Hydration can be a vastly overlooked component of our health. While it can be a small concern, it is something that can drastically affect our overall health.
Keeping your body properly hydrated helps everything in your body function better.
It provides lubrication for joints and muscles. The more hydrated you are, the easier your muscles will move and the less they will cramp.
Dehydration can cause muscles to tighten up, restricting movement and reducing range of motion. When I am dehydrated my muscles feel sticky. Dehydration can affect your energy levels and cause you to feel lethargic. It can even affect your cognitive functioning, making your mind foggy.
Our hydration levels are not just determined by how many glasses of water we drink per day. 70% of our total water intake for the day comes from food. That makes it even more important to eat fruits and vegetables, which have high water content, and avoid salty snacks and sweets, which dehydrate.
It is very easy to get dehydrated without even knowing it. Let’s take another look at my construction worker friend, Frank, who I mentioned a few articles ago. Frank has been working in construction since he graduated high school, and he is now in his mid 40’s. His body reflects the 20 years of back breaking labor. His body is a reflection of years of abusing himself and not taking care of himself. Because of this, Frank is now in chronic pain, on a daily basis.
Each night when Frank comes home from work he drinks a few beers (anywhere from 2 to 20, depending on how much pain he is in). Alcohol is a diuretic and therefore leaves Frank dehydrated when he wakes up at 4:30am the next morning so that he can drive over an hour to get to his job site by the 7am start time.
Frank wakes up feeling stiff and sore from his work beating him up because he does not keep himself in shape to do heavy physical labor, and from being dehydrated. Then he drinks coffee on an empty stomach to wake up. Coffee is another diuretic and further increases his dehydration.
Drinking coffee on an empty stomach sets in motion processes throughout your body that will affect Frank all day. His stomach is going to be more acidic due to the coffee, making him more likely to have reflux, and irritating any gastrointestinal issues he may have. An acidic stomach will affect nutrient absorption as well.
After driving an hour to get to the work site, Frank is already starting the day out stiff, sore, dehydrated, and inflamed. The state that Frank’s body is in will leave him very susceptible to injury. The stiffer his muscles are, the less control he will have over them, making him more likely to trip, fall and become injured. The tighter his muscles are, the more likely he will be to pull them when he has to reach for something or turn to look behind himself.
Our health is full of many positive, and negative, feedback cycles. What I just described is a negative feedback cycle that can go on for years. This negative feedback cycle will cause the body to break down quickly and to age quickly from the accumulation of excess wear and tear from not managing the body. The end result is pain, osteo-arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and eventually the pain will get so bad that Frank will have to quit his job.
Hydration is just one component to living a healthy lifestyle. It is a small, but essential component to feeling, and looking your best.
Proper hydration will allow everything to flow freely in your body. The higher the water content of your stools, the easier they will pass (think of how easy it is to pass diarrhea, which has a high water content). Proper hydration will keep your metabolism revved by lubricating systems and reducing friction throughout the body.
Proper hydration will reduce wrinkles and help to maintain skin elasticity.
While exercising, and especially in the hot weather, it is important to maintain proper hydration levels. A good rule of thumb to follow is for every hour you exercise, drink 16 ounces of water. If you are exercising for less than 2 hours, then there is no need to replace electrolytes or to take in calories during the workout. That means that it is not necessary to drink a bottle of Gatorade if you are exercising for less than 2 hours.
Gatorade in general is not a good way to hydrate yourself. A common theory that makes sense to me (and one that Hammer Nutrition is based on), is that high fructose corn syrup and table sugar both disrupt how the gut digests food and water. High fructose corn syrup and/or sugar can prevent water and nutrients from being properly absorbed in the gut.
I have seen, and felt this first hand while racing 100 mile mountain bike races. These races are held in the summer and so get pretty hot. People get dehydrated and hungry while riding races that can take 10 to 12 hours to finish. At rest stops, after a few hours of racing, people will drink some Gatorade and eat some food. Many times, the Gatorade and food will just sit in the person’s stomach, and cause stomach distress because it is not being digested.
Gatorade is an isotonic solution so the body absorbs water from Gatorade very slowly. High fructose corn syrup further contributes to the gut not being able to absorb water. Then throw food into the stomach on top of that (food requires water to be digested). The person ends up with a bottle of Gatorade and an energy bar sloshing around in their stomach for an hour or more.
It is a very uncomfortable feeling, especially while racing mountain bikes. It leaves the person lethargic (because the body is expending energy trying to digest the food) and nauseous. Sometimes they have to vomit to relieve the feeling. Usually by that point, their race is over.
Even though you may not be racing a 100 mile mountain bike race, proper hydration will affect your life on a daily basis.
Have your nutrition work for you, not against you. If you eat intelligently, then you can still eat the foods that you love, just in moderation.
Eat and exercise intelligently. That is the Pain Free Way.