By Kelly Aleman, RD/LD

Brought to you by Florida East Coast Runners

Almost everyone realizes that maintaining adequate hydration status during exercise is important for preventing heat illness or injury and for optimal athletic performance. Basic as it may sound, water is one of the most important nutrients in our sports diet. Drinking too little water or losing too much through profuse sweating inhibits our ability to exercise at maximum potential. Perhaps the following fluid tips will inspire you to maintain better hydration during training and competition. In addition, the tips can answer your questions and concerns about how much, what, and when you should drink.

·  Throughout the day, be sure to routinely consume plenty of fluids. If necessary, carry a water bottle with you especially if you travel frequently. At home, keep an inviting supply of water, juice or sports drinks in the refrigerator. If you enjoy the fluid you will drink more.

·  Water is not the only fluid that will meet your fluid requirements. Almost any nonalcoholic and decaffeinated beverage is appropriate. Examples include juice, lemonade, seltzer, herbal tea, sports drinks, milk, smoothies, soft drinks, soup, juicy fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and other watery foods. Coffee or tea with caffeine count less because caffeine's diuretic effect may negate water intake.

·  Passage of copious amounts of pale or nearly colorless urine (like lemonade) is an indication of good hydration. In addition, a significant volume of urine every 2 to 4 hours signifies you have had enough to drink. If you take a vitamin supplement, your urine will likely be bright yellow. Dark colored urine indicates dehydration.

·  Before exercise, it is recommended that you consume 17-20 fluid ounces approximately 2-3 hours prior to exercise. In addition, you need to consume 8-10 fluid ounces 10-20 minutes prior to exercise. This protocol tops up hydration status while allowing time for passage of any excess fluid as urine before starting exercise.

·  During exercise, it is important to start drinking fluids early to prevent dehydration. What you consume at the start will invest in your finish. Do not rely on your thirst mechanism to tell you how much to drink as it may poorly reflect your actual fluid needs. In general, it is recommended that you consume about 8-10 ounces or as much as you can tolerate every 15-20 minutes of strenuous exercise.

·  Water is a popular choice and is appropriate for casual exercise that lasts less than an hour. But for intense exercise, or for endurance exercise lasting longer than an hour you should try to consume 120-240 carbohydrate calories per hour. This could include 1-2 sports gels with water or 16-20 ounces of sports drink. The energy from the carbohydrates enhances stamina and endurance.

·  Beverages that offer up to 80 calories per 8 ounces are absorbed more quickly than stronger solutions such as soft drinks or juices that offer about 100 calories per 8 ounces. Some easily absorbed fluids include sports drinks, diluted juices, tea with honey, and diluted soft drinks.

·  If you sweat a lot, you should pay careful attention to your fluid intake. To guide your fluid intake, weigh yourself before and after you exercise. Weight changes reflect sweat losses. Given that one pound of lost sweat equals two cups of fluid, you should plan to replace the losses accordingly. For example, if you drop two pounds of sweat during an hour of exercise, you should target drinking 32 ounces of fluids per hour in future bouts. This comes to 8 ounces every 15 minutes.

·  After exercise, you need to correct any post-exercise fluid deficits ideally within 2 hours. This is particularly important when another exercise session will follow that day. It is important to choose carbohydrate rich fluids to help replenish glycogen stores and enhance recovery. Some choices may include a sports drink, juices or a decaffeinated soft drink. There is a product on the market now called Endurox that includes both carbohydrate and protein which actually helps replenish glycogen stores more effectively.

·  Beer is a popular post-exercise recovery fluid but the alcohol in beer has a dehydrating effect that causes you to lose valuable fluids at a time you should be replacing them. If you intend to drink beer: 1) quench your thirst with 2 or 3 large glasses of water, 2) have something to eat so that you are not drinking on an empty stomach, and then 3) enjoy a beer or two in moderation.

Hopefully the information provided in this article will enable you to make wise choices when it comes to hydration. Not only will dehydration lead to poor performance it can be life-threatening. If you are one of those athletes that do not pay attention to your fluid needs, I hope this information will enlighten you and make you more aware of the importance of being properly hydrated. In addition, you need to experiment with these recommendations during training and not competition so you can learn how your system responds.

We are fortunate to have someone with Kelly's credentials and experience willing to donate her time to help educate us on the important subject of nutrition. She is a registered and licensed dietician in private practice in Melbourne. Her primary counseling focus is to provide personalized exercise nutrition consultation for athletes of all abilities, regardless of their sport. Kelly is available for individual counseling by appointment at 728-7782.

Copyright 2009 by Florida East Coast Runners and Kelly Aleman.  Reproduction or reprinting without written permission is illegal.

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