Precision Fuel & Hydration know all about the importance of staying hydrated during the longest non-stop canoe race in the world. Andy and Jonny, completed the Devizes-to-Westminster challenge as a pair and Jonny’s dad, Tim, held the C2 record for 15 years.
The guys learned plenty during their ~24 hours of paddling this epic race and they've given us the lowdown on how to start hydrated, how to stay hydrated and how to carry drinks when taking on this (or any) epic long-distance paddling challenge...
How to START hydrated during the DW Canoe Race
Drinking a strong electrolyte drink before the DW Canoe Race (aka ‘preloading’) can significantly improve your performance.
Starting the longest canoe race in the world properly hydrated gives you a bigger reserve of fluids and electrolytes to draw upon once you start paddling (and sweating).
It’ll boost your blood volume, a proven way to enhance performance during intense exercise, and it’ll help your cardiovascular system cool you down and deliver oxygen to your working muscles. This reduces fatigue and enables you to maintain your performance for longer - something which will come in very handy when paddling 125 miles!
‘Preloading’ can also help you avoid cramp, which can be triggered by sodium depletion.
We recommend preloading with a strong electrolyte drink (i.e. with > 1000mg of sodium per litre) and our PH 1500 is ideal as it contains 3x more sodium than typical sports drinks
So, before you even get on to the Kennet and Avon Canal, it will be worth making sure you start hydrated by following this protocol:
What to do
- Drink 1 packet or tablet of PH 1500 with 500ml of water the evening before the race
- Drink 1 packet or tablet of PH 1500 with 500ml of water ~90 mins before you start paddling
- Finish the drink around 45 mins before you start to allow your body time to absorb
- And drink the electrolytes in water you’d have drunk anyway so you don’t overdo it
- DON’T just drink lots of water before the race! You can end up diluting your blood sodium levels, increasing the risk of a race-ruining condition called hyponatremia
How to STAY hydrated during the DW Canoe Race
So, now you’re on the Kennet and Avon Canal and the serious business of paddling to Westminster begins.
How’s best to approach hydration during the next ~24 hours?
It will be important to stay on top of your fluid and electrolyte losses if you want to perform at your best. Even if the weather is cooler during the race (we are in the UK so anything is possible!) and you don't feel or see the sweat pouring off your face, it will still be important to stay on top of hydration while you’re out on the water.
So, some fluid intake is crucial to maintaining your performance when you're completing the longest canoe race in the world.
During an event of this length, you’ll want to consider some form of electrolyte supplementation with your fluids to help ensure you’re replacing the sodium you’re losing in your sweat when paddling. Check out our blog to find out why sodium is crucial to performing at your best.
To help understand your own electrolyte needs, take Precision Fuel & Hydration’s free online Sweat Test to receive your personalised hydration plan + product-strength recommendations.
How much to drink during the race
It's always tricky to nail down exactly how much you need to drink during an event like this, so you’ll have to learn to listen to your body to get it just right.
The aim is to try to avoid under-drinking to the point that dehydration hampers your performance, whilst avoiding over-drinking, which can lead to hyponatremia.
Very few athletes can drink much more than 1 litre an hour, so, unless experience tells you otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ll need to drink more than that, especially if you started well hydrated. Most paddlers will drink between 500ml to 1 litre an hour - the exact amount will depend on the conditions, your own sweat rate and past experiences.
Experimenting within these guidelines during your training paddles, whilst learning to listen to your body, is the best way to work out how much you need to drink.
The obvious signs that you’re not drinking enough will be dry mouth and a sense of thirst, so try to respond to that and don’t leave it too late.
At the other end of the scale, if you’re feeling bloated, have fluid sloshing around your stomach and need to pee often (not ideal when sat in your canoe/kayak!), then you might be drinking too much. Don't force fluids down if you don’t feel you need them.
How to carry your drinks
Drinking when paddling can be tricky because taking your hand off the paddle in order to grab a bottle isn’t ideal, as it slows you down and can make you unstable. Therefore, you ideally need something with a straw or tube that can be fixed near to your mouth so you can reach it with your lips without using your hands at all.
There’s also the question of where to put the drink. If you put the bottle, (or bag/bladder) in the kayak or canoe, this helps to keep the weight low and out of the way. However, if you have to jump out, you risk losing anything in the boat and the tube linking your mouth to the fluid becomes a major inconvenience.
From experience, Andy’s found that having the drink on or inside your buoyancy aid is the best strategy. Many buoyancy aids have a rear pocket that can take a bladder, but having the extra weight on your back can be tiring after a while, especially as you’re trying to maintain an upright posture.
Instead, Andy tends to go for a front-mounted water bottle with a straw as it means he doesn’t have to use his hands.
It’s really important to make sure that there’s a retaining loop or strap across the top of the bottle to stop it falling out if you lean forward at any point. He lost a bottle or two before he learned that trick!
Hopefully this hydration advice helps you prepare for the DW Canoe Rae and good luck for your event!
If you need any further advice about your hydration strategy, please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.