A number of years ago when I started learning about nutrition, a mentor said something to me that I still remember and recommend to people to this day. That comment was “Don’t drink your calories”.
Sounds simple but so few people actually do it. It basically means we should just drink water. No Coke, Pepsi, lemonade, sports drinks (outside of competition or hard training sessions), etc. They just serve no purpose to us at all. In a healthy diet, water is the single most important factor and more important than any other nutrient. Think about the fact that we can survive for around 40 days without any food, but only about 3 days without water. Why would you compromise that with something less than pure water?
The biggest danger of drinking your calories, is that there is no substance to it. Fluids stay in our stomach for a very brief period of time so don’t really give us a full feeling, while drinks like cola and similar are very high in empty calories. Calories that provide no nutrients and get stored very easily as fat. So unless you have had a seriously hard training session or are in the midst of a long race like a marathon or ultra, (or half marathons, depending on how long you take to finish it) avoid the sports drinks and stick to water.
Just always keep in mind that we should drink water at room temperature. Drinking cold water actually uses energy as your body needs to bring it up to body temperature before it can absorb it. Also if you really need to hydrate fast, the closer it is to body temperature, the faster it will hydrate you.
As athletes, our need for water is even more important due to the amount we sweat during exercise. In fact, just a few percent decrease in our body’s fluid levels can have a massive impact on our performance. So it is worth making sure you keep a close eye on your fluid intake especially during exercise.
But how much should we drink on a daily basis? There are a number of different guidelines around, most are for the average person. But most people aren’t average! If you look at two extremes and say a 50kg woman who is 150cm tall, doesn’t quite need the same water intake as a man who is 200cm tall and 120kg. They have vastly different needs.
The guideline I use for myself and anyone else is quite simple. You take your body weight in Kilograms and multiply it by 0.033. This gives you the amount in litres. This works for just about anyone.
Take me for example. I am generally 70kg’s, multiply 70 by 0.033 and you get just over 2.3 liters per day. It also works for people who prefer to weigh themselves in pounds and their water in ounces. All you need to do is drink the amount you weigh in pounds, in ounces of water. This of course increases with exercise which can be gauged only by your thirst.
Drinking too much water also has its dangers, in fact it can be more dangerous than not enough. People have actually died from a condition known as hyponatremia. This generally happens in back of the pack marathon runners who think they need to drink heaps of water even though their intensity levels are quite low. Their sodium levels get diluted so much that they collapse, and they are treated for dehydration as the symptoms are often very similar. Even more fluids are pumped into their system which puts them over the edge and in some cases has killed them.
Drinking during a race is a balancing act. Sports drinks can help to a certain extent, but should be used sparingly with water as your primary source of fluid intake. Drink when you notice the early signs of thirst and if your stomach feels a bit bloated, back off a bit. Your body has developed some great mechanisms to tell you what it needs; have some trust in it.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Water is our number one hydrator, but there are a couple of things that come a close second. Adding a dash of lemon or lime juice to a glass of water is great, and I quite often do it first thing in the morning before breakfast. It’s very alkalising and a great hydrator. Coconut water is also something I enjoy sometimes. A relatively new thing on the market, but it has good amounts of sodium and potassium, which we need when exercising, it has some carbohydrate that is naturally occurring, just make sure it has no added sugars.
Just remember, water is number one and the more pure the better. Next week, I will go into some of the issues with certain water sources out there today.