Hydration and Hormones: What women need to know

As we enter the warm weather riding season hydration comes to mind - what to drink! Every single ride I do a couple of things: check my tires and fill up my water bottles. One day, last year amidst the chaos of getting two little kids breakfast and dashing out the door for an early morning ride I left both my bottles on the counter. I didn’t notice until we were 20 kilometres from nowhere. With one water bottle between two riders we chose to turn around to find the a convenience store (always keep some cash in your saddle bag!) and alter our route so we could repeatedly fill up our bottles. Hydration is that important - we changed our ride plans just to ensure on that warmer than expected day we were making better hydration choices. But what those choices are might not be as straight forward as you may think. Dr. Stacy T. Sims, an exercise physiologist and nutritional scientist spent from 2007-12 at Stanford University studying the sex differences of nutritional considerations for recovery and performance. Her research inspired her to found a company to make hydration products for women. Sims’ research has made her an invaluable resource for female athletes.

Women and water

Sims research suggests that women are five times more likely to have gastrointestinal challenges than men. Unfortunately that means: bring on the bloating and gas. Women are also more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The traditional idea of drinking a certain amount an hour does not necessarily fit for women. (To make a large generalization she suggest five to six millilitres of hydration per pound of body weight per hour. So for a 125 lb woman that is about 700 ml per hour.) Due to female hormone fluctuations what you drink is very important for women.

Once a month

During different phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle there are different hormone levels. During the premenstrual phase women have both high estrogen and progesterone, according to Sims, this means a woman can lose up to eight per cent of her plasma volume (the watery part of the blood). This can lead to increased fatigue and an inability to tolerate heat.

The sodium factor

Consuming sodium can help counteract this hydration challenge but unfortunately the high progesterone is also fighting against it. Sodium helps transport water into the blood - leading to better hydration but the added hormones work at eliminating sodium from our blood. These factors are compounded if you are taking any sort of hormone birth control. It seems like we can’t catch a break. Instead we need to be smarter about our hydration.

More hormone hydration havoc

For maximum hydration women need to consider their hormone fluctuations. What you need to drink may change throughout the month. Research shows women need more sodium than men, as well as potassium - which works with the sodium to improve blood hydration. The right kind of sugars can also help - stay away from fructose as the female body can bloat while metabolizing it. With the fluctuations during the premenstrual part of a woman’s cycle, Sims suggests to focus on more sodium and fewer carbs.

Precision Hydration

There are do-it-yourself options: in one interview Sims suggested a pinch of iodized salt and a splash of maple syrup. This isn’t necessarily a grab and go. One way is to forgo traditional sports drinks and choose a product with varying levels of sodium. There are a variety out there.
precision-hydration JoyVIVA is an official online retailer of Precision Hydration products in Canada
One of the best is Precision Hydration.The company partners with numerous national teams and elite athletes and even offers sweat analysis to help you figure out what hydration products will elevate your performance. For those at a more recreational level they have an online questionnaire to offer some guidance. For women, this is an easy way to dial up the sodium when premenstrual while maintaining your needs other times of the month.

Water worries

Sweat is an important part of our body functions - without a well function cooling system we are going to be set up for failure. Do a quick sweat check to assess other issues with your body:
  • Smell: Your diet can have a large influence on your how your sweat smells. Low carb diets can lead to an ammonia smell and caffeine can stimulate sweat glands to release quite a stinky smell.
  • Stains: if there are stains on your clothes after exercise this can be a sign your body is shedding too much sodium - consider upping your sodium intake.
  • Too dry: if you are working hard, you should be sweating. If you are not, you are not hydrating enough. This can be a sign of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

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