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We've all heard it; drink water. But how much water is enough? Is water enough? What about electrolytes? What even are electrolytes?!
Dr. Curtis Hanson, from Wake Orthopaedics Sports Medicine Center, takes some time to educate on hydration needs and why not all bodies are created equal.
We have all heard that the daily water intake recommendation is 64 ounces. But did you know that, while the eight glasses rule is a good start, it isn't that simple? Your actual recommended intake is based on factors including sex, age, activity level, and others, such as if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
When exercising, your body's heat production is 15 to 20 times what it is at rest, which is why it is important to keep track of body weight before and after exercise. Mild dehydration is less than 2% body weight loss. At 3% body weight loss, cardiovascular function becomes impaired. The NCAA handbook says to drink 8-16 ounces of water one hour before exercising. Continue drinking water every 15-20 minutes during exercise. After exercise drink 32 ounces (one quart) for every 2 lb of weight loss.
Sometimes water isn't always enough - insert electrolytes. Working out <60 minutes? Water is a great choice. If you are working out >75 minutes, you might consider electrolytes during or after. In fact, if you are exercising for prolonged periods of time and drinking only water, you are losing salts and diluting your electrolytes to potentially dangerous levels.
Let's talk electrolytes...
Electrolytes are minerals found in your body that help regulate and control the balance of fluids in the body. These minerals play a role in regulating blood pressure, muscle contraction and keep your system functioning properly. The major three electrolytes are sodium, potassium and magnesium. Losing or diluting a significant amount of these minerals can result in impaired performance, cardiovascular, and cognitive function.
It is a common misconception that exercise-related muscle cramps are due to loss of potassium. The only mineral that has been directly related to sports cramps is sodium (salt). Eating bananas will not help with this.
Most commonly related sports drinks (Gatorade, etc.) contain around the optimal 20mEq/L of sodium and 6% carbohydrates. Fruit juices contain around 12% complex carbohydrates and are difficult to digest. This is not ideal for exercise and often results in an upset stomach. Protein drinks are also not ideal during exercise and are generally used for recovery afterwards. A helpful hint is that no expensive protein drink has ever been shown to be more effective for recovery than chocolate milk, which many top-tier NCAA programs use for their athletes.
Where you get your electrolytes from matter. Major brands offer drinks packed with electrolytes...and sugar. Whether your electrolyte intake comes from tablets, powders or pre-made drinks, make sure you are reading the label to ensure you have the right electrolytes for you.