A client of mine was thrilled when, after a recent run outside, he lost several pounds. He figured, as he put it, “losing any weight is good!” I hated to burst his bubble, but had to inform him, under no uncertain terms, that losing weight during exercise is caused by water loss and is not only unhealthy and hurts performance, but can kill.
I work with many athletes to improve their tennis game or their running, for instance, in preparation for an important match or a marathon, and find that avoiding water losses — among other things — effects a huge improvement in their performance, and increases their energy levels and recovery time.
Ignoring your hydration and nutrition needs as an athlete is a huge mistake. There have been many reported cases of teenage and adult football players who have died from heat stroke, which is excessive water loss caused by exercising without proper rehydration or cooling off. Football players are particularly vulnerable because of the heavy equipment and clothing they wear while playing outside in the heat. Sadly, simple measures can prevent these tragic deaths.
I witnessed these techniques firsthand last year when I was assisting in the emergency medical tent at the Marine Corps Marathon. A couple of women staggered into the tent, their temperatures were taken and it was determined they were experiencing heat stroke. Their body temperatures were about 105 degrees; they were so disoriented, they didn’t know their own names or birthdates. Emergency measures had to be taken there and then. Luckily, the tent was equipped with absolutely everything needed, including some of the most compassionate, experienced and dedicated doctors I’ve ever encountered. The heat stroke victims were immediately dunked into one of the many ice water tanks in the tent and given IV fluids until their body temperature came down to the point when they could be rushed to the hospital emergency room. It took some time and a lot of hair-raising screaming. But it saved their lives.
It’s important that all athletes have access to cooling areas, plenty of fluids and ice water tanks. These measures save lives, and they’re so simple.
How you can avoid danger:
Nutrients don’t only come in the form of food; water is the most important, and often most forgotten, nutrient. You can last a long time without food, but only days without water. Your lean body mass contains about 70-75 percent water, with fat containing much less, or about 10-40 percent water. Because of increased muscle mass, men’s and athletes’ bodies contain more water than women, overweight or older persons, because of their proportionately lower muscle and higher fat content.
• The solvent for important biochemical reactions, supplying nutrients and removing waste
• Essential for maintaining blood circulation throughout your body
• The maintainer of body temperature. As you exercise, your metabolism and your internal body temperature increase. Water carries the heat away from your internal organs, where it can do serious damage (leading to heat stroke and even death), through your bloodstream to your skin, causing you to sweat. As you sweat and the sweat evaporates, this allows you to cool off and maintain a healthy body temperature, optimal functioning and overall health.
Daily water intake must be balanced with losses to maintain total body water. Losing body water can adversely affect your functioning and health. Once you are thirsty, you’ve probably lost about 1 percent of your body water and are dehydrated. With a 2 percent water loss, you could experience serious fatigue and cardiovascular impairments. It’s important to note that individual fluid needs differ depending on your sweat rate, the temperature, clothing, humidity and other factors.
It is important that you:
• Drink enough water to prevent thirst.
• Monitor fluid loss by checking the color of your urine. It should be pale yellow and not dark yellow, too smelly, or cloudy
• Begin exercise well hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids the day before and within the hour before, during, and after your exercise session
• Supplement water with a sports drink that contains electrolytes and 6-8 percent carbohydrates any time you exercise in extreme heat or for more than one hour.
• Avoid alcohol the day before or the day of a long exercise bout, and avoid exercising with a hangover
• Consider all fluids, including tea, coffee, juices, milk and soups, as acceptable sources of hydration (excluding alcohol, which is extremely dehydrating). The amount of caffeine in tea and coffee does not discount the fluid in them, even if they have a slight diuretic effect, according to the most recent report by the National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition Board
• Eat at least five cups of fruits and vegetables per day, which all contain various levels of water.
• For those who experience high sodium losses during exercise, eat salty foods in a pre-exercise meal or add salt to sports drinks consumed during exercise
• Rehydrate following exercise by drinking enough fluid (water or sports drinks) to replace fluid lost during exercise. Replace fluid and sodium losses with watery foods that contain salt (soup, vegetable juices). Replace fluid and potassium losses by consuming fruits and vegetables.
• Determine your individualized need for fluid replacement using the following method:
During heavy exercise, weight yourself before and after exercise. If you lose weight, you’ve lost valuable water. Add 3 cups of fluid for every pound lost; use this figure to determine the amount of water you’ll need to prevent pound loss during exercise in the future. Drink that water before exercise and sip throughout the exercise until you find the best formula for determining your personal water needs.
Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D. specializes in customized, easy and enjoyable athletic, weight loss and medical nutrition therapy programs for individuals and companies. She is the author of “Diet Simple: 192 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations,” and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Visit www.katherinetallmadge.com or call 202-833-0353. Mention this column and receive a special 20 percent discount on your initial consultation!