What if I told you staying properly hydrated could improve your athletic performance? You probably already knew that. Did you know exercise performance is impaired when an individual is dehydrated by as little as 2% of their body weight? Endurance athletes aren’t the only ones who should be concerned about their hydration levels either (yes, I’m talking to you, boulderers and sport climbers!). Your capacity to perform high-intensity exercise is reduced by as much as 45% by prior dehydration, meaning staying hydrated in the days leading up to your big red-point is just as important as how you’re hydrating in between burns. Now, what if I told you there is a drink that can help keep you hydrated while increasing your endurance capacity, aiding in recovery, and reducing inflammation?
I’m talking about tea!
Tea is the world’s second most widely consumed beverage (with water coming in at
number one). Legend has it the Emperor of China first discovered it in 2737 BC, while boiling water under a tree. A leaf fell from the tree, floated down into his water, and, thus, the first cup of tea was made and drank. It’s no secret that both true teas (made from a plant called Camellia sinensis) and herbal teas offer a broad spectrum of health benefits to those who drink it. As rock climbers, big wall climbers, and mountain athletes we ask a great deal of our bodies. We are constantly pushing harder and longer in an effect to become stronger and more efficient at what we do. Incorporating various kinds of tea into our training and performance routine just might be the perfect way to keep our bodies healthy and injury free. Feeling skeptical? Give it a try! At the very least, you get to enjoy a delicious cup of hot tea.
If you could only pick one type of tea to incorporate into your athletic pursuits, this should be the one. Green tea has the ability to increase alertness, improve endurance, and aid in recovery.
Caffeine is known for its ability to increase energy levels and improve muscle contractions and reaction time. While the caffeine within green tea indeed causes heightened alertness, it won’t cause you to crash the way coffee will. Not only are there lower levels of caffeine in tea, but, there are also high levels of antioxidants as well as L-theanine, an amino acid unique to the tea plant. The antioxidants slow the rate at which our body absorbs the caffeine while the amino acids counteract the infamous jitters, resulting in a longer and steadier period of alertness without the dreaded crash.
A number of studies have been conducted, looking at the effects of green tea on endurance capacity. These studies found that green tea improved endurance during aerobic activity. Antioxidants within the tea increase levels of certain hormones, whose job are to signal fat to be broken down and released into the bloodstream. An increase in these hormone levels equates to an increase in the amount of fat being burned for energy.
Green tea not only keeps your body hydrated, alert, and maximizes your endurance, but it also helps aid in recovery prior to a hard day at the gym or in the mountains. It is packed with antioxidants, such as the polyphenol called catechin, which negates the effect of free radicals and helps to repair muscle damage caused by strenuous exercise.
Known to have the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and provide the joy of chocolate, Yerba Mate is a traditional South American tea that has gained popularity over recent years. It is best known among high altitude mountaineers for its ability to combat the negative effects of altitude sickness and aid in the body’s ability to cope with low oxygen environments. The main cause of altitude sickness is the inability to distribute enough oxygen throughout our body due to decreased oxygen content in the air (known as hypoxia). Mate contains caffeine, which, when consumed, offers positive affects on the heart. Essentially, it creates a stronger heartbeat, which allows more blood to circulate through the body, thus, distributing more oxygen with it. And when it comes to surviving at high altitudes, the more oxygen the better!
Yerba Mate also contains chemical compounds that stimulate the immune system and naturally strengthen your body’s defenses. Whether you’re in the mountains or training in the gym, it’s vital to maintain a strong immune system in order to stay healthy and injury free.
Ginger Root Tea
Whether you’re training to pull hard on rock or move long distances through the mountains, stressing your body results in an increase in strength and endurance, however, this is often coupled with the onset of inflammation. While the cause of our inflammation – the breakdown and rebuilding of muscle or the swelling of joints – is a natural part of how our bodies adapt to the increasing demands of our training, it’s important to help our bodies recover from and effectively manage inflammation. We can do this through proper nutrition and with the help of anti-inflammatory foods. Ginger tea is a great choice for athletes because it does just that. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties due to compounds called gingerols. These compounds suppress pro-inflammatory molecules, which can result in relief from muscle soreness and a faster recovery in between workouts.
Sleep is incredibly important to athletic performance – just as important as all those fingerboard sessions and hill repeats. During periods of intense training, our bodies require plenty of high quality sleep in order to rebuild muscle and restore depleted energy stores. Without adequate sleep, not only are our bodies unable to mend, but they also increase the production of cortisol. This stress hormone interferes with the body’s recovery process and can contribute to eventual overtraining and injury. Chamomile tea contains certain compounds, which work as a sedative and can assist your body in getting a good night’s sleep. Drinking this tea in the evening can act as a soothing sleep aid and ensure you catch those important Z’s so your body can make the most of those pull-ups and dead lifts.
So now you know the benefits tea can offer you as an athlete, but how do you start incorporating it into your training? When Adam and I climbed the NIAD, we needed to stay alert, hydrated, and fueled for a long day of endurance on the wall. Below is a recipe for a homemade energy and electrolyte drink we brought with us to keep our energy levels high and our hydration on point.
Green Tea Ultra Endurance Recipe
4 cups brewed green tea
1/8 teaspoon “low sodium” or “lite” salt (as a potassium source)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
5 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon protein powder of choice