Now that summer is approaching rapidly, temperatures are beginning to soar and the humidity is getting thicker every day. For those of us who like to exercise outdoors, that translates into a greater need to pay attention to keeping ourselves hydrated adequately.
Just how much water is enough? It was once thought that eight 8-oz. glasses was the minimum. Then came the overhydration scare – the premise that one can drink too much water. So just how much water should you put in that glass or aluminum bottle? (You’re not still drinking from a plastic bottle, are you?!)
The best indicator of whether or not you are sufficiently hydrated is your own urine. Pale yellow pee indicates that you have satisfied your hydration needs. Any darker, you need to drink up. Personally, my water intake varies greatly from summer to winter. In the winter it’s all I can do to force myself to drink 32 ounces of water every day. I fill up my aluminum water bottle in the morning and make sure I drink the entire bottle by the end of the day. I also drink a small amount of juice, and the fruits and veggies I take in contribute a small amount of water as well. However, in the hot and humid summer months, I try to empty the water bottle once by 2 p.m. and fill it to the top again, then try to drink the entire contents again by the end of the day for a total of 64 ounces.
And if I don’t get in my 32 ounces in the winter, or 64 ounces in the summer, what are the consequences? I may feel hungry or fatigued. If I am really behind in my water intake, I may even put on a pound or two, since I don’t have the water to help me flush out my system. And speaking of my system , it seems to work better overall the more water I drink. Without enough fluids, I may experience, shall I say, less than desirable GI effects – feel free to call me if you’d like further clarification – I’d rather not go into details in this publication! I remember a rule of thumb that said "drink before you are thirsty." The theory was that by the time you realize your thirst, you are already dehydrated. Well, I haven’t seen any claims lately to support or dispute that. But there are ways to tell if your body is in need of water. Some short-term signs that you are a bit dehydrated may include fatigue, confusion, muscle cramps, hunger (thirst is often mistaken for hunger), and decreased performance. And of course the most obvious sign - you may simply be thirsty.
More severe dehydration may occur in hotter weather, with more intense exercise, or when hydration needs are not met for several days in a row. This can result in symptoms of confusion, a decrease in body weight, high blood pressure, a change in skin appearance, and/or and weakness.
Even more severe dehydration may cause acute symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, which can be extremely harmful and potentially even fatal. Some signs of this may include the following:
• Abdominal and/or leg cramps
• Staggering gait
• Moist, cool, pale, or flushed skin can signify heat exhaustion
• Red, hot, dry skin can signify heatstroke (much more serious than heat exhaustion)
• Rapid heart rate
• Rapid, shallow breathing
If you or someone else should experience any of these warning symptoms, what should you do?
• Get the victim out of the heat
• Loosen any tight clothing
• Apply cool, wet cloths
• Give cool water to drink – but only about 4 oz every 15 minutes. If the individual refuses water, call 911.
• Vomiting or changes in consciousness indicate a worsening of the condition, and 911 should be called. If ice packs are available, place them on the person’s wrists, ankles, armpits, neck, and groin to cool the larger blood vessels.
Overhydration – is it possible to get too much water?
The threat of being over-hydrated is indeed very real, but not very likely. Overhydration, or hypernutremia, occurs most often in extreme endurance events where the individual loses not only a large amount of water but also a significant amount of electrolytes. In such instances, when the athlete replaces only the water and not the electrolytes such as those found in a sports drink, the balance of calcium and potassium which is important in maintaining a regular homeostasis for cardiovascular functioning may be thrown off, and the individual may be in severe danger. Keep in mind that this usually only occurs, as stated above, in endurance sports being performed in extreme heat. Most recreational athletes need only to replace lost fluids with water. However, people participating in sporting events in hot weather lasting more than an hour may benefit from sports drinks with added electrolytes. Otherwise, the benefit from the added electrolytes does not outweigh the added sugar found in most sports drinks, and water will suffice to keep the body hydrated.
So, for those of us who will continue to exercise outdoors through the summer months, what is the best way to address our hydration needs? The following tips may help.
• Make sure you are adequately hydrated. Be sure to drink water before, during, and after an exercise session or event. If you plan to be exercising longer than one hour, a sports drink may be helpful in replacing electrolytes that you lose during your workout. Be sure to practice using different sports drinks during your training leading up to such an event so you will know which ones work for you – and beware of added sugar in those sports drinks;
• Avoid excessive alcohol prior to a strenuous exercise session. Holidays and tailgating events may tempt you to imbibe more than normal, but be sure to hydrate more than normal as well – in fact, for every alcoholic drink, a glass of water should be consumed;
• Remember that caffeinated drinks such as tea or coffee may also contribute to dehydration. Just as with alcoholic beverages, try to drink a glass of water for every caffeinated beverage;
• When exercising outdoors, try to do so in the early morning or evening hours when the sun is not so hot and there may be a slight breeze;
• Keep in mind that strenuous exercise raises the body’s core temperature. This triggers the body to release blood to the capillaries of the skin, aiding in sweat production. This means that less blood is delivered to your muscles, and less blood is available to remove the waste products of exercise from those same muscles. In other words, you will feel worse and may perform even more so! So be sure to adjust your workout goals accordingly, and consider lowering your expectations. Don’t be upset if you don’t even come close to your goal of a PR, or if your usual workout leaves you feeling more exhausted than normal;
Exercise in the early morning or evening hours when the sun is not so hot and there may be (if you’re lucky!) a slight breeze;
If you must exercise during the daylight hours, seek out the shade;
• Make sure you dress accordingly. Your clothing should be lightweight and light in color. Cotton fabrics will absorb sweat and become heavy and damp, so look for some of the great new wicking products available. These will move moisture away from your skin, allowing your sweat to evaporate and you to feel cooler. Dark colors absorb heat, so dress in light colored clothing. Also, don’t wear a hat, as most of your body heat is lost through the top of your head;
• Pour water over your head. The evaporation encourages the cooling process, and the cold water feels great too;
• Wear sunscreen. Be sure to use one that not only protects against both UVA and UVB rays, but one that also will not clog your pores. (Of course, my recommendation is to avoid the issue altogether and –once again- plan for your outdoor workouts to occur either early in the morning or late in the day when the sun isn’t shining!).
Meredith Nelson, M.Ed, is the owner of PrimeTime Fitness, Inc, on Sullivan’s Island. A Daniel Island resident, Meredith can be reached with your fitness questions at 883-0101, or Meredith@primetimefit.net.