Hydration doesn’t always have to mean water for athletes

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  7/7/2009 7:06:31 PM

Back-to-School News Distributed 07/07/09

Whether you’re a school athlete, occasional exerciser or simply a spectator, you share one common fact: you can’t live long without water. Your body needs enough water to carry out many vital functions and to help you perform at your best.

It’s important to remain hydrated both on and off the field, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.

“Being hydrated means the water you consume from beverages and foods is in balance with the water your body loses from perspiration, respiration, elimination and other bodily processes,” Reames explains.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily water intake of 91 ounces for healthy women and 125 ounces for healthy men. Water needs increase with factors such as strenuous physical activity, hot and cold weather extremes and illness from fever, diarrhea or vomiting.

“Water can mean more than just plain drinking water,” the nutritionist says. It includes milk, fruit juices, sports drinks and watery foods such as fruits and vegetables and even caffeinated beverages. About 80 percent of water intake comes from beverages, and about 20 percent comes from foods.

“You may be surprised to learn that caffeinated beverages are not dehydrating, as is commonly believed,” Reames says. A 2004 report from the IOM concluded that caffeinated beverages such as regular coffee, tea and soft drinks contribute to total daily water intake, similar to beverages without caffeine.

“Although caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, it does not generally contribute to dehydration, because the fluid in the beverage itself cancels out any fluid loss from the body,” Reames says, adding, “In fact, all beverages have a mild diuretic effect, even water.”

So, how much caffeine is OK? Studies indicated moderate caffeine intake of up to 300 milligrams per day does not cause adverse effects for most people. (An 8-ounce cup of coffee typically contains 85 milligrams of caffeine, and a 12-ounce can of cola typically contains 40 milligrams of caffeine.)

Individual sensitivities to caffeine may vary, however, and certain subpopulations such as children and pregnant women, as well as those with a history of heart attack and/or high blood pressure may experience increased sensitivity to caffeine.

For more information on hydration and caffeine Reames suggests visiting the International Food Information Council at www.ific.org.

Thirst is often the first alert that your body needs water. Other symptoms include dry mouth, swollen tongue, weakness, dizziness, confusion, sluggishness or fainting. Athletes may experience muscle cramps from dehydration.

“Don’t rely on thirst alone when you work out hard or are in hot conditions,” Reames cautions, explaining, “Drink ‘proactively’ whether you’re thirsty or not – before, during and after a workout.”

Repeated drinking of smaller amounts of fluids is effective for complete rehydration as opposed to rapidly drinking large quantities of fluids at one time, which actually might reduce the amount of water your body retains by increasing urine production. “So, it pays to slow down a bit every few minutes to take a swig from your sports bottle; then you can continue full speed ahead,” Reames says.

Often, a urine check is the easiest way to judge hydration status, according to experts. You’re drinking enough if your urine is pale yellow or almost colorless. It’s time to drink up if your urine is small in volume, strong-smelling or dark in color (although taking certain vitamins and dietary supplements may also temporarily darken urine color).

Though rare, it’s possible to drink too much fluid and dilute the body’s sodium levels. This dangerous condition is called hyponatremia.

“But keep in mind that, for most athletes, the biggest concern is dehydration caused by not drinking enough fluids,” Reames explains, advising, “Work with your trainer, coach or sports nutritionist to determine the optimal amount of fluids for you.”

Coaches and trainers can promote proper hydration by providing plenty of water, sports drinks and other preferred beverages at workout sessions, practices and events and encouraging athletes to drink whenever they want, rather than waiting for a specific break time.

Reames suggests trying the “weigh-in” technique for rehydration. Weigh yourself before and after exercise and drink 16-24 fluid ounces to replace every pound lost. Pick a drink that appeals to you. Of course, plain water is a great replenisher, but if you don’t like water, you can still stay hydrated by drinking other liquids. Choose what you like, so you’re more likely to drink up.

Make hydration fit into your schedule. Stock up on beverages for the week so you have them handy for your workouts, meals and snacks. Keep water in your car, on your desk and next to your bed to ensure you always have something to sip on.

“Think outside the bottle,” Reames advises, “by hydrating yourself with watery foods such as fruits, vegetables and soups. Examples include lettuce, watermelon, broccoli, grapefruit, carrots and apples.”

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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