The Importance of Hydration

water, hydration

Proper hydration is important year round, but it can become particularly critical during the summer months. July and August are usually the hottest months of the year in the United States, which is also usually the time that people are engaging in more outdoor activities and athletes begin ramping up training for fall sports. Unfortunately, this time of year is also a prime time for a potentially serious condition to occur: dehydration.

How does dehydration occur?

Dehydration can occur by losing too much fluid (usually through sweating) or by not drinking enough fluid. You may recall from school that the human body is made up of approximately 70% water, so this fact alone illustrates how important proper hydration is for us!

The body has mechanisms in place to urge us to drink fluids, most notably the feeling of thirst. This is the most obvious sign that our body is running low on water; however, by the time you feel thirsty, you are actually already experiencing mild dehydration.

How can you tell if you are dehydrated?

There are many other symptoms that can signal dehydration. Some examples, according to Medline Plus, include the following:

  • Mild dehydration: Thirst; dry mouth; decreased urination; yellow urine
  • Moderate dehydration: Dry, cool skin; headache; darker yellow urine; muscle cramps
  • Severe dehydration: Irritability or confusion; dizziness; rapid heartbeat and/or rapid breathing; shock (decreased blood flow to important organs); unconsciousness.

Keeping an eye out for these signs are important for everyone, but they are particularly critical for two groups: older adults and athletes.

Who is most at risk for dehydration?

Older adults have a decreased response to thirst and are more likely to be on a diuretic. These factors make it important for this population to drink fluids constantly throughout the day, even when they may not feel thirsty. This is especially important during prolonged exposure to heat during activity, such as walking, gardening, mowing the lawn, etc. These activities may not always seem strenuous, but they can cause the body to sweat profusely. During activities that are of a more vigorous intensity (such as jogging/running, hiking, biking, etc.) the sweating effect is more pronounced and proper hydration more critical.

Athletes exercising in the heat can lose an average of 2.0 liters of water through sweat per hour (which is equal to a large bottle of soda!). Not replacing the lost water can cause serious fluid imbalances and dangerous rises in core temperatures. Unfortunately, student athletes are often the victims of poor monitoring of hydration status. According to sports nutrition experts William McCardle and Frank and Victor Katch, “Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperatures) has occurred more than 100 times over the past 30 years among football players who died from excessive heat stress during practice or competition.” These situations are completely preventable by making sure to either have water or an electrolyte replacement beverage at all times during outdoor activity in the heat.

What can you do if you suspect dehydration?

If dehydration does occur for any reason, there are several steps that can be taken, depending on the severity of the condition:

  • Sip water or suck on ice cubes (or an electrolyte sports drink)
  • If heat exhaustion is also a problem, lie down somewhere cool and focus on breathing slowly
  • For severe situations, go to a hospital immediately

Notice that the first suggestion is to sip water. While replenishing fluids is a critical step to treating dehydration, it is possible to drink too much water at one time, which isn’t healthy either. Rehydrate slowly if you become dehydrated!

How much fluid should you be drinking?

A good rule of thumb is 2 cups of water 20 minutes before being active in the heat. For athletes or anyone engaging in vigorous exercise, you can weigh yourself before and after activity takes place to gauge how much fluid you need to take in to replace losses. The amount of weight lost in pounds should be replaced at least 100% to account for fluid loss in sweat and urine. For example: If 2 lbs., or 32 oz., is lost during an hour of activity, 32 oz. (or 4 cups) of water or a sports drink should be ingested over the next hour. In terms of choosing between water and a sports drink, always choose the sports drink if activity is lasting longer than an hour. Below an hour, water is usually sufficient.

So whenever you leave the house this summer, always bring a water bottle with you! And remember to always drink more when exercising or being active in the heat. Dehydration is 100% preventable, as long as you provide your body with the fluids it needs every day.

 

References

 

McArdle W, Katch FI, Katch VL (2013). Exercise, Thermoregulation, Fluid Balance, and Rehydration (4th ed.). Sports and Exercise Nutrition (pg. 319-335). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Popkin B, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH (2010). Water, Hydration, and Health. Nutrition Review; 68 (8): 439-458.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (2013). Dehydration. Retrieved from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000982.htm

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Does Taking Antioxidants During Your Workout Improve Exercise Recovery?

Exercise, running, recovery

All athletes and fitness enthusiasts should be concerned with exercise recovery. If you don’t get in the nutrition and rest that you need to recover from each workout, this will negatively affect health and performance over time. One of common recommendation to assist with exercise recovery is consuming a diet rich in antioxidants to decrease inflammation and free radicals in the body.  Free radicals are molecules that can cause damage to tissues in the body and are typically produced in the body in response to certain physiological or pathological conditions. Common initiators of free radical production include air pollution, radiation, fried foods… and exercise. This doesn’t paint exercise in a particularly positive light, but the free radicals produced during aerobic training and weightlifting actually serve a good purpose: they trigger the release of proteins and enzymes necessary to begin muscle repair and recovery. This process is actually what makes our muscles stronger and helps us adapt to repetitive strenuous activity.

… free radicals produced during aerobic exercise and weightlifting actually serve an important purpose.

When you take antioxidants during your workout (such as vitamin A, C, or E), this dampens this response and can actually limit improvements to performance and exercise recovery. Multiple studies have proven this to be true for both strength and endurance athletes(1)(2).

The Takeaway

What this means is that you shouldn’t trust pre-workout or intra-workout supplements that contain high levels of antioxidants and purport that these nutrients will lengthen time to fatigue or increase strength. They will actually do the opposite! Keep in mind, however, that eating a moderate amount of antioxidant-rich foods (such as 1 cup of berries or a small handful of nuts) will not negatively affect your exercise performance; we are only talking about mega-doses that would be found in dietary supplements. If you do take a high-dose vitamin C supplement to support immune health or dietary insufficiency, try to avoid taking it immediately before or after your workout. High-dose vitamin E or A supplements should only be taken if recommended by a doctor or a dietitian to correct a nutrient deficiency.

Have additional questions on this topic? Comment below or visit the following links for more information on this topic and specific studies referenced:

(1) http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/why-antioxidants-dont-belong-in-your-workout/?_r=0

(2) https://examine.com/nutrition/antioxidants-muscle-building/

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How to Keep Cravings in Check

cravings

One of the biggest challenges in staying on track with a healthy diet is avoiding situations where you get so hungry that you’ll eat anything. When eating is all you can think about, it can be almost impossible to ward off food cravings, and you might find yourself reaching for the most convenient option, healthy or not.

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Is Chocolate Milk Really the Ideal Recovery Drink for Endurance Athletes?

chocolate milk as a recovery drink

Many of you have likely seen low-fat chocolate milk being touted as the ideal recovery drink after an intense, prolonged aerobic workout. That’s because low-fat chocolate milk contains a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which, according to multiple research studies, supports rapid glycogen storage repletion in the body.

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