“The person you love is 72.6% water.”
It’s a catchy slogan to be sure, and while that fact is not completely accurate, you may be surprised to learn that it’s not very far off. Water, a main component of the human body, normally comprises about 60% of body weight in adult males and 50-55% in women. In dire situations, one can go for extended periods of time without food, but take away water and they’ll only last about 3 – 5 days depending on the conditions around them. Water is the elixir of life and without it, we will all perish.
Hydration & the Human Body
The most vital component for operating the human body, water is the premium-fuel for your body’s engine. All physiological processes need water to occur. From regulating temperature and lubricating joints to transporting nutrients and waste throughout the body, every function that your body performs relies on water.
As such, you should never overlook the importance of hydration in your routine. Improper hydration can result in muscle cramping, decreased strength, and reduced endurance. Improper hydration can also result in reduced mental function which can have negative implications for motor control, decision making and concentration.
Even light exercise can quickly deplete your body’s percentage of water, leaving you suffering the symptoms of fatigue. No fluid means no function, and suddenly your left stranded on the trail with an overtaxed and exhausted body that refuses to take another step.
The good news is that by drinking regularly before, during and after activity, you can prevent declines in concentration and skill level, improve perceived exertion, prevent excessive elevations in heart rate and body temperature and improve performance (thirsty yet?). Simply put, water is the best option for staying hydrated, especially for people who exercise moderately but, you don’t necessarily need to gulp gallons of water to keep your body functioning properly.
In recent years a steady stream of hydration supplements and water alternatives have been flowing into the market flooding the consumer with a vast array of hydration options and choices outside of good ol’ fashioned tap water.
Besides water, what else can I consume to stay well hydrated?
William Cowper once said “Variety’s the spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.” But we’re willing to bet that Bill didn’t know that this is also great advice for staying hydrated!
Research shows that a variety of sources, colors and flavors of beverages is as important as a variety of food in nutrition. Diversity stimulates greater levels of consumption when it comes to both food and beverages. For instance, in a study measuring the fluid intake of runners on a treadmill, it was shown that by offering up a variety of beverages to the participants they actually consumed up to 50% more liquids than if only water was available.
It was 40 years ago that Gatorade brought the term “electrolytes” into the mainstream lexicon. Today, market shelves are flooded with a virtual cornucopia of hydration options in the form of sports drinks. Names like Gatorade, PowerAde, Vitamin Water, SoBe and others are not only commonplace on the sidelines of professional and collegiate sporting events, they have become common place in our own refrigerators.
Sports drinks can ben an ideal for active people who want to replace what they lose in sweat and supply their muscles with fuel during a workout, training or race. When you sweat, it’s not just water leaving the body — you also lose electrolytes, particularly sodium, the most critical electrolyte lost and a key component of the hydration process.
Electrolytes are minerals, primarily salts, which exist in your blood and carry electrical impulses (such as muscle contractions) between cells. They are essential to bodily processes that involve your heart, nerves and muscles. Major electrolytes in your body include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. During hard or prolonged exercise, perspiration drains your body of these minerals, particularly sodium and potassium, and the typical result is fatigue and diminished performance.
Many sports drinks include boosted levels of electrolytes and carbohydrates, which help athletes avoid issues such as muscle cramping and fatigue during and after exercise. Rapidly absorbed carbohydrates consumed during exercise help athletes and weekend warriors alike continue to perform at high levels because they help to maintain the necessary concentration of blood glucose and fuel energy levels.
As such, sports drinks are most helpful in situations of prolonged high intensity exercise. Another advantage of sports drinks with respect to hydration, is that the sodium content of sports drinks stimulates thirst, so athletes tend to drink more when they have a sports drink versus plain water.
Aside from being more costly than the typically “free” water, the downside is that some “sports drinks” also include boosted levels of sugar and unnecessary ingredients. As with anything you intake, make sure you read labels to know what you’re putting into your body. An ideal sports drink will contain a proper amount of electrolytes and carbohydrates with no added caffeine or vitamins. If you are unsure which one to select, be sure to ask your local doctor, nutritionist or fitness trainer.
Hydration Tablets and Powders
Tablets… Since Dr. J. Robert Cade invented Gatorade to help the University of Florida football team stay hydrated, there has been a literal sea change in the marketplace in regards to the form of water supplements.
For those looking for quick electrolyte replacement in a lower-calorie liquid that is typically not as sweet as their sports drink counterparts, there are hydration tablets and powders. These products provide us the ability to simply drop a dissolvable tablet or scoop of powder into our sports bottle and help our bodies literally rejuvenate and replenish vital nutrients.
Companies like Nuun, GU, Nathan, ZYM, Hammer Nutrition and even Camelbak offer effervescent tabs that offer three primary benefits; electrolyte replacement (discussed above), convenience and reservoir-friendly.
One of the great benefits appreciated by athletes and outdoor enthusiasts alike is the tremendous convenience and transportability of these items. When you’re ready to go, grab a tablet, drop it in your bottle and head off to conquer your goals. If you’re already out in the wilderness, you just need a clean water source to refill your bottle and rehydrate. Even better, they allow you to add mild flavor and nutrients to your hydration routine without wasting legions of plastic bottles, or being overwhelmed with the sweetness often associated with sports drinks.
Lastly, this replenishment option is typically a far more reservoir-friendly concoction for people who enjoy sipping a flavored beverage through their hydration system. Unlike some powdered systems, one doesn’t typically need to worry about the effervescent beverages gunking up their reservoir or re-useable bottle. Sugar free tablets (like NUUN, Hammer Nutrition and Camelbak’s Elixir) have a sugar-free formula that leaves no residue and makes cleaning your reservoir easy.
Powders… Another valuable option is powdered supplements. There’s a virtual cornucopia of powdered supplements to choose from. Cytomax, Vytalite, Accelerade, GU and Clif all provide powder formulas to keep you hydrated and replace valuable nutrients lost. Other brands such as Emergen-C, EcoDrink and others provide a more vitamin centric drink usually available in a smaller packet size. You can even purchase powdered forms of coconut water if you want to jump on the current coconut hydration craze.
In the end, powdered supplements provide many of the same benefits as sports drinks and hydration tablets. However, there is a much greater variety that focuses on the stages of your training regime (pre-, during and post exercise). Unlike the tablets you’ll want to pay more attention to the label, as there can be a much greater diversification in terms of electrolytes, calories, carbs, protein, etc.
The benefit of powders like EcoDrink and Emergen-C is not just that they come in single serving packets, but that in addition to providing hydration they offer balanced energy and immune support.
And while it’s nice to have a tub of powder ready to mix into your water bottle or reservoir before you hit the gym or trail, the actual product is not as easy to transport as the tablets.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of Food…
Drinking water isn’t the only way to stay hydrated, food, often overlooked as a water source, can be a rich supply of fluid. Many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, broccoli and tomatoes, contain 90 percent or higher water content by weight.
On average, food provides 20 percent of the fluid we need — and if you choose water-rich fare like fruit and veggies you can get even more than that amount.
To get that 20 percent from food, the typical female would have to consume two cups and men, you need around three cups each day. Of course, when you are out on the trail or training you want to plan your meals accordingly so that you get a good balance of nutrition and fluids by including a variety of foods in your diet.
The Bottom Line…
Hydration is important no matter what you do. The harder your body has to work, the more nutrients it loses. Without proper hydration, fatigue and poor performance no matter what activity your partaking in, may be the result. Drink water for maximum hydration, but feel free to mix things up a bit to cater to your personal taste. Remember, if you like it you will drink more of it, and that is what is most important when it comes to staying hydrated. So whether you’re stuck indoors playing desk jockey, or living it up on the trail, drink up!
What are your go-to hydration supplements? Have you established a hydration routine?
Any favorite brands that we didn’t list but people should know about?
- FamilyDoctor.com: Hydration: Why It’s So Important
- European Hydration Institute: Hydration & Beverages
- Duke University: Importance of Water in the Diet
- MayoClinic.com: Dehydration
- University of Nebraska Lincoln: Water: The Nutrient
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Water: Meeting Your Daily Fluid Needs
- The Diet Channel: Top 4 Benefits of Drinking Water