DO YOU DRINK ENOUGH WATER?
Consumer Reports on Health November 1999
A well-conditioned NBA rookie, a 34-year-old businesswoman, and a 58-year old executive recently retired. Each complained of the same symptoms: muscle cramps, headaches, and fatigue, especially near the end of the day. In each case, Susan Kiciner, Ph.D., a registered dietitian in Seattle , suspected the same problem: too little water. "They were all somewhat dehydrated, just dehydrated enough to make their days a little miserable." In each case, a simple water prescription cured the problem.
Those cases are hardly unique. In fact, most people consume less than the optimal amount of water and a significant number of them do experience symptoms. Moreover, a skimpy water intake may cause more than just symptoms. It clearly contributes to constipation and increases the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It probably helps cause or worsen asthma, dental disease, kidney stones, and urinary-tract infections. It may even increase the risk of colds and cancer.
Insufficient water intake is a particular concern for older people, because aging, certain drugs (notably sedatives and tranquilizers), and certain diseases (such as diabetes and stroke) may all weaken the sense of thirst. In fact, dehydration is one of the top ten reasons why older people are hospitalized. Young or old, you need to know whether your body requires more water and whether wetting your whistle more could really help your health.
What do we do?
Most people don't consume enough water. The evidence that the resulting deficit may keep you from feeling your best or may help promote or worsen various health problems including constipation, urinary-tract infection, kidney stones, asthma, dental disease, and possibly even colds. But boosting your fluid intake is so cheap and simple that even a slight possibility of payoffs make that step a good idea for most people. In addition, some people tend to eat rather than drink when they're thirsty, for two possible reasons. Many foods make you feel less thirsty, since they contain some water and relieve dryness in the mouth by stimulating salivation. And some people simply confuse thirst with hunger. Deliberately drinking more can rectify the problem, eating less is aways a plus when trying to reduce weight.
Remember that you can get your daily water requirements from sources other than pure water. Your cup of tea counts! Water is the main ingredient in all drinks – carbonated drinks, and even coffee. All these contribute to your daily fluid intake. Fruit and vegetables also have high water content, so proper nutrition is just as important.
Exercise: Keeping Hydrated
During physical activity the body loses water primarily through sweat, even in cold weather or in water. The body has several mechanisms to protect itself from the negative effects of dehydration, but thirst does not occur until the person is already dehydrated!
As we get older, drinking enough water is especially important because with age our body is less able to regulate our temperature, putting us at increased risk of heat-related illness. Age also affects our ability to stay hydrated during exercise and our ability to recognize when we need more water.
A key to successful workouts is keeping well hydrated before, during and after exercise. The length of your workouts, heat, humidity and the amount you sweat are all major considerations for keeping your body in proper fluid balance.
- Start hydrating early by drinking 1-2 cups of water in the morning
- Keep a water bottle with you all day long
- Drink before you get thirsty
- Drink 1-2 cups of fluid 30 minutes before exercise
- Drink ½ - 1 cup of fluid for every 15 minutes of exercise
- Replenish fluids lost (2 ½ cups for every pound lost during exercise)
- Keep drinking even after your thirst is quenched
Water vs. Sport Drinks
For exercise lasting under 45 minutes, water is your best choice. For the recreational athlete who may exercise 30-40 minutes per session, water is sufficient for hydration:
- Water is easily absorbed
- Water is the best choice to drink before moderate length exercise
- Water is readily available and less expensive than sport drinks
Research suggests that for workouts consisting of at least 45 minutes of continuous exercise or high-intensity workouts of any duration – running, aerobics, biking and intense weight training – a sports drink may be beneficial in delaying muscle fatigue by providing your body with additional energy:
- Sport drinks will replenish fluids while containing a small amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes
- A steady source of carbohydrates during prolonged exercise fights off fatigue and enhances performance by fueling the muscles
- Studies show that a solution containing electrolytes and carbohydrates may be absorbed more quickly and helps to retain fluids consumed after prolonged intense exercise
- The taste of a good sport drink may encourage you to keep drinking
Drinking too much water can cause problems such as water intoxication and, although this is not something most of us have to worry about, it does happen among many exercisers and should be something to be aware of. As the water content of the blood increases, the salt content is diluted; consequently, the amount of salt available to body tissues decreases, which can lead to problems with brain, heart and muscle function.
These symptoms can also be attributed to dehydration, so it is important to know your body and know how much you are drinking. Please take this seriously, over-hydration did happen to a very close friend of mine who was an avid cyclist and was in great shape. After completing a long cycling event over-hydration almost killed him, he was in the hospital for a week. When it gets hot and you are working hard, remember sport drinks/salts while working out can save your life. While working out in the heat, water is not enough.