Amy Ricciardella (B.S. Clinical Dietetics & Nutrition)
With July almost behind us, we have hit the hot and humid dog days of summer! Adequate hydration is essential to your lifestyle and your fitness level. Water is one of the most essential components of the human body. Water regulates the body’s temperature, cushions and protects vital organs, and aids the digestive system. Water not only composes 75 percent of all muscle tissue and about 10 percent of fatty tissue, it also acts within each cell to transport nutrients and dispel waste. And, because water composes more than half of the human body, it is impossible to sustain life for more than a week without it.
For regular exercisers maintaining a constant supply of water in the body is essential to performance. Dehydration leads to muscle fatigue and loss of coordination. Even small amounts of water loss may hinder athletic performance. In a dehydrated state the body is unable to cool itself efficiently, leading to heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. Without an adequate supply of water the body will lack energy and muscles may develop cramps. To prevent dehydration, exercisers must drink before, during and after the workout.
Feeling lightheaded, chapped lips, dry skin, achy joints and headaches during a workout are all signs of dehydration and a signal to tone it down a notch. Though willpower sometimes makes us want to push ourselves through a few more reps or another mile, feeling these symptoms is an indicator that it’s time to hydrate. When there’s not enough water in blood, both blood volume and blood pressure drop, resulting in dizziness.
It is important to drink even before signs of thirst appear. Thirst is a signal that your body is already on the way to dehydration. It is important to drink more than thirst demands and to continue to drink throughout the day. One way to check your hydration level is to monitor your urine. It should be plentiful and pale yellow unless you are taking supplements, which will darken the color for several hours after consumption.
During exercise, water is the best fluid replenisher for most individuals, although sports drinks help replace lost electrolytes during high intensity exercise exceeding 45 to 60 minutes. Individuals who sweat profusely during exercise and whose sweat contains a high amount of sodium (you may notice salt stains/rings on your athletic wear) should choose sports drinks and ensure that their diet contains adequate sodium to prevent hyponatremia (water intoxication).
Contrary to popular belief, scientific evidence suggests that moderate caffeine intake does NOT compromise exercise performance or hydration status. However, alcohol consumption can interfere with muscle recovery from exercise and negatively affect a variety of performance variables.
- Drink at least 8-12 ounces of water as soon as you get up in the morning (while the coffee is brewing!)
- Drink 17-20 ounces of water two to three hours before the start of exercise.
- Drink at least half your body weight in ounces throughout the day.
- Drink an additional 8-12 ounces for every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage consumed.
- Water consumed during exercise does not count toward your daily goal—aim to consume 8-10 ounces every 20 minutes of exercise.
- Keep in mind that over hydration can occur during distant events (marathons, tris, etc)—consume electrolytes to balance this risk (sports drinks, bananas, gels)