Summer fun often translates to fun in the sun… and sweaty bodies! Here are a few half truths and quick tips related to hydration to keep in mind as we get into the peak of summer.
- Myth: Plain water is the best hydration beverage.
The best? Surprisingly, not always. Depending on factors such as duration and intensity of exercise, altitude, sweat rate, and sodium losses, plain water may not be your optimal choice. Of all the electrolytes, sodium is most important to include in a hydrator as it is vital to maintaining adequate fluid balance. If you’ve ever noticed that you are peeing frequently when just drinking copious amounts of plain water, your body may not actually be absorbing the water (due to a lack of sodium to help with this process).
The other main concern with drinking plain water is the risk for exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). This occurs when there is a decrease in plasma sodium levels due to excessive plain water intake. Commons signs and symptoms for EAH include headache, nausea, weakness, and vomiting. This is usually not an issue for shorter events or exercise bouts (< 4 hours). However, for the ultra athletes and multi-day trekkers, it’s important to give attention to your hydration strategy to ensure prevention of this condition. This is especially the case in hot and humid environmental conditions.
- Myth: Combining your hydration and your calories all in one bottle is the best of both worlds.
Actually, this strategy can often result in a couple negative side effects: dehydration, gastrointestinal distress (stomach and abdominal cramping or worse!), and a feeling of sluggishness. None of these are desirable, especially for athletes!
Many traditional sports nutrition drink formulas contain a 5-9% concentration of carbohydrate that, unfortunately, gets in the way of the hydration process. It is not only the concentration of the drink mix that can be problematic, but the source of the calories within the mix that may be the double whammy.
If you’re fueling with the ‘all-in-one’ drink mix, pay attention to how you feel and make sure to breaks to consume water regularly.
- Myth: Just drink water “to thirst” and you’re fine with hydration!
Honestly, if you had several sport scientists and sport dietitians in the room, you’d be bound to witness fist fights about this topic.
What I say in response to the above statement is … IT DEPENDS. In general, sure, drink to thirst and see how it goes. But, there are a slew of considerations before I would say this blanket statement holds true for you or the masses: exercise intensity/duration, environmental conditions (humidity, temperature, wind forces), altitude, your inherent ability to sense thirst (yes, really!), age, level of athlete (and hence, training load/volume), experience with heat illness, sweat rates, sodium losses, and female hormone levels. As much as it sounds great to keep it simple and trust your thirst instincts, there is a time and a place to be more strategic with a hydration strategy.
If you’ve been knocked down with some hydration issues and want some personal guidance, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get ya fixed up!
Dina Griffin, MS, RDN, CSSD, METS II
Board Certified Sport Dietitian
Providing Nationwide and International Health & Performance Nutrition and Physiology Testing