a nutrition series by Michelle Chappel
With this summertime heat proper hydration becomes more important than ever. We all know that the more you sweat the more you need to rehydrate. The challenging part is, what to hydrate with? Do we grab water, a sports drink, ice coffee? What’s the answer?
Hydration is always important, let’s just state that right off the bat. Even in the dead of winter we need to rehydrate. The old go to trick is ½ your body weight in ounces of water is your recommended daily intake. (2) Like most nutrition related rules, there’s no one size fits all. Everybody is different. Our activity levels vary, our climates vary, the amount we sweat and release fluids varies. I like to think of ½ your body weight in ounces as a starting point, a goal. For some this is a challenge. Water isn’t always appealing to many. Luckily, I have a few tricks I’ll share with you on how to help with this.
For now, let’s talk about working out in the heat and hydration.
When we sweat, our bodies need to replenish what’s lost. Water and electrolytes become depleted. Electrolytes are key minerals that play an important role in fluid transfer within the body. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium are all examples of electrolytes. These nutrients have a specific balance they need to maintain for your body to properly move fluid through the cells of your body. They also play a role in balancing your body’s acid/base (pH) levels, move waste out of your cells, and support nerve, muscle, heart, and brain function.(1) Did you know that 60% of your body weight is actually water?(2) Have you noticed your hands and feet might swell when you eat lots of salty foods? This is because the balance of sodium moving through the cell wall is out of balance.
What do we reach for when we’re working hard?
With all the sports drinks and electrolyte mix-in available it’s hard to know what to choose. Most often water is enough. You don’t need to down a fancy sports drink to replenish. If you’re working out for an hour or less, water is often all you need. Sometimes this can be a challenge if you aren’t a water drinker. Let’s say you’re one of those people, and you find that you’re only taking a few sips of water. In this case I would recommend you flavor up your water to make it more drinkable.
Occasionally adding a flavor mix-in during or after your work out is fine if it helps get that water in. Do you need to add these mix-ins or drink Gatorade every time you work out or mow the lawn? No, and I wouldn’t recommend it either. Most sports drinks have high amounts of added sugar or sugar substitutes, in addition to artificial food dyes. These have been associated with increased risks for tumor growth to hyperactivity and behavioral issues.(3) When you’re drinking these drinks on a regular basis without actually needing to replace lost sugars and minerals you’re doing no better than drinking a soda or juice mix.
*Again, I’m talking most people. There may be some people that need an extra kick of calories or sugars while working out, but those people often know who they are and typically have a medical diagnosis. Simply feeling “low blood sugar” doesn’t mean you need extra sugar. In fact, you could just be adding to that sugar addiction and setting yourself up for insulin resistance. (Another day, another post).
When does adding electrolytes make sense?
When you’re playing a physical game for an extended period of time, running a race, going for a long bike ride, performing in an intense comp. Generally when exerting energy for an extended period of time. If you’re drenched in salty sweat and working hard, you may want to consider giving your water an extra boost. But you don’t always have to resort to the sports drinks. There are plenty of ways to boost up a bottle of water without all the added sugar and food dyes. Grab a coconut water, full of natural electrolytes such as potassium. Or try adding cucumbers to your water, also full of natural electrolytes. Maybe you’re sweating a lot and feel like you need that extra boost of minerals? You can make your own electrolyte drink by adding honey, sea salt, and lemon juice to your water, or make it vegan by skipping the honey and using maple syrup. See below for a few DIY rehydration recipes.
In addition to replenishing lost fluid and electrolytes after a workout try focusing on mineral rich foods. Bananas, avocados, and green leafy veggies such as spinach are good sources of potassium. Magnesium is found in spinach, nuts and seeds, beans, dark chocolate, and yogurt. You can get your calcium in by eating green leafy veggies, almonds, oranges, soy, and of course dairy products.
Replenishing loss sodium is easier than you might think. You’re typically consuming sodium when you eat canned and processed foods, meats, cheese, and fast food. It’s everywhere, you’re probably getting enough without even trying. In fact, it’s more difficult to avoid. Every time you’re consuming salt or salt substitutes you’re also getting chloride as well. You see now why water is often all you need?
So, what are some ways to make water more drinkable? Try adding fresh or frozen berries to your water. Slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, or fresh ginger. Pluck off a few leaves from a mint plant and drop them right into your water bottle. Sometimes I steep a cup of herbal tea and then pour that into cold water for a subtle ice-tea mix. You can also add a splash of any juice or freeze an ice cube tray with your favorite juice to make frozen flavor cubes.
Lastly, if you’re not quite ready to give up your sports drink, there are a few healthier alternatives to the bright blue sports drink. You can try adding in a packet of Cure hydration, made with natural organic ingredients, or Nuun hydration with only 1g of sugar from stevia leaf extract, or one of the many other tablets and powders available. Just be sure to read the ingredient labels when selecting. Look for natural ingredients. Sweetened with real sweeteners. Watch the total sugar and added sugars. Look out for added oils. Keep an eye on that sodium level. And lastly, remember these are intended to replace lost minerals (sodium) and glucose (sugar / fuel) during intense extended workouts, not for everyday consumption.
DIY Electrolyte Drinks:
Try these easy to make at-home electrolyte drinks based off the World Health Organizations rehydration recipe.(4) These are two variations and both are within the USADA’s recommended 6-8% carbohydrate concentration for providing energy during exercise.(1) These also contain minimal amounts of sodium based on the recommendation that small amounts of sodium are beneficial during sweat loss.(1)
*If you’re on medications impacted by salt intake or have kidney disease, please consult your doctor before trying these recipes.
Coconut Water & Lime:
• 2 cups unsweetened coconut water
• 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
• 2/3 cup water
• 1 ½ tsp raw honey (or maple syrup)
• 1/8 tsp Himalayan pink salt
Combine all ingredients & stir until the salt is dissolved. You can mix the salt & honey in warm water to help them dissolve and then add the rest of the cold ingredients.
• 2 cups water
• ¾ cup fresh orange juice
• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
• 1/8 tsp Himalayan pink salt
• 1 tbs raw honey
Feel free to play around with flavors and add a few fresh berries or pureed watermelon for a new creation. Make it your own & enjoy!
- R.J. Maughan (1991) Fluid and electrolyte loss replacement in exercise, Journal of Sports Sciences, 9:sup1, 117-142
- Ladinsky M, Duggan A, Santosham M, Wilson M. The World Health Organization Oral Rehydration Solution in US Pediatric Practice: A Randomized Trial to Evaluate Parent Satisfaction. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;154(7):700–705.