Summertime, Summertime! The time of year when Mother Nature turns up the thermostat and reminds us that we live in the Desert and not a tropical oasis. Without the addition of water the valley would be a dried up wasteland with only sagebrush, tumbleweed, dust, & sand; a dehydrated version of the agricultural rich land we know. There is a sign along I-5 that states it well, “Food Grows Where Water Flows”. No truer words have been said. I have always thought that “Just add water” would be a great slogan for the Valley’s farmlands. Our bodies are much like our land, they need water to flourish and grow, without it we would wither up, dry up, and die. Summertime is a great time for outdoor sports, activities, and exercise – but proper hydration is an absolute MUST.
Have you ever been asked, “What do you think you’re made of?” Well, if you answered correctly you would have said, “Mostly water”. In fact the human body is made of 60-70% water (possibly up to 75%). Even our bones, which we think of as solid, are 20% water. There are six vital nutrients that our bodies need to survive and thrive; proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins, and minerals. Of these six, water is the most important. Think about it, we may be able to survive for weeks without food, but only for a few days without water. What happens to meat when it is dehydrated? It becomes beef jerky! A grape becomes a raisin, and a plum becomes a prune (I’ll refrain from elaborating on the use of the term “old prune”).
The role of water in the body is enormous. Without enough water the blood becomes thick, like pudding, and doesn’t flow properly. The digestive track will malfunction, the skin will become dry, hair and nails will become brittle, and you could get a headache, be irritable and lack concentration, basically become that “old prune”. Water moistens and lubricates the joints and cushions the organs. Water is responsible for the regulation of body temperature, dissipating heat through the skin via sweat. Keeping the body well hydrated is the most important and easiest thing you can do for it. Some research has suggested that drinking plenty of water can even reduce the risk of colon, breast, and urinary tract cancers, wow!
How much water each individual needs may vary according to their activity level and the environment in which they live. Those who are highly active or live in a hot and humid environment will need more water than those who are less active or live in a moderate climate. The body uses sweat as its own internal air conditioner. The muscles can generate as much as 20 times more heat during vigorous exercise than when at rest. In order to dissipate this extra heat the body sweats. As sweat evaporates it cools the skin, which cools the blood, which then cools the internal body. Not sweating could actually cook the body to death.
Thirst, a conscious awareness of the desire for water, is a not a reliable indicator of dehydration, especially while exercising. By the time the brain tells the mouth you are thirsty you may have already lost 1% of your body weight, well on your way to dehydration. A 1% loss of body weight (fluid, not fat) requires that the heart beat an additional 3-5 times per minute. A 3% loss can significantly affect performance in an activity, but is not dangerous. A 5% loss is considered borderline, and 8% is dangerous. When replacing fluids, again thirst is not an accurate tool. You may voluntarily replace only half of sweat loss. What quenches your thirst may not actually quench your body’s thirst.
So, how much is enough? In general everyone should drink approximately one-half their body weight in ounces of water or other hydrating beverage per day. (A 150 pound person should drink about 75 ounces a day) A hydrating beverage is one with no caffeine, carbonation, or alcohol;, these actually cause dehydration instead of hydration. In fact for every amount of these beverages ingested, an equal amount of water should be taken in to compensate. Those who exercise should get a more. Generally in a day we lose about 10 cups of water; 2 cups to sweating and evaporation, 2 cups to breathing, and 6 cups to waste removal. Approximately 2 cups can be replaced with water from the foods you eat (if you are eating fruits and vegetables!). Some research suggests you need even more, up to 3-6 quarts per day (there are 4 cups/quart, so that is 12 – 24 cups).
While there are many other choices when it comes to drinks, water is still the best choice. Sports drinks contain a significant number of calories and excessive use of them could cause weight gain. They also contain artificial colors and chemicals. Carbonated beverages should be used in moderation and only as a “treat”, if at all. They are either filled with empty calories from sugar, or sugar replacements that have questionable affects on the body. And all carbonated beverages contain phosphates that may interfere with calcium absorption. Juice is a good source of vitamins and minerals, but also usually calorie dense. Coffee and tea each have their own positive and negative properties, but they do contain caffeine and should be used in moderation, and not for hydration.
Water with lemon (or other citrus, cucumber, mint, etc) and a little gingerroot is a great drink to start the day off with (and continue throughout the day). It not only hydrates but adds needed vitamins and minerals as well as being anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, anti-spasmodic, and on an on and on! After exercise coconut water is a good choice as well as pure water with a little sea salt and lemon.
Athletes and avid exercisers should take extra efforts to ensure proper hydration, especially those exercising for more than 60 to 90 minutes or in the heat and/or humidity. Drinking water all day long is a good idea, but for additional insurance you may want to actually learn how much water you lose during exercise. This can be done by weighing before and after exercise. The amount lost during that time is water, sorry, it isn’t fat! The following schedule is a good one to follow to ensure safety and peak performance.
2 hours prior to exercise
15-30 minutes before exercise
Every 10-20 minutes during exercise
½ -1 ½ cups
For EVERY POUND LOST after exercise
Re-hydrating after exercise should be done 2-3 cups at a time and the goal should be to be back to normal hydration or weight the next day. You will know you are fully hydrated when your urine is clear and plentiful. If urine is dark, scanty, or has a strong odor, you need more fluid.
Other signs of dehydration include:
Dehydration is cumulative. Feeling chronically fatigued, lethargic, or irritable could be a sign of continued dehydration. Irrational behavior, inability to concentrate, confusion or disorientation, and weakness are also more severe signs of dehydration. If these symptoms sound familiar, the answer may be as simple and turning on the faucet, or opening a bottle of water (of course you have to drink it!)