SACKVILLE, N.B. (CUP) –Most of us are not hydrated enough. From the average adult to high-performance athletes, water plays a crucial role in strengthening and renewing the body. Knowing when and how to consume water and other fluids is important if we want to stay fit and healthy. On average, medium-active Canadians lose around 2.5 liters of water per day through perspiration, defecation, and respiration. This water needs to be replaced. Even mild dehydration strains the cardiovascular system, reduces athletic performance, and weakens the body.
While the old motto of drinking eight glasses a day (approximately two liters) is a good recommendation and reminder, it is not scientifically based. Different bodies require varying amounts of water to maintain hydration. Athletes need to pay particular attention to fluid intake. Drinking water before, during, and after exercise is important to maximize performance, avoid injury, and improve fitness.
Approximately two hours before exercising, it is recommended to drink 500 ml of water. During exercise, athletes should consume water every fifteen minutes. This will ensure that the body has enough water to maintain proper levels of sweat and therefore control body temperature.
Regardless of exercise level, it is important to consume water throughout the day. Thirst level is not always a good indication of hydration level and carrying a water bottle is a good way to ensure that hydration is not being neglected. The body also loses water overnight, so having a glass of water before and after sleeping is also recommended.
Avoiding diuretics (substances which stimulate urination) like alcohol and caffeine will also improve hydration. If you do have a coffee or a beer, following it with a glass or two of water will ensure that no fluid is lost.
For those who exercise intensely for more than one hour, water may not be enough to avoid dehydration. In fact, consuming only water during intense exercise can lead to “water intoxication”.
Sports drinks and gels, containing electrolytes and sodium, promote fluid absorption and retention, renew energy lost during exercise, and can fuel tired muscles and delaying fatigue. To maintain hydration you should drink 500 ml of fluid for each gel pack consumed.
However, these drinks and gels should only be used in instances of intense and prolonged exercise, as otherwise they are merely expensive and high-sugar substitutes for water.
In warmer weather, cool water is best for staying hydrated, as it is absorbed more quickly than warmer liquids. While the potential for dehydration may be more obvious in the sweaty summer months, we are constantly perspiring and excreting water.
Common dehydration symptoms include thirst, loss of appetite, fatigue, irritability, muscle cramps, and decreased coordination. Urine colour is the most basic indication–particularly in the morning. If your urine is a dark yellow, then you are not consuming enough fluids. Extreme dehydration can result in dizziness, increased weakness, and heat exhaustion or heat stroke in warmer conditions. To determine how much liquid you should consume during and after workout sessions you can weigh yourself before and after exercising, on an empty bladder. Determine the percentage of your body weight that was lost during the workout. This represents fluid loss. For every percentage point lost, 500 ml more should be consumed during or after exercising. At four per cent body weight loss, exercise performance is reduced by twenty to thirty per cent.
At five per cent, fatigue and dizziness set in. Between six and seven percent, collapse is likely if exercise is not stopped. It is also dangerous, however, to gain weight during exercise through over-consumption of water.