Headaches. Fatigue. Lack of alertness. No, these are not the signs of staying up late watching TV. They are the tell-tale signs of dehydration — the excessive loss of fluids from the body.
We’ve heard it before. Water is the most abundant nutrient in our body. It’s the primary ingredient in muscles, blood and other body cells. Without it, body processes become sluggish and inefficient. No doubt, lack of fluids can kill us much quicker than lack of food.
Athletes have special fluid needs because they are athletes. For example, I learned that well-trained athletes sweat more — not less — than the rest of us. Why? Because water (perspiration) is what keeps these extremely active bodies from overheating. Cool.
And just because we’re not running 26 miles with 600 other athletes does not mean we don’t need to pay attention to our own water needs. Here are some hydration reminders from sports nutrition experts:
Check your urine. If it’s the color of straw or lemonade, you’re appropriately hydrated, experts say. Dark or apple juice-colored urine signals dehydration, or the need for more fluids.
Check your weight. Before you exercise. After you exercise. Performance suffers with as little as 2 percent loss of fluid. Restore every pound you lose during exercise with a pound or so (16 to 24 ounces) of fluid.
Drink plain water before you exercise. It’s the best choice for most of our activities that last less than 90 minutes.
Sip on about 4 ounces (½ cup) of fluid after about 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. If your workout goes beyond 90 minutes, add a sports drink that contains some carbohydrates (sugar) plus electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
Good choices for sports drinks, according to sports nutrition experts, are those that are moderate in calories (about 50 to 70 calories per 8-ounce cup), moderate in sodium (not more than 110 to 220 milligrams), and high in potassium. BTW, cold beverages help cool the body and have been found to be better absorbed.
Replenish energy stores and electrolytes after intense exercise. Eating or drinking foods that contain protein and carbohydrates within a half-hour after vigorous exercise can store energy back into depleted muscles, researchers say.
Chocolate milk, for example, has been found to have the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein for recovery after an activity that lasts more than an hour.
Pay attention to calcium and magnesium-rich foods. Muscle cramps can result when these minerals are low. Good sources of calcium and magnesium? Milk, yogurt, spinach, nuts and seeds, whole grain breads, cereals, crackers.
Take it easy with protein drinks. Beverages loaded with extra protein can actually increase the risk for dehydration. They are not recommended as fluid replacement drinks.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at barbara.quinnchomp.org.