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Importance of hydration at altitude

It’s not new news. This isn’t some crazy idea. We know how important water is to us.  So why do most of us keep ourselves so poorly hydrated, even when putting our bodies through extreme bouts of exercise?  And what happens when we exercise at altitude?

Our bodies are roughly 60% water. We require water for everything, from cell structure through to our brains’ neurons functioning. Even when we exercise at sea level hydration is vitally important.  It is even more so when you head up to altitude.

Firstly, what is dehydration?

The water in our body contains the electrolytes and salts that we need for our cells, nerves and muscles to function properly. The term dehydration is describing the condition when your body’s water levels are becoming too low and therefore beginning to function incorrectly.

This occurs due to the body excreting more than it is replacing. The impact of this can range from thirst to losing consciousness.

How can you assess your hydration levels?

There are plenty of ways to assess your hydration levels; the easiest and most effective way is to keep a close eye on the colour of your urine. If you’re becoming dehydrated then the colour will become darker as the body works to preserve water in the body.

At sea level, research suggests that to maintain effective hydration you should aim to drink roughly 1litre of water per 25kg of body weight you are.  Because the air at altitude is thinner and holds less moisture we dehydrate more easily.  


There are a few simple rules to follow when you’re either at or planning to be at altitude:

  • It is important to make sure you’re well hydrated before you arrive at altitudes by sipping water regularly en route.
  • Try to avoid excessive amounts of diuretics like coffee and alcohol that act to decrease your bodies ability to absorb water. The truth with coffee is you’d have to drink a huge amount of it for it to be a major problem, alcohol is the main player, and not just at lunch. The après from the night before can definitely have a bearing on your hydration levels.
  • Drink little and often. It’s easier for your body to absorb water gradually than in large hits.

Should you be drinking sports drinks to help your performance on the mountains?

The short answer here is no. Over the last couple of years there has been more evidence to prove that water is more beneficial than sports drinks. There has been no proven difference between the two when assessing athletic performance. So bin the costly sports drinks, save your money for your lift pass and stick with the high quality H2O.

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Annie Nunn

Sports Masseuse & Personal Trainer

1 year ago

This is a great simple and very much informative blog Tom. I think water intake these day is getting explained in far too much depth, it's over complicating it for the general public. I often have clients asking me about hydration, looking very puzzled from reading over complicated advice. It needs to be kept simple. Drinking water little and often is definitely the way forward .