Why Isn't Plain Water Enough?

One of the most confusing concepts that athletes at all levels have to grapple with when developing a hydration protocol is the idea that plain water alone is not enough to keep you hydrated. Most people spend their entire lives thinking that water is the healthiest and most efficient way to stay hydrated during exercise and throughout the day. It’s true that water plays an important role in maintaining hydration during each day, especially when consumed with food.

The reality is that water on its own is great at quenching thirst, but not so great at keeping you adequately hydrated during exercise. In fact, if you are not consuming electrolytes in addition to plain water, you might actually be increasing your chances of dehydration.

To understand why that is, let’s dive into the science for a minute.

Water, Thirst, and Satiety.

When the body starts to get dehydrated, its first reaction is to trigger a thirst reflex--in essence, the sensation of being thirsty. Everyone knows the feeling--parched throat, dry lips, feeling like you need to swallow but can’t. Thirst is an obvious, direct way for your mammalian brain to tell your body, “Hey, push some fluids! We‘re running low in here!”

However, if you respond to this sensation by reaching for plain old water during sweaty exercise, as many are wont to do, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Drinking water will quickly turn off your thirst mechanism while telling your kidneys to produce urine. The result is that you will drink less and lose more, just the opposite of what should happen when you are working up a sweat. Keep in mind that the two major avenues of electrolyte (mineral) loss are through sweat and urine. Consuming only water during exercise dilutes the body’s electrolyte content and increases the risk of performance-sapping dehydration. Of course, when plain water is the only option you have, then drink up, but remember water’s limitations in maintaining hydration and electrolyte balance.

Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to avoid this Catch-22. If you add the appropriate amount and mixture of electrolytes to the fluids you consume during exercise, you can sustain your thirst response and reduce urine production in the kidneys. In short, you will naturally drink more, lose less, and stay better hydrated! It’s important to remember here too that variety is key, especially on longer rides and runs. You can still consume straight water occasionally, just make sure you are also consuming enough electrolytes to help replace some of what is being lost in sweat and urine.

Furthermore, everyone--and this holds especially true for higher-level athletes--has their own unique hydration needs. Sweating rates vary widely among athletes and so does the electrolyte content of sweat. In short, some athletes lose enormous volumes of sweat and the electrolytes that go along with it. Other athletes may lose only a fraction of that amount. It’s important for you to know how much fluid and electrolytes you should consume to meet your individual needs. Generally speaking, you should drink enough to minimize dehydration to no more than a loss of 2% of your starting body weight. Periodically weighing yourself before and after a workout is an easy way to determine if you’ve consumed enough fluid to prevent significant dehydration. It’s more difficult to determine how much you need in the way of electrolytes during exercise, so here are some general suggestions to keep in mind:

Your fluid and electrolyte loss is unique to you, so there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how much you should consume during exercise.
For that reason, you have to experiment during workouts to determine the amount of fluid and electrolytes that give you the best results--essentially, what combination helps you feel the best from start to finish.
The primary electrolytes lost in sweat are sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and the more you sweat the greater your loss of those electrolytes will be.
Replacing these electrolytes during exercise helps maintain total body hydration. The ratio of these electrolytes in Stage--and your ability to dial in more or less--allows you to vary the electrolyte content and flavor intensity to meet your individual needs and desires during workouts.
The highest Stage setting (Level 9) will deliver 1,000 mg of sodium (and proportionally less potassium, magnesium, and calcium) in just one bottle, ensuring that even the heaviest sweaters can meet their electrolyte needs.

The Stage Difference

The fact that the Stage mixture is dispensed through Cirkul technology allows the consumer to specifically tailor the amount of electrolyte mixture that’s being delivered with each sip, ranging from a high-dose shot (Level 9) to pure water (Level X). This ability to precisely calibrate the electrolyte mixture, coupled with the variety of flavor packets, allows you to mix and match to your preference and your individual hydration needs.

Additionally, there is a huge convenience factor with the Stage product: you only need one bottle. Whether you are on a century ride, pacing a half marathon, or engaged in an intense indoor workout, being able to switch between water and electrolytes--based on your preference and individual on-the-fly needs--in the same bottle is a huge benefit. No more fumbling with gels or dropping in tablets that can’t be taken out; Stage is an all-in-one fluid-and-electrolyte solution delivered through a refillable and reusable bottle.

In short, water is the essence of hydration; but Stage electrolytes make plain water even more effective at keeping you on the move!