Water, water everywhere but how much should you drink? Whether you’re brand new to running, or a seasoned triathlete, hydration questions are top of mind as the weather gets warmer. Learn why staying hydrated matters—for health and performance, and how to ensure you’re hydrated all summer long.
Sweat it out
When beads of sweat drop off your face, you’re not just losing water, you’re also losing electrolytes. If you’ve ever finished a race and discovered a white powder—similar to fine salt—on your skin, you’ve seen firsthand that loss of electrolytes. The amount of water and electrolytes you lose depends on the temperature, humidity, type of activity and your genetic predisposition. As you probably know if you work out with any training partners, some people are naturally heavy sweaters, while others barely break a sweat.
The main ingredient: water
Water is just as essential as oxygen for your body. Your blood is mostly water, and you better believe it needs plenty of it to deliver all key substances—like oxygen, nutrients, and hormones—to and waste from the cells. You also need water to regulate your body’s temperature and keep your skin firm.
Electrolytes for the win!
Electrolytes are a hot buzz word, but can you name the five main electrolytes off the top of your head? Hello sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride, and thank you for regulating our fluid balance, blood pH, heart, nerve and muscle function. These minerals are electrically charged, which means that they have the ability to conduct electrical impulses—essential in firing off muscle contractions. In order to keep muscular, cardiac, nervous, and digestive systems all running smoothly, an adequate supply of electrolytes is required. Electrolytes and water are more quickly absorbed into your cells when simple carbohydrates are present.
Dangers of dehydration
The more you sweat during exercise, the more likely you are to become dehydrated. Low levels of hydration lead to low blood volume. When your blood volume drops, your body compromises circulation and has poor nutrient exchange, hormone balance and waste removal. With even a small change in water hydration level (even just 2%), exercise performance is decreased.
When dehydrated, sodium levels in the blood decrease, resulting in hyponatremia (low sodium levels). The first signs of hyponatremia include fatigue, headache, weakness and nausea. As the hyponatremia worsens you may experience cramping, disorientation and confusion, swelling of extremities, and in extreme cases, swelling of the brain. Cramping is common in athletes and is a good key indicator that the body has depleted its electrolytes.
Warning signs of dehydration
Urine color is the best indicator of dehydration. Ranging in color from pale ale to amber to neon green, your pee can tell you a lot about your hydration (and sometimes what you’re eating. What’s up asparagus and beets?).
Even when you’re not competing, keep hydration at the top of your mind by choosing foods that are rich in water and electrolytes:
- Water: Cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, leafy greens
- Sodium: Seaweed (kombu, wakame, nori), peas, sea salt
- Potassium: All fruits and vegetables
- Magnesium: Pumpkin seeds, spinach, soy beans
- Chloride: Tomatoes, lettuce, celery, olives
No matter what activity you’re doing, staying hydrated isn’t hard and will keep you safe and at peak performance.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.