Friday, November 25, 2011

The Pit Stops: Refueling (Part I)

Have you ever seen a Formula 1 car race?

Those incredible machines can be driven at speeds greater than 350 km/h. They are perfectly designed to combine an extremely powerful engine with a very light and aerodynamic chassis. The result is a wonderful machine that can only be driven at its potential by the most talented pilots in the world.

But even the best machine and pilot needs to do “Pit Stops” during the races to change tires, fix any problem and refuel. If the Pit Stop is skipped, sooner or later, even the best engineered machines stop completely.

Well, your body, your Perfect Machine, is exactly the same.
To make it work properly and at its best, you need to do all your “Pit Stops”. And you have to do them at the right time and with the right fuel.

When you master this, your recovery times improve tremendously.

So let’s now concentrate on the “refueling” aspect of your pit stops. In other words, let’s see how you can best replenish all the nutrients and fluids that your body consumes during normal living and especially during sports training.


While you are having fun working out or practicing your favorite sport, you are basically wearing and tearing your machine's chassis (muscles and tendons) and consuming several resources in your body.

In simplified terms, you are consuming:
  1. Water : lost in great quantities to cool you off through sweating, and in minor quantities through your urine to depurate you of detritus resulting from the chemical reactions at cellular level
  2. Electrolytes: also lost trough your sweating, these are minerals like magnesium, potassium and sodium (that’s where the salty taste of your sweat is coming from)
  3. Glucose: consumed as the fastest source of energy to make your muscles contract and make you move. The faster you go (and the greater effort  you do), the fastest rate at which glucose is consumed
  4. Fats: consumed as a very concentrated, but slow source of energy. If you move easily and for a long time (like a hike) a great proportion of your energy is coming from fats. Fats are also used to repair cellular membranes.
  5. Amino Acids: these are the building blocks of protein which are used in large quantities to repair and reinforce the muscle fibers damaged during training. They are also consumed in small quantities to produce energy.

Let’s now see in more detail how you should replace these resources to make your Perfect Machine work at its best all the time.


This is the most important of all the resources. Make a mistake in your hydration, and your performance will decrease enormously and your post-workout recovery will take much longer.

Keep in mind that when you feel thirsty, you are already a bit dehydrated. Thus, drink constantly!

That sense of fatigue you get after you exercise can be greatly reduced if you drink enough before, during and after your workout.

  1. Drink all the time. Keep a water bottle next to you and keep sipping all day.
  2. Make sure you are going into your workout well hydrated by drinking one or two glasses of water half an hour before the start.
  3. Try to sip water continuously during your workout when you take short breaks. Just don’t drink much when you are working at extreme levels of intensity as your stomach might get upset. It is better to wait for the end if you are working out intensely for less than 30 minutes.
  4. Drink at least half a liter after your workout, and much more if you have been training for more than an hour or in hot conditions. The more you have sweated, the more you have to drink. It will also help you to carry out of your body the toxins produced during your training.


These work together with the water to keep you hydrated up to the cellular level.

If you have been sweating a lot (like in a hot marathon race), plain water will not be enough to hydrate you. The sweating makes you lose minerals (lots of sodium) from your blood and cells.

Actually, you need the electrolytes to carry the water inside the cells, otherwise you are only “washing up” the mineral content in your blood and cells (if this is taken to the extreme it is called hyponatremia which can be very dangerous).

Without the proper mineral balance, the electrical impulses sent from the brain are not transmitted well to the muscle fibers, so they cannot contract properly. That’s when the horribly painful muscle cramps appear!

  1. During prolonged workouts or long races (more than an hour), sip sports drinks (i.e. Gatorade or Powerade), in addition to lots of water. The greater the heat, the greater the amount of salts and minerals you have to drink in addition to your water.
  2. After your long workouts or races in the heat, eat salty food and keep drinking sports drinks in addition to your water. Your rehydration and recovery will be much faster this way.
If you have not sweated much, water is enough. The minerals lost with normal sweating are replaced with your meals. Thus, avoid sports drinks if you are not working out much (they have too much sugar that you do not need in short workouts!).

Bonus tip: 
(This is for those friends of yours who are alcohol lovers, not for you of course!)

After drinking lots of alcohol and before going to bed, drink at least half a liter of a sports drink with as much water as you can. 
Hangovers are mainly a severe state of dehydration caused by all the peeing (and vomiting!) done to eliminate the toxic alcohol from your body.
Thus, after the night out, and if you are conscious enough (I mean, your friend!) eat salty food, and drink a sports drink in addition to lots of water before going to bed. You will feel much better the day after... Well, that’s what they tell me ;)

OK. I’ll leave you here. Hopefully, you are now sipping from your water bottle and keeping well hydrated!
Next time, we’ll cover the other three resources that you need to replace to be in top conditions to perform at your best and recover faster.

In the meantime...

Train hard, drink hard!...water, I mean!

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