About 60% of the human adult body is water. The brain and heart are 73% water, lungs are about 83% water, the skin 64% and muscles are 79%! Once those hydration levels get out of balance, you’ll start slowing down as the symptoms of dehydration take over your body as it tries to protect itself. Just 1% body weight loss from dehydration will measurably compromise athletic performance. 6% and you’re probably on the way to the hospital.

When we exercise, the body heats up as a side affect of it converting fuel to energy. As we continue to exercise we start to sweat in an effort to remove that heat, all of which negatively impacts our hydration levels. The hotter the weather and / or the harder you are working, the quicker that fluid and important salts leave your body … which you will need to replace to maintain optimal performance in an endurance race like Chattajack. As you can imagine, if the weather is hot on race day, your hydration plan should look very different than if it’s cold. But there’s a balance, as consume too much liquid and you’ll feel like you have a swimming pool sloshing around in your stomach or worst case scenario, lead to water intoxication called hyponatremia.

So a strategic, frequent consumption of fluid replacement is vital in a 4+ hour race. The benchmark volume from sports scientists suggests that 1/2 liter (500ml) or 17 fl oz per hour on average is where we should start with our fluid replacement during extended exercise and then adjusted up or down based on race day temperature, how hard you’ll be working, how well trained you are, how well acclimatized to race day weather and your physical size (bigger folks will typically need more). But even under the most extreme conditions (high temperature + high intensity) you can only absorb just under a 1 liter (1000ml) or 34 fl oz of water per hour. Everyone is different, so experimenting with these numbers in training is so important to a successful Chattajack, but 500ml per hour is a great place to start your experimentation.

Firstly let me state that you can totally race Chattajack on water alone and some may even choose to use water and a sports drink separately. But, electrolytes are responsible for water absorption in the gut and how much water remains inside and outside our cells. The electrolyte “sodium” is particularly important in this process and is the reason your sweat tastes salting. During the sweating process described above, we excrete these electrolytes, which can create an imbalance, slowing down absorption of water and cause other problems that can negatively impact athletic performance. To that end, we should probably be racing with an electrolyte enhanced water based liquid, especially so if it’s hot and/or humid. There’s a plethora of “sports” drinks out there, but many of them are packed with excessive and unnecessary sugars and stimulants, so before narrowing down your choice for an electrolyte replenishing sports drink, make sure you are experimenting in training.

A great way of making an objective decision regarding hydration volumes and whether body responds well to your chosen beverage solution, is to weigh yourself before and after your long training paddles. (Make sure wet clothing doesn’t impact the scale.) The difference between your start and finish weight is primarily from fluid gain or loose. The goal is simply to minimize your weigh change over the paddle. This information should allow you to dial in an optimal fluid replacement strategy for Chattajack. From my own experimentation, at Chattajack intensities on a comfortable (~75F) day in humid western North Carolina, I tend to need about 350-400ml of fluid per hour to maintain body weight as established from this method. Conditions on race day will determine if I decrease or increase volumes from this personal baseline. As I covered in my previous article regarding Chattajack nutrition, I prefer to use products from Science In Sport (SIS) for my nutritional and hydration needs while racing.

My preferred method of drinking and consuming calories while racing a kayak is from a drinking bag / bladder positioned in front of my surfski foot plate. This keeps the center of gravity low and the bag of liquid in view, so I can monitor my consumed volumes and stick to plan. I will set my watch to beep at predetermined intervals to remind me to drink. That interval will vary based on race day temperature. From there, I attach the drink hose up to a lanyard I keep around my neck. This keeps the drink hose very close to my mouth. I have tried using insulated or wired hoses to keep it directly in front of my mouth, but I found the rotating movement of the kayak stroke just got in the way, so I let it hang on my chest and simply quickly grab it when needed. This almost hands free solution allows me to just grab the drink hose and stick it in my mouth and then I’m straight back to paddling while I drink. One missed stroke at the most. Why is this important? If I am shoulder to shoulder with a competitor and I see them slow to grab a gel or water bottle, the first thing I am going to do is accelerate so they have to forget the idea of drinking or drop off the wake. It’s one of the simplest ways of breaking a competitor in a long race!