Some of the most important nutritional components of optimal athletic performance as well as recreational activity are water and micronutrients. Water and micronutrients help the body optimize the energy found in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Many people have heard at some point in their life that water makes up some large percentage of their total body weight. The truth is, water is the body’s most abundant nutrient and vital to all of the body’s functions and processes. As many of us know, one of the body’s most important functions is to keep us cool. Slight dehydration of even one percent can demonstrate itself as a decrease in performance. The human body must have the right combination of water and nutrients at all times to perform at an optimal level.
Everyone wants to know exactly how much water is enough…. should we drink 8 glasses of water or our body weight divided in half, in ounces? The truth is, there is no single standard for everyone. It depends on a variety of factors, such as bodyweight, activity level, climate, etc. The simplest and most effective way to know if you are getting enough water is to measure the color of your urine. It should be a pale yellow color, resembling fresh squeezed lemon juice. It should have no odor either. If your urine is darker in color or it has a strong odor, you are dehydrated. There is one exception to this, when vitamin and other supplement levels are high, they can turn the urine a bright yellow or brownish yellow in addition to causing a strong odor. You will need to cut back on vitamin intake to access your urine properly.
It is recommended for many athletes to do weigh-ins before and after workouts, to see how much water an athlete is losing in any given session. Remember that even a 1% decrease in body water levels will decrease performance. In a 125 pound athlete this would be equal to about 2.5 pound water weight loss. Quick body-weight loss is due primarily to water loss. Thus, checking body-weight levels before and after training and competitions is an accurate way to check body water loss. The recreational exerciser as well as the weight-loss participant can use the same methods to more accurately measure their success.
Remember that thirst is not a good indicator of proper hydration. By the time you begin to feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. You may be able to drink enough water to satisfy your thirst, more often than not, you body will still be dehydrated. This is why it is important to drink water continuously throughout the day. In addition to drinking water throughout the day, here are some guidelines to follow for water and other fluid intake before, during, and after exercise.
Before one begins exercise they should consider consuming 2 cups (16-20 ounces) of water about 2 hours beforehand. Additionally they should consume another 2 cups of water or other cool fluid about 15-20 minutes before they start. Drinking water or other cool fluids at these specified times can avoid or delay dehydration during physical activity, help maintain muscular strength, endurance, and coordination as well as decrease the probability of muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Recently it has been shown that the consumption of water 60 minutes prior to exercise helps the body work more efficiently improving heat regulation and exercise performance.
Now that the body has properly been prepped for exercise, what should one drink during exercise to keep the body moving at an optimal speed? It is believed that in order to replace all of the fluids lost through sweat; one should consume 6-12 ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes during exercise. This will result in drinking between 2 ½-6 cups of fluid for each hour of exercise. When exercising for an hour or less, water is an appropriate fluid replacement. When exercising for longer than an hour, a combination of a sport drink containing a 6-8% carbohydrate concentration as well as water is recommended. The combination is recommended because as the duration of exercise increases our bodies begin to lose important vitamins and minerals through sweat. Additionally our energy stores become depleted and the carbohydrates provide important instant energy to the body. Sport drinks also contain electrolytes that help aid in the absorption of water into the system. Those who exercise in high temperatures or humid conditions should consider consuming a sport drink after 30-45 minutes of exercise due to the increased stress placed on the body while exercising in such conditions.
One should be careful when choosing a sport drink. It is important that it contains 6-8% carbohydrate concentration because, levels higher than that can cause fluid absorption into the body to slow down tremendously. The goal is to replenish all the lost fluids, minerals, and vitamins. You should also be away of the sodium content in a sport drink, because sodium is one of the first minerals to be depleted through sweating and exercise. One should look for a sport drink with 0.5-0.7 grams of sodium per liter of fluid.
There is one exception to the above mentioned guidelines, intermittent exercise, such as soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, etc can include brief, intense bursts of exercise that last for anywhere between less than one hour to more than three hours. While water is traditionally recommended for short duration, intermittent exercise, research supports athletic performance improvements when a carbohydrate/electrolyte beverage is consumed in combination with water.
After exercise, if one weighed themselves before and after they should consume 3 cups (24 ounces) of water for each pound of weight lost during exercise. Ideally one would strive to achieve pre-workout or competition weight. If no weighing was done, then one should aim to consume a minimum of 3-4 cups of water (24-32 ounces). Water will continue to be lost through urination during the post-exercise recovery period.