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Water: Not Just the Real Thing, the Only Thing

By Nancy Rocha, BS MS

 

Many times people wonder what the beverage of choice should be while exercising.  There is a vast dilemma as to whether water is better than a sports drink with sugar and electrolytes. To settle this once and for all, exercisers only need water.  Before, after, and during a workout, water should be the beverage of choice.  Now, as always, there are just a few exceptions to this rule.  If an exerciser engages in more than two hours of continuous activity or they are exercising outside in heat and/or humidity for more than an hour, they must replenish the electrolytes lost through a drink with electrolytes (i.e. sports drink).  Nevertheless, if you do not fall into either of these two categories, read on and discover the immense benefits of water and its many functions.


Every single body process depends on water.  We cannot blink without water, we cannot speak, breathe, digest, excrete, or even burn fat without water and this is just the tip of the iceberg!  Our cells are full of water, some up to 90%, consequently this primary and most basic life form is in charge of everything and all that happens in our body.  Water transports materials our bodies need, absorbing nutrients like vitamins and minerals, metabolizing compounds like carbohydrates and fat.  It is no wonder some people are void of energy or cannot lose weight…they are missing the water!!!


While the body exercises, it loses 1-2 liters of sweat per hour.  Sweat is 99% water and one-percent electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium); therefore, water must be replenished throughout the time we exercise.  Water is extremely important because it delivers oxygen to the brain and muscles via our blood (comprised of 83% water) and also keeps the body’s temperature cool and regulated, through sweat, so it can continue exercising.  Without water, the body would get tired sooner and in the case of extreme dehydration, the body is unable to continue which causes the individual to pass out or injure oneself. Furthermore, water supplies electrolytes by flowing in and out of the cells to our brain and muscles.  If we do not hydrate properly, or are dehydrated to begin with, our brain does not receive the nerve impulses necessary to keep thinking or sending messages for our muscles to move.  Lastly, water is a protection for our joints.  Water keeps our joints mobile, moving smoothly and cushioned to avoid injury.  Moreover, water is in our mouths (in the form of saliva) and in our eyes (in the form of tears) constantly protecting our sensitive tissues from germs, dirt, and other foreign particles.  Our bodies take quite a hit with a drop of just one percent (1%) in our water level.  We are thirsty and dehydrated by then.  This is why our body can go weeks without food, but only days without water.  If our water level drops five percent (5%) we lose muscle power, losing both strength and endurance or the ability to perform.  Our body temperature rises with no way to cool down and our muscles (comprised of 75.5% water) have no hydration and become fatigued and unable to continue.  If we drop ten percent (10%) our organs become affected.  Our brain (comprised of 74.8% water) begins to lose ability to focus, think and even experiences deliriums and blurry vision.  A 20% body water loss results in death.


Water is vital to our health and imperative during exercise.  Think of it as your baby, carry it around everywhere. Drink it all the time: before, during and after exercise.  The rule of thumb is half your weight in ounces per day.  For example if you weigh 200 pounds, you would drink 100 ounces of water (just plain water) per day.  This is equivalent to five 20-ounce water bottles.  If you lose sweat through exercise or work outside in the heat, add an extra 16 ounces per hour of work.  If you drink one cup of coffee per day or drink a glass of tea at lunch or a caffeinated soda, add another 16 ounces to your base amount.  Sometimes it is not even worth it to drink those beverages, just because you know you should add even more water to your water-to-do-list.  Think twice before you do and remember: Don’t go without water!