Why I use tea for endurance workouts

During summer, I do at least several hours of cross country biking every week, but now that winter is coming, I’m gradually shifting to jogging. For me, both types of workout are actually very similar, since I mostly move uphill to increase intensity. But no matter what exercise I do, one of the key questions for me is whether or not tea is a good source of hydration during and after training.

Tea is a great choice for your workout hydrationBi Luo Chun green tea & my running gear.

How much fluid do I need?

In daily life, the rule of thumb is ‘drink when thirsty’. But when it comes to intensive training, it is wise to ensure an adequate supply of fluid. Insufficient hydration can have a negative effect on quality of training and recovery. Prolonged failure to replenish lost fluids can lead to serious complications. A poorly hydrated organism loses ability to cool down, which raises body temperature, which in turn takes a toll on the cardiovascular system.

There are many ways to calculate how much fluid one needs to replace. The easiest way is to record body weight before and after the workout. The difference in weight is the direct indicator of how much fluid was lost. For two hours of intensive biking, I try to drink half a liter before, half a liter during, and a liter of fluid right after the workout. If I don’t drink enough, I might get a headache within an hour. After a few months of training, I figured it out and don’t get those headaches anymore. Taking a leak can be a very helpful tool – clear urine means that I’m on the right path. :-)

What kind of fluid do I need?

Like many other recreational runners and riders, I like to read articles about hydration and nutrition in professional sports: electrolytes, carbohydrates, proteins, osmosis, gels, special drinks, whens&whats of intake, etc. The field is saturated with numerous research findings from all sorts of studies. Many popular sports magazines are pushing all kinds of energy drinks. Some even claim that these drinks are absolutely essential to a successful workout. Personally I don’t like this approach – when it comes to food and beverages, I always look for natural solutions. So, I found a natural alternative to performance drinks too.

For a typical training I need about two liters of fluid. What do I drink? Tea. I usually go for soft white, green, or lightly oxidized teas. My current favorites are tieguanyin and raw puer. It is easy to get bored drinking the same tea all the time, so I alternate teas often.

Green tea is an ideal base for sport drinks. Properly made tea contains an unrivaled combination of water, caffeine, and antioxidants. Tea contains flavonoids, such as epigallocatechingelate. These compounds have powerful antioxidant, restorative, and anti-inflammatory properties. When combined with antioxidants, caffeine can boost the process of fat oxidation, allowing athletes to tap into the energy stored in fat tissue. This is especially important during extended training sessions, since most of the readily available glycogen gets used up after about 45 minutes of strenuous exercise.

The other benefit of having caffeine in bloodstream while training is that it can substantially improve perception and help you fight off fatigue. Basically, if you use tea, the workout will feel easier and you will feel less exhaustion.

Some scientists refer to tea as ‘superdrink’ because it is a unique source of naturally combined L-theanine and caffeine. L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes mental sharpness. Caffeine by itself, e.g. from a can of cola, can only produce a fraction of the invigorating effect that occurs when caffeine is enhanced by L-theanine.

How to turn tea into a sports drink

Depending on how much time I have, I either cold-brew my tea or simply use hot water. Cold-brewing starts the night before training: I put tea leaves in cold water and leave them steeping in the fridge all night. To make tea the classical way, I brew about 6 grams of tea leaves at ~85ºC for 60-90 seconds. I usually don’t use any filters – just throw tea in water and let the leaves flow freely. When I have two liters of such tea, I add some ice cubes to cool it quickly and only then pour the drink into my sports bottle.

Normally, I go for cold-brewing, but sometimes I forget to prepare the tea in advance and have to resort to the faster method. With the classical hot brewing approach, it is very important not to soak leaves too long; otherwise, tea will turn bitter. With cold brewing this is not a problem. Because I use good quality tea, I might keep the leaves to brew them again later during the day. That doesn’t apply to regular tea bags, which I haven’t used in ages anyways. Why? Because the tea inside most bags is shreds and dust that travel from one warehouse to another with little concern for optimal storage. As a result, tea loses most of its healthy qualities and becomes little more than something that tinges hot water and gives it some kind of flavor. So make sure you always buy green tea fresh and drink it in the same season that it was harvested.

Some Myths and Facts about tea used for sports drinks

  1. Moderate tea consumption has no laxative effect. Verified first-hand.
  2. Moderate tea consumption does not cause dehydration; on the contrary, it’s a good way to replenish depleted fluid. Verified first-hand.
  3. Tea should be carefully selected and prepared. Strong and bitter varieties are not suitable for training purposes. Delicate green and wulong teas are the best.
  4. If it feels right, you can enhance your tea sports drink with honey and a teaspoon of salt (to receive some quick of energy and replace the lost electrolytes).

By way of conclusion

I am a serious recreational cyclist and runner. Every week I have at least three intensive workouts that last more than an hour. I’m not a pro, so I’m not obsessed with timing and coached training. I stay away from lab-created endurance drinks, gels, or powders. I also avoid all kinds of processed food and chemical beverages. I like the taste and texture of real food. Before, during, and after training, I drink tea or water to enhance my performance.

I think that tea is an ideal choice for recreational athletes and weekend warriors. It is an inexpensive natural source of hydration, and, if prepared properly, it can have multiple health benefits. But don’t forget that all people are different. Metabolism, dietary requirements, and suitable daily tea intake vary from person to person. Try to feel how your body responds to differences in strength, volume, and the kinds of tea that you choose, and soon enough you’ll know what works for you.

This post was written by Miha and translated into English by Roman. Slovenian version is also available (Čaj: doma narejen, zdrav, poceni in učinkovit športni napitek). For more posts on tea please visit daoli.eu.

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