nauseous, maybe some muscle cramps, things like that. Are there other things that might be indicative of an athlete, with hypernatremia?
Andy Blow:
13:09
One of the big things is they often feel quite confused because hypernatremia affects the brain and that's the danger with it. What happens is when your blood sodium levels start to drop, if you keep drinking, your body, if you can't pay enough, as you sometimes can't, when you're exercising, you retain too much fluid. The fluid gets shunted into your cells, including your brain cells and your brain swells up basically. And that's the really nasty part. It can make you very, very ill. So kind of confusion, dizziness, lethargy, nausea. It, it can feel just like how people feel at the end of an IRONMAN or something. And that's the, that's kind of the dangerous part. And they even, it can even be confused with how you might feel if you dehydrated because you can get headaches and stuff. So sometimes, and I'm sure there have been cases where people have, have been given, you know, been treated for dehydration. It's made the hypernatremia worse. So, you know, medics and people at events are a lot more aware of the issue now and they have a different treatment protocol for people with hyponatremia than dehydration. Obviously you have to give them a lot more salt. Um, so it's not always obvious the signs of it, but one of the signs or one of the things, if you can possibly think about it, which is difficult when you're under those conditions is like how much have I been drinking? Cause if you've been, if you've only been sipping, you know, 12, 16 ounces now for the last few hours, the chances are you're not becoming hypernatremic because you've been drinking a very small amount relative to what you've probably been sweating. If you've been pounding 32 ounces, 48 ounces an hour for the last few hours, then you know, probably it's time to back off. If you feel bloated in your stomach, if you feel water sloshing around because your body doesn't want to absorb it, if you're, if you're trying to pee a lot, if you're peeing is very clear. All of those things can point towards the fact that you've taken on too much fluid.
Dave Schell:
14:59
Is there anything else that, it seems like hydration seems pretty simple and you know, it shouldn't, you shouldn't maybe need this detailed strategy and things like this, but is there anything else you see as kind of common mistakes that athletes are making with their hydration strategy as far as the food they're combining or, um, things like that?
Andy Blow:
15:18
The most common mistakes are I think pre-hydrating too aggressively before competition and training. People often think they have a big race or a big training session or they go to a race going to be very hot and they, they start chugging loads of water and fluids in the days building up. And whilst it's a good idea to maybe increase your fluid intake a little bit to make sure you are well topped up, then chugging loads of water is actually going to start the hypernatremia process, the dilution process in the days before. And I'm pretty sure when I look back at what I was doing a pre Kona many years ago is I'd arrive in Kona and drink and just start drinking because it was hot and humid and I would just drink and just be peeing all the time thinking this is great, I'm peeing, it's clear, I'm really hydrated. Well I was probably doing myself more harm than good. So I think don't, don't go crazy with the pre-hydration is a, is a real big one. Uh, another one is, is probably either having no plan for hydration at all or having too rigid a plan. We always talk to people about having a flexible plan. So having a bit of an idea. Okay, in the conditions that we're expecting in this race based on testing I've done in training based on past experience, I reckon I might be drinking 20 to 30 ounces an hour. Um, and using that as a flexible basis to determine, okay, so if I'm only drinking 10 or 12 ounces I'm probably well below. But if I'm drinking 30 or 40 answers, I may be going too far above. But testing and adjusting as you go by listening to your body because your body is giving you feedback all the time. And we sometimes as analytical endurance athletes overthink things and over complicate them. So we're always encouraging people to get in tune with your body, you know, have, have a predetermined plan about the type of stuff that you're going to drink because you've used it and it's worked for you in the past and it's worked in similar conditions. Have an idea of how much you're going to need so you've got access to it, but then let your body guide you quite a lot on the day. So good example of that would be having water and an electrolyte drink. So, because when you want water, when you're thirsty for water, it means that the salt levels in your blood are getting higher and your body's craving it. You should listen to that. But, other times an electrolyte drink will taste fantastic. And that little salty tang is what your body is craving, and that's probably when it needs to salts. So you've got to, you got to tune into your body's cravings and listen to them. But if you're well-prepared beforehand, you'll have the right things on hand and you know what cues to listen for.
Dave Schell:
17:47
Yeah. And that's great. I was actually going to ask you, you had mentioned the sloshy stomach and er sloshy feeling in your stomach and I was going to ask what the other side of that looks like. And it sounds like when you just don't want anymore to drink, you just want that plain water, that's a sign.
Andy Blow:
18:02
Yeah. Even, I mean, I lose tons of salt. I lose tons of fluid, but I'll always have bottles of water nearby in a race whether I'm doing a long run with a pack where I've got a squeezy bottle of water on the floor or on the bike, I'll have one electrolyte drink, one water. So that when that feeling comes where you think I've had enough of this, I just want some good old plain water, then it's there.
Dave Schell:
18:23
Are there any resources you'd recommend for coaches to go find out more about this? Um, I know that you've written a blog for us on the TrainingPeaks blog. Any other resources either on your website or other places they could find?
Andy Blow:
18:36
Yeah, we have a pretty comprehensive list of blogs on our, on our website. And, if you go to PrecisionHydration.com there's a tab called hydration advice. It's not actually all hydration advice these days. We have a lot of other articles, but that's a, that's a good starting place. And if anyone is interested in specific topics, the best thing they can do is email is at hello@precisionhydration.com. We're a small little team. We, we answer all the emails that come in, and we would definitely send anyone a list of relevant blogs if there, if they want some help with that.
Dave Schell:
19:09
Cool. That's right. You and I were talking offline earlier and, um, you're told me that you think James, is that his name?
Andy Blow:
19:16
Yeah, JP.
Dave Schell:
19:18
Yeah, he's just sitting there around the clock answering emails and providing some pretty, um, pretty great advice to athletes or coaches that need help
Andy Blow:
19:27
Yeah, he is. JP's great. He's a, he's a sort of very accomplished age group triathlete himself. He has a sports science degree, he used our products for years and he's, he's, yeah, we wheel him out and give him some vitamin D occasionally, but the rest of the time if he's not training he is in front of the laptop answering emails.
Dave Schell:
19:45
He sounds like a good person to have on your team for sure. Cool. Um, so if the listeners are interested in trying out Precision Hydration, where would they go to find it?
Andy Blow:
19:57
We're all, we're basically online. PrecisionHydration.com. Um, we ship products in the US, in the UK and all around the world really now. We've set up a code for TrainingPeaks coaches and athletes, which is Peaks15, which if they enter that in at the checkout, if they want to buy any of our products, they get 15% discount. And, yeah, we don't stock in many retail stores. We tend to just stay direct online so we can be in contact with our customers and help them out because the most important thing we think with sports nutrition is getting the right product for the right job and using it right. So if we can, if we can end to end that process with people, we get better results and the end result is athletes that do better.
Dave Schell:
20:41
Before I let you go, any other, um, things we may not have talked about? Any tips or kind of words, advice for a coach in regards to hydration?
Andy Blow:
20:50
I think the biggest one with for coaches is that like in many other aspects, it's tempting to fall back in areas where you, where there's not a great consensus of evidence-based information, there's lots of different evidence out there about hydration, lots of different opinions. Where it's a bit conflicting, coaches often fall back on their own experience and they go, "this is what worked for me." And I think we've had lots of stories from people saying, "my coach told me that they used to do this and this worked really well for them." And it's like, and that's, that's kind of good in a way that the coach is, you know, is basing it on something. It's not just that they have experience, but hydration is so individual. If that coach's physiology or their, the their sweat rate and sweat sodium is so different to yours then that that advice could be really inappropriate for you. So if you're coaching people, I'd say just step back and just do a bit of reading and understand these individual variations. Because we've definitely worked with coaches who've said, I don't believe that athletes need supplementation of sodium. And then you drill a bit deeper and you maybe find out, well, you know, if their physiology dictated they didn't need it, then that's what they're basing that on. Whereas those that need loads, they might be very pro-supplementation. I can put my hand up there and say, you know, when I was coaching, after I'd found out that this really worked for me, this was like, uh, this was like my hammer and the world became a nail and it was like more sodium, more salt, and, and it went too far the other way. Now I would hope I have a more balanced view, which is, look, you know, we just need to figure out what works for an individual. And so basically treat your athletes as individuals and do some research on what they need and you'll get the best results.
Dave Schell:
22:32
Cool. Thanks a lot for your time. I definitely appreciate it and I know that I've got quite a few things out of that, and yeah, thanks Andy.
Andy Blow:
22:39
Yeah, thanks for having me on.
Dave Schell:
22:40
Hey guys. Dave here again. Hope you enjoyed my talk with Andy Blow and I hope you learned some things. I know that I certainly did. If you want to take advantage of the code that Andy mentioned, we will put in the show notes and be sure to check out the 2019 Endurance Coaching Summit in Boulder, Colorado, September 18th through 20th. Hope to see you there.
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