The strawberry moon was a mere week ago and the dog days of summer are here at last. With that we are now into marathon/triathlon season. While folks should have been training and hydrating appropriately for months, the simple truth is, most folks are still relying heavily on products that contain vitamins, sugar, some electrolytes and often caffeine to improve hydration and performance. While others complain that some of these beverages cause abdominal cramps and reach for bottled water as their “hydration” beverage of choice.
One of the most commonly asked questions in my wellness practice is “I keep drinking and drinking and I just cannot quench my thirst”. When I ask my patients, “what are you drinking”, the reply is always “water”. “Aren’t we supposed to drink 3 liters of water a day to be healthy?”
That begs the question, how many times have you heard the message “drink plenty of fluids,” or “drink 3 liters of fluids per day,” or some such message? Notice that I have used the term “fluids” and not “water”? It's interesting to me that many folks have just assumed that “fluids” equals “water”.
Why not “plenty” of water? We have known for a long time that drinking too much water can actually cause issues with the salt balance in the body, especially if you aren’t eating much. It’s summertime and so the natural reaction for those of us who like to exercise is to increase our water consumption. If you have a well balanced diet and you are exercising for an hour or less, and you are only consuming 20 ounces of water, you will probably be fine.
If you are exercising on a regular basis, or training for or participating in a triathlon or marathon or are on medications that make you lose fluids, and “hydrating” with excessive amounts of water or “sport drinks,” therein lies the problem. You will not be “quenching your thirst”... you may actually be setting the body up to want more fluids. Huh???
Hydration does not necessarily mean “drink more water”, or even drink sugary sports drinks.
What do I mean? Despite the advertisements, all sports drinks are hypotonic to plasma (with the exception of one that I know of called GoHydrate ). Now you are asking, what does that mean, exactly? Well, the amount of electrolytes in sports drinks is less than that found in your bloodstream. So, if you drink copious amounts of water or sports drinks, the amount of electrolytes in the blood will get diluted out. This is a signal to the kidneys to “rid the body of that “extra” fluid, resulting in a diuretic rather than hydrating effect.
True hydration is found in a delicate balance of electrolytes in the body. If the level of sodium is just mildly low, then an individual may just feel a little tired or dizzy, clearly not something you want to see happen. In addition, low levels of potassium or magnesium can also cause fatigue, muscle aches and cramps.
Without trying to sound like a commercial, why do I like GoHydrate ? Well, the best hydration treatment (besides IV fluids) is to consume an isotonic electrolyte beverage containing all 5 of your critical electrolytes and no sugar. GoHydrate is the only product that seems to “fit the bill” I generally recommend drinking 20 oz- 30 minutes before, and then immediately after exercise, but a lot of folks (myself included) love to drink it during exercise. If you do this and you eat a healthy well balanced diet, you will need to drink water only when you are thirsty. More extreme forms of exercise may require more GoHydrate to prevent both dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. When I go for a long (2-8 hour) bike ride - I will drink GoHydrate before my ride, during and then again sometime afterwards as well.
How do you know you are doing it right?
A good rule of thumb, If you are “really thirsty” and you have already consumed 8-12 ounces of water and are still thirsty - reach for another balanced electrolyte beverage, it’s not water your body craves, it’s electrolytes. One final note, the electrolyte beverage should be isotonic and devoid of sugar. Without a blood test, it is impossible to know which electrolyte is low, so replenishing the key electrolytes [Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus] will ensure that you will get what you need. Why not sugar? Sugar slows down the absorption of the fluids and is the culprit behind those “stomach cramps”.
Stay hydrated, happy training and I hope you achieve your marathon or triathlon goals this summer!