The Importance of Hydration

The Importance of Hydration.
by David Segal
CPFT., ACE., AFAA., PFIT

Drinking plenty of fluids is critical to maintaining a high level of performance, whether you are on a motor bike, bicycle or just running. For short duration exercise (an hour or less) fluid replacement with water is adequate. For longer periods you should consider an electrolyte replacement sports drink. Electrolyte drinks containing sodium and potassium salts replenish the body’s water and electrolyte levels after dehydration caused by exercise, diaphoresis, vomiting or starvation. These drinks, however, are only necessary after truly Herculean efforts, such as a marathon or biathlon. People exercising in a normal way (for example cycling for one hour) can also drink pure water.

It is unnecessary to replace losses of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes during exercise since it is unlikely that a significant depletion of the body stores of these minerals will occur during normal training. However, in extreme exercising conditions over 5 or 6 hours (an Ironman or ultra marathon, for example) the consumption of a complex sports drink with electrolytes is recommended. Athletes who do not consume electrolytes under these conditions risk overhydration. One of the drawbacks to sports drinks is their high levels of sugar. Electrolyte drinks can be purchased or home-made by using the correct proportions of juice, sugar, salt and water. The flavored drink will encourage you to drink more because of the good taste, let’s face it, water tends to be boring. Click here for a recipe.

A six pack of beer will not give you the nutritional fluid replacement you need, plus alcohol will dehydrate you. It may make you feel good the night before, but during exercise you sweat out the electrolytes that enable your body to function. Not consuming enough water will cause your (athletic) performance to suffer.

Here are some stats on how our body uses water: The human body is about 60% water. Your brain is about 75% water – drink plenty of water. Drinking coffee and other drinks with caffeine do not count because caffeine is a diuretic, which makes the body rid itself of water.

Water plays a big role in how our body responds to physical activity. We sweat to regulate our body temperature. If we don’t get enough water, our body cannot sweat properly and our temperature rises putting us at a risk for heat/muscle cramps, general tiredness and a lack of coordination. In short an athlete who is adequately hydrated will almost always perform better than one who is not.

People who do not engage in physical activity keep themselves adequately hydrated by listening to their body; when they get thirsty, they drink. Athletes, however, require much more fluid intake. Most of us drink water when we are thirsty but according to Andrew Duncan of University Sports Medicine “Thirst is a poor mechanism because if you are thirsty you are already dehydrated. Use your body weight as an indicator”. Start tracking your body weight now before you get into the really warm part of the season and sweat starts pouring off you. A general rule of thumb is to try to drink 10 ounces of fluid for every 15-20 minutes of exercise.

There are some scary statistics that should make you sit up and take notice and perhaps revise your ideas on how much fluid you now drink. A mere 2% drop in body weight is capable of triggering fuzzy short-term memory trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on details. Drinking 5 eight ounce glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it is capable of slashing the risk of developing bladder cancer by 50%. For a female the risk of breast cancer is reduced by almost 80%.

Water is free. Unlike a large bottle of carbonated soft drink that will cost you at least two dollars a day. That’s a savings of $700 plus dollars a year. And we haven’t even started talking about the cost of using beer as a fluid replacement!

According to a national survey, nearly three quarters of Americans are aware of the recommendation of drinking eight servings of water a day, though only 34% actually drink this amount each day. And nearly 10% declared that they do not drink water at all.

75% of us are chronically dehydrated. For 37% of Americans the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger. Lack of water is the number one trigger of daytime fatigue. Our quality of life can be greatly improved by drinking adequate amounts of water for our lifestyle. Try this for a month and see how much better you feel. And now I have to leave you – to get a glass of water.