During the hot Summer months is important to stay on top of hydration.  Up to 75% of the body is made up of water, so drinking enough fluids is essential for our bodies to function properly. Dehydration occurs when too many fluids are lost, not enough are taken in, or a combination of the two.

Acute Dehydration

Certain factors such as sweating, hot climate, vomiting, medications can quickly accelerate fluid loss to cause acute dehydration. It is important to be familiar with the signs of dehydration, especially parents and coaches as kids can get dehydrated faster than adults.  Taking these symptoms seriously is important, as complications from severe dehydration can be life-threatening. Relying on thirst is not always ideal, as thirst is not always a good indicator of dehydration.

Chronic Dehydration

Chronic dehydration is not like acute dehydration, in that it typically occurs from regularly not taking in sufficient hydrating fluids and/or foods. Often the symptoms are not recognized as dehydration at all and can range from bothersome to serious and can include constipation, headaches, low energy, elevated cholesterol, and more. Although controversial, some theories link Rheumatoid arthritis and other serious conditions to chronic dehydration. People suffering from one or more of the above symptoms, might try gradually increasing their intake of fluids and foods with a high water content and notice if there is an improvement in their symptoms over a period of time. Regularly drinking caffeinated, sugary or alcoholic beverages can also lead to chronic dehydration, as all are diuretics. Chronic dehydration can also make us more prone to acute dehydration from a workout and/or sweating.

Dehydration and Heart Attack
Studies have found that a loss of 2% or more of one’s body weight due to sweating can cause a drop in blood volume – so the blood essentially becomes “thicker.” When this occurs, the heart has to work harder to move blood through the bloodstream, raising the risk of a heart event. Because we are not replenishing fluids while we sleep, people tend to be slightly dehydrated in the morning, which could explain why heart attacks are 40% more likely to occur in the morning. Blood thickening also causes muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, heat exhaustion/ heatstroke, and can even lead to swelling of the brain and hypovolemic shock.  A tip for people that like to drink coffee in the morning – fill up your coffee cup with water while the coffee is brewing – before you can pour yourself a cup of coffee, you need to drink the water in the cup.  Starting the day with a glass or coffee cup of water will hydrate you better than the coffee.

When Do you Need Electrolytes?

Electrolyte replacement is needed when someone loses measurable amounts of fluids from one reason or another (sweating, vomiting, etc). How do we know how much fluid we have lost? One way to tell if there is fluid loss is to weigh yourself before and after a workout, if you have lost weight, there has been fluid loss. Typically 2 cups of fluid accounts for approximately each pound of weight lost. But if it is not convenient to weigh yourself, you need to consider the following: did you exert yourself hard, sweat a lot, maintain fairly continuous movement over a period of time? Was it a hot or particularly dry day? Are you working out in high altitude? Did you drink enough water leading up to the activity, or do you tend to be chronically dehydrated? If there has been a significant amount of fluid lost – there will be sodium, potassium and other important minerals also lost. Plain water will not replace those lost minerals. A condition called Hyponatremia can happen when someone loses a lot of fluids and drinks lots of water without replenishing electrolytes – there is not enough sodium in the blood. But if there was NOT a lot of sweating and it was a fairly low intensity sport, or a sport with lots of breaks (sat in a dugout, or stood in the outfield a lot) – then plain water should be fine to stay hydrated.

For endurance athletes, prehydrating the body for as much as 3 days before a tournament can help to prepare the body for a major sports event. Drinking an extra glass of fluid each day over a 3 day period can help to hydrate the body and muscles. Even slight dehydration in the muscles can negatively affect performance. Increasing the carbohydrates 3 days before a big sports event is also helpful to help prepare the body’s glycogen stores for the activity.

Sports Drinks
After a very intense workout, glycogen stores get depleted in the muscles,  – in addition to replacing electrolytes, many sports drinks contain some form of sugar because it is a fast-acting carbohydrate that can quickly replenish lost glycogen. So endurance and intensity athletes that want to quickly replace lost energy after an intense workout – might use sports gels or drinks – which offer the electrolytes and fast acting carbohydrates they need.

But consuming sports drinks when the body has not exerted itself and does not “need them,” the carbohydrates/sugar can end up getting stored as fat overtime. A 20 oz. sports drink contains 125 calories and 35 grams of sugar – which is over 9 teaspoons – more than the recommended daily limit for added sugars for one day for kids. Studies show that over-consumption of sports drinks is linked to weight gain and an increase in cavities in children.

Another concern are the artificial colors many sports drinks contain – they serve no other purpose than to make them more “fun.” There is some evidence that some kids are sensitive to artificial coloring – potentially causing ADHD-like symptoms, or making them worse. So it is important to read labels to know what is in the sports drinks, when there is a color and a number – that means it contains artificial coloring.

If someone is showing signs of dehydration – grab them any sports drink – dehydration is very serious and it is not the appropriate time to debate about the drawbacks of artificial colors or sugar.

Artificially Sweetened Drinks

Many people choose artificially sweetened sports drinks to avoid the sugar and calories. But the artificially sweetened ones will not replenish the lost glycogen – so the only purpose the artificial sweetener serves is for taste. There is evidence that artificial sweeteners might have negative health consequences, read The Truth About Aspartame, MSG and Excitotoxins – an interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock.  I do not recommend them to adults or children. There are much better alternatives out there now.

Alternative Electrolyte Replenishers:

If you want an electrolyte replenisher, but don’t want the added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial coloring, there are some cool products available:

  1. Nuun – is a complex blend of electrolytes designed to be absorbed by the body quickly & easily. Nuun contains no sugar or artificial sweeteners, so if you want to replenish lost glycogen stores – reach for another kind of carbohydrate – like raisins, orange, granola, a banana, etc.
  2. Coconut Water – Nature’s perfect drink – coconut water is naturally high in potassium and other minerals, and it also has some natural carbohydrates. Coconut water is naturally alkalizing – which helps to balance our body’s pH and recover from workouts. I like the brand Zico, which comes in a variety of flavors.  Or you can pop a straw right into a raw young coconut!
  3. Electrolyte waters – replenish lost electrolytes without the sugar, artificial coloring, etc. I like the brand Metroelectro. These do not contain carbohydrates, so to replenish glycogen stores have with a carbohydrate.

Soft Drinks & Alternatives

Soft drinks are not a good choice for hydration, for a number of reasons:

When you want a soda, try making your own “Fruit Fizzy.”  Squeeze your favorite citrus juice into a glass, squeeze in some Natures Agave clear nectar, and pour some sparkling water – voila!  An antioxidant-rich homemade soda!  If you can’t make your own fruit sodas, I like IZZE-esque – which only has 50 calories and is made with sparkling water and real fruit juice.   Or if you want something calorie free, quick and on the go – try Metromint – is pure water and 100% real mint, which creates a unique cooling sensation that relieves your thirst, soothes digestion, and revives your body. They come in a variety of minty flavors – even chocolate mint!

Some foods can help hydrate and replace lost minerals, to mention a few:

Stay hydrated!

Suggested reading:

Articles:

Dehydration, Wikipedia

The Dangers of Dehydration, Natural News

Books:

Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by Dr. Fereydoon Batmandhelidj

Free E-Book!