By Jake Heikkinen, AT, ATC, CSCS Henry Ford Medical System
Not only is H20 an essential nutrient, it literally makes up your entire being: We’re all 40 to 70 percent water, depending on your fitness level and age. And while staying hydrated is always important, it may become more challenging as the weather heats up. Hard-working muscles generate more heat when they’re surrounded by hot air, making it harder for your body to maintain a normal temperature.
Even a 1 to 2 percent loss of body weight (from water) can compromise your performance and impact your body’s ability to cool itself. The heart pumps harder, circulation slows and muscles fatigue more quickly. If the loss creeps up to 3 to 4 percent, you’ll be at increased risk of developing heat-related illness and injury, including cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Even when you’re not active, your body loses more than a quart of water every day through urine, perspiration, sweat and breath, according to the National Institutes of Health. And most days, it’s more than 2.5 quarts.
The goal, of course, is to replace what’s lost. And with a little planning and preparation, you can during any outdoor activity, no matter what the thermometer says. Here’s how:
- Drink before you’re thirsty. Need to quench your thirst? Chances are you’re already dehydrated. Your best defense against dehydration? Drinking water on a consistent basis, so you never reach the point of thirst.
- Take frequent water breaks. While you may not want to disrupt your workout for a water break, taking a time out for some much-needed liquid nourishment will pay off in the long run. Drink 8 to 10 ounces of water (about one full glass) before starting any activity. Once the games begin, drink another 7 to 10 ounces every 20 to 30 minutes.
- Track your intake. Many people don’t know how much water they should drink daily—or even how much water they’re typically downing. If you’re sipping on a 16-ounce bottle, drink 8 of them each day—and even more if you’re exercising heavily.
- Consider an electrolyte drink. Working out for more than an hour? Consider sipping a sports drink—or nibbling on some pretzels or a banana to restore lost electrolytes (minerals in the blood that regulate bodily systems). Your body loses important electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chloride when you sweat. A good sports drink can help you replenish them. Coconut water is a great choice, but there are a slew of healthy, low-sugar options on the market.
- Munch on water-rich produce. Water-packed snacks, including melon, berries, bell peppers and grapes, are all good options. A bonus: All of these foods boast a decent hit of electrolytes, too!
- Step on the scale. Weigh yourself before and after a workout. If the scale shows a loss, replenish it with water (gulp 20 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost). If you’ve lose 3 percent or more of your body weight, chances are you’re severely dehydrated.
- Watch your urine stream. It may seem gross, but checking your pee is probably the best way to determine whether you’re dehydrated. If it looks like watered down, colored lemonade, you’re probably in the clear. But if it’s a deep yellow or light orange, you’re probably not drinking enough fluid.
Keep in mind that heat exhaustion happens quickly—especially during summertime activities—and it can easily turn into heat stroke, a dangerous condition that can lead to organ damage, seizures, coma and even death. If you feel dehydrated, dizzy or overheated, get out of the sun, sip some water (slowly) and apply cooling compresses to your head, neck and chest. If symptoms don’t improve quickly, get to a doctor or call 9-1-1.