The body consists of 60% water, which is an essential nutrient.
For light physical activity, water is an adequate form of hydration. If you are participating in intense physical activity that results in considerable sweat loss for more than one hour, an electrolyte beverage with carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium is beneficial.
Coconut water does not contain adequate levels of sodium to effectively replenish electrolytes after a strenuous workout.
When choosing a beverage to stay hydrated, water should always be the first pick. However, electrolyte-enriched drinks can also have their place after exercise. Factors such as how intense of an exercise session and levels of hydration beforehand can impact which option is best. To make the right decision to stay hydrated, weigh these factors carefully before selecting your drink.
Why is hydration important?
Approximately 60 percent of the human body is composed of water, which makes it essential for proper functioning. It is a component of each cell, aiding in temperature regulation, digestion, nutrient transportation, waste disposal, and joint friction reduction. Furthermore, it supports blood circulation to the brain.
Staying hydrated is essential to maintaining your body's optimal functioning. In order to balance out the water that is taken in and lost throughout the day, food, beverages and sweating, urinating and exhaling should be monitored.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when the body has lost more fluid than it has taken in. Symptoms of dehydration may include thirst, dry mouth, headache, fatigue, dizziness, and dry skin. Other symptoms such as decreased sweating and darker yellow urine may appear in cases of severe dehydration which could be life-threatening.
Dehydration during exercise can reduce the amount of blood flow throughout your body and diminish the oxygen supply to your muscles. This can result in a decrease of physical performance and increased fatigue.
Can you be overhydrated?
Yes, it's possible to get too much of a good thing.
When there is an imbalance between the amount of water consumed and the amount lost, overhydration may occur. Athletes may be at risk of developing hyponatremia which is characterized by low sodium levels in the blood. However, if physiological functions such as those related to the pituitary gland, kidneys, liver and heart are normal, then it is unlikely that overhydration will happen.
What beverages provide the fastest hydration?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended to make calorie-free beverages, particularly water, the main source of hydration. Water is beneficial due to its lack of calories, sugar, caffeine and fat.
According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men should consume 15.5 c (3.7 L) of fluids a day and women should consume 11.5 c (2.7 L). This includes all fluids from all sources, including food and beverages.
Studies suggest that all beverages, including water, cola, fruit juice and even caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee and tea, can contribute to hydration when consumed in moderation (i.e., not exceeding a total of 300 mg of caffeine per day).
Electrolyte drinks are differentiated from water in that they contain salts and other minerals.
Sports drinks are water-containing beverages enriched with carbohydrates, potassium, magnesium and sodium. These drinks help replenish lost electrolytes and carbohydrates during strenuous physical activity.
Consuming a sports drink containing sodium during intense exercise may help you to retain blood volume, and optimize hydration by facilitating the absorption of water from your intestines into your muscles.
Electrolyte drinks are available as powder beverages, such as Hydro Power's Endurance Fuel Blue Razz and Lemonade. These can be added to water prior to consumption.
Coconut water contains potassium, making it a popular hydrating beverage for some. However, it does not have salt and so is not suited for intense workouts as it cannot replace the sodium that's been depleted in these exercises. It is better when consumed after light exercise.
Following exercise, some people consume water or various juices for hydration benefits, such a lemon water, cranberry juice, or watermelon juice. However, these drinks do not replenish electrolytes and are not comparable to sports drinks in terms of post-exercise recovery.
When is an electrolyte drink preferred over water?
Electrolyte drinks are often used to replenish sugar and salt losses when sweating excessively. Exercising in hot or humid environments tends to result in higher sweat levels.
It is recommended that sustained exercise of over two hours requires electrolyte supplementation.
Individuals with higher body mass experience greater electrolyte loss due to increased perspiration.
Increasing the amount of clothing may lead to more sweat loss.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests taking an individualized approach to electrolyte drinks, and one way to do this is by estimating sweat rate by comparing pre- and post-exercise weight.
When is the optimal time to consume electrolyte drinks?
It is recommended to drink fluids prior to, during, and after physical activity. Electrolyte beverages should be consumed during or after exercising in conditions of high sweat loss, hot or humid environments, and intense exercises lasting more than 2 hours.
The bottom line
For regular hydration, water is the best choice because it has no sugar, calories or caffeine. All foods and drinks you consume count towards your daily fluid needs. If you are engaging in extended exercise, in hot weather or tends to sweat a lot, replace water with a sports drink containing electrolytes. This will replace lost sugar, sodium and potassium during activity and improve your performance.
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