Food & Fitness After 50: Pickleball and Pickle Juice? What you need to know to stay hydrated

“The human body is basically a leaky bag of water with legs.”

 

Dr. Bob Murray

 

helene-b
My friend, Helene, playing pickleball at our local YMCA

April is National Pickleball Month! Did you know it is one of the fastest growing sports in America? Pickleball has been described as mashup of ping pong, tennis, and racquetball. If you’ve never seen pickleball in action, here is a clip to introduce you to the sport.

Because so many older adults have taken up the sport (it is so popular at my YMCA the parking lot is often overflowing!) we’ve been asked about hydration strategies. To answer your questions, I turned to hydration expert, friend, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, Dr. Bob Murray. Dr. Bob was the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute for over 20 years, so he knows a thing or two (or maybe a hundred) about hydration.

I’m a recreational pickleball player who plays for 1-2 hours with plenty of breaks, but my husband is a competitive player and may play 3-4 hours a day, several times a week. How do our hydration needs differ? 

The volume of fluid we need to drink each day varies widely due to several factors. Body size, the environment in which we live, our natural predisposition to sweating, and how much physical activity we do help determine how much fluid we need to stay well hydrated. For example, a large person who works up a sweat in a warm environment might need to drink two gallons of fluid (256 oz) over the course of a day to stay hydrated whereas a small individual who stays indoors and just putters around during the day might require only two quarts of fluid (64 oz).  As a rule of thumb, we all need to consume at least 2 to 4 quarts of fluid each day and for those who sweat a lot, that volume can sometimes exceed 10 quarts each day.  Another rule of thumb is that about 20% of our daily fluid needs comes from the foods we eat (most fruits and vegetables have especially high water content), while the remaining 80% comes from the various beverages we drink. In that regard, all beverages count toward our hydration. Colas, coffees, teas, and yes, even beers and wines, can contribute to keeping us hydrated (although beer or wine might affect the hand-eye coordination needed for pickleball, so save that beverage for post-play.) The only exception is shots of alcohol because the high alcohol content promotes the loss of urine. During physical activity, the loss of sweat can range from as little as 8 ounces each hour to over 60 ounces per hour in those who sweat heavily. That’s a lot of fluid and it is best replaced during physical activity by drinking at regular intervals.

pickleball-clipart2play both indoors and outdoors, any difference in hydration advice? 

The best advice is to drink enough during physical activity to minimize dehydration because from both a health and a performance standpoint, it is always better to be well hydrated than even slightly dehydrated.  Depending on conditions, we can lose a lot of sweat during indoor or outdoor exercise, so it’s wise to keep fluid nearby anytime we work up a sweat.

I play outdoors and just drink water and then when I got home I drink diluted fruit juice. Is that a good hydration strategy? 

The best hydration strategy is to drink enough to minimize weight loss during physical activity, without over-drinking. If the combination of water and diluted fruit juice accomplishes that, then that’s a good hydration strategy. How do we know how much to drink during exercise?  On days when you know you are going to be sweating, weigh yourself just before exercise and then again soon after. If you’ve lost more than a pound or two, that’s a pretty good sign that you need to drink more to prevent performance-sapping dehydration.  If you’ve gained weight, that’s a clear indication that you drank too much and can do with less.

pickleball (1)When I play in pickleball tournaments, and I win, I continue to play. My first match is at 8 AM and it may last 45 minutes or so. If I keep winning, I may play 5-6 matches. Often, I will sit out for extended periods of time waiting for a court or for a match to end, so may not end up playing my last match until late afternoon. Any advice for staying hydrated during the long tournament days? 

This is a great example of conditions where daily fluid needs will be very high.  Drinking during the games to minimize dehydration will be vital to staying hydrated, as will drinking enough between games to ensure that you begin the next game well hydrated.  Under these kinds of circumstances, it is best to rely on a variety of fluids including water, sports drinks, and juices to help you stay hydrated.

Can I over-consume electrolyte drinks? How do I how much is too much?

Typical sports drinks do not contain enough electrolytes (minerals) to pose a risk of over consumption.  Some athletes have overdone electrolyte supplements such as salt tablets or electrolyte powders and, in those cases, upset stomachs and nausea can result and those symptoms are usually enough to make people stop taking them before serious medical problems can occur.  One of the benefits of relying on sports drinks rather than just plain water is that the electrolytes in sports drink aid hydration by helping us drink more and lose less (as urine). The electrolytes in sports drinks promote the drive to drink and we retain the fluid more than when we drink plain water.

pickleballSeems like pickle juice was made for pickleball….is it a hydrating beverage? I heard the acid in the pickle juice can stop cramps. True?

Pickle juice definitely contains electrolytes, but most people can’t drink enough pickle juice to stay well hydrated. It is true that pickle juice has been shown to reduce the duration of muscle cramps, so if you are prone to cramping, you might give a shot of straight pickle juice a try the next time you feel a cramp coming on.

I open a mustard packet and squirt it my mouth when I start to get cramps…I’ve heard the turmeric in the mustard stops cramps. Is that true?

There are lots of “cures’ for muscle cramps that include everything from eating a packet of mustard to pinching your top lip.  The latest research shows that cramps can be stopped or reduced by stimulating receptors in the mouth, throat, and stomach that in turn reduce the excess nerve activity that causes cramping. Pickle juice and mustard both fit that description, although stronger spices such as capsaicin, ginger, and cinnamon might be more effective. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that gives mustard the yellow color, but it is not known to halt exercise-induced muscle cramps.

mini-siteFor more on hydration strategies, see our chapter on staying well hydrated in Food & Fitness After 50, sold at Amazon and other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Beat the heat hydration tips

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and hydration and exercise expert.

satchel-paige-angie-villegasFamed baseball player Satchel Paige’s career spanned from 1924 to 1966, incredible longevity for any athlete.  In addition to being an amazing pitcher, Satchel’s unique perspective on life produced many memorable quotes, including “Age is a question of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t  matter.”  Also, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”  Both quotes speak to the importance of maintaining an optimistic, positive attitude about aging, although our bodies naturally change as we age.  Some of those changes influence our ability to stay well hydrated, especially so during the hot summer weather.

What does staying hydrated mean?

It is important to point out that staying hydrated—drinking enough each day to prevent significant dehydration and its consequences—is usually not a problem for the vast majority of older adults.  Although it is true that our thirst mechanism becomes less sensitive as we age, that change does not typically increase the risk of dehydration.  That may sound counterintuitive but it turns out that humans of any age do not rely solely on thirst as the primary gauge for when to drink.

Drinking at meals accounts for most of our daily fluid intake, along with the spontaneous drinking that occurs throughout the day—stopping at the water fountain and drinking coffee, tea, bottled water, and soft drinks at work or while watching TV are examples of spontaneous drinking.  The fact is that thirst plays a minor role in our daily fluid intake and that is especially true for those older adults who are inactive.  For those reasons, the reduced thirst sensitivity that occurs as we age does not have a major influence on our day-to-day hydration.  However, as with all things in life, there are exceptions.water

The dangers of dehydration

When older adults fall ill, suffer immobilizing injuries, or fight diseases, the loss of thirst sensitivity can contribute to dehydration because normal drinking at meals and spontaneously throughout the day is completely disrupted.  Age-related loss of thirst sensitivity can also be a problem during heat waves or with prolonged sweating during endurance exercise, long hikes, and yard work when sweating results in dehydration.

Periodic heat waves cause a disproportionate number of deaths among adults over age 50, deaths that occur mostly from heart failure, not from heat stroke.  Prolonged exposure to the heat creates enormous strain on the heart and blood vessels to deliver much more blood to the skin to aid in heat loss. Dehydration makes matters worse because the sweating and inadequate drinking that lead to dehydration reduce the total volume of blood, placing even greater strain on the heart.  For those with preexisting heart, lung, or kidney disease, that strain can simply be too much to handle, resulting in death.  Older adults who are ill, out of shape, lack air conditioning, and have limited access to fluids are at greatest risk during heat waves.

         On June 8, 1982, Leroy “Satchel” Paige died of heart failure and emphysema at age 75.  Satchel’s death occurred after a power failure at his home in Kansas City.  Although there was no heat wave at that time in Kansas City, the maximum temperature that day was 86 and the maximum relative humidity was 93%, a combination that would make it feel like 108.

Aging not only reduces our thirst sensitivity and prolongs the time it takes us to fully rehydrate after we become dehydrated as a result of physical activity or heat exposure, we also sweat less, our heart’s capacity to pump blood is less, we deliver less blood to the skin, and we are less able to divert blood from our internal organs into the main circulation, all of which makes it tougher to cope with the heat.

How to win at hydration

While that may sound like uniformly bad news, we can avoid the dire consequences by staying physically fit, acclimating to the heat, and reminding ourselves of the importance of drinking more, particularly whenever we sweat.  Getting outdoors in warm weather may initially feel uncomfortable, but our bodies will gradually acclimate over time.  That acclimation improves our sweating and our hydration because acclimation prompts us to drink more throughout the day.

Additional good news is that for maintaining hydration, virtually all fluids count.  Okay, that advice does not include shots of tequila or other liquors, but mixed drinks do count toward daily hydration, as do coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks, beer, and wine.  As with food, consuming a wide variety of fluids during the day is important for overall nutrition and for hydration, both of which are vital for good health. Summer fruits and veggies are high in water content, so snacking on grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, summer squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers deliver both water and nutrients.

For more on the importance of hydration and a guide to finding your individual hydration needs, see Dr. Murray’s chapter on hydration in Food & Fitness After 50.

 

 

Hydration Tips for Active Older Adults

As the temperatures soar, active 50+ exercisers (myself included!) need to pay special attention to hydration. There are some who say that thirst should be your only guide for hydration, but that advice could be dangerous as we age. When older adults exercise, especially in hot and humid climates, they have a diminished sensation of thirst. And we know that “normal” thirst kicks in after you are already thirsty so waiting for thirst may lead to heat illnesses.

Aging also brings about other changes in normal physiology that contribute to dehydration. Our sweat rate changes, our kidneys change the way they handle fluids and electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, and there is an altered blood flow response. All of these normal age changes mean that we need to be aware of hydration and adopt strategies to keep us hydrated during the physiological stress of exercise.

In addition, many 50+ take medications that contribute to loss of body water. Chief among the drugs are common blood pressure medications that act as diuretics which can increase water loss. When you add in other common drugs, caffeine and alcohol, both which are mild diuretics, hydration becomes even more important.

How do you know if you are dehydrated? This question is of great interest to researchers and unfortunately there is no single, easy test to assess hydration. Until there is an easy reliable and valid test, the best strategy is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. For every pound loss, drink 16-24 ounces for every pound loss during exercise. If you gain weight after exercise that means you are most likely overhydrated, but a loss of 1 pound or less means you are doing pretty well at hydrating. Another way to assess hydration is by monitoring urine volume and color. A dark colored urine usually means you are dehydrated (although some dietary supplements like vitamins with a high concentration of riboflavin can cause a bright colored urine) as well as infrequent urination.

Here are some tips to keep you hydrated:

  • Monitor body weight before and after exercise to gauge fluid loss
  • Monitor urine volume and color
  • Drink fluids before activity and during activity when exercising in hot, humid environments
  • Replace fluids after exercise
  • Eat foods with high water content (fruits and vegetables)
  • Consume fluids with meal
  • Use sport drinks if you are a heavy sweater and/or a salty sweater; if watching calories, try the “light” verisons that provide some carbohydrate but with the same electrolyte content as the regular sport drinks.

Coconut Water, Homemade Sports Drinks and Other Thoughts on Hydration

As college students make their way to campus, college athletes are taking the field and hitting the gym for sports training and competition. Two questions that I’m being asked are, “is coconut water better than sports drinks?” and “should I make my own sports drink to cut down on sugar?”

First, coconut water…although being marketed as “super-hydrating,” it isn’t better than sports drinks and for some athletes sports drinks still have the greater advantage. Coconut water is the liquid inside green coconuts and it not the same thing as coconut milk (which is made from pressing coconut meat). In a few studies coconut water has been shown to be an effective rehydration beverage compared to water but isn’t superior to sports drinks.

Here are the pros and cons of coconut water:

Pros

  • Similar in calories to sports drinks (46 calories vs. 50 calories per cup)
  • Slightly lower in sugar than sports drinks (about 2 teaspoons vs. 3 teaspoons of sugar per cup)
  • Contains some protein (about 2 grams per cup)
  • High in potassium…about the same as found in a large banana

Cons

  • Lower in sodium than most sports drinks and sodium is needed by athletes who sweat heavily and are “salty” sweaters
  • Can have a mild laxative effect when large amounts are consumed
  • Expensive…$1.75 to $2.50 per serving
  • Not all brands passed the Consumer Labs test to make sure that what is in the bottle is the same as what is stated on the label

Don’t be fooled by the claims of high potassium in coconut water….although it is a good source of potassium, athletes lose about ten times more sodium in sweat than potassium, so athletes need the sodium found in sports drinks.

And, what about the homemade sports drinks? First, carbohydrate in sports drinks is a good thing…the 14 or so grams of carbohydrate per cup help to replace muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) and makes the drink palatable. I’ve never been a big fan of homemade sports drinks because of the quality control….when you buy a bottle of Gatorade or PowerAde you know what you are getting. When you make your own sports drink and the recipe calls for a “pinch” of salt, how much sodium are you really getting? And, research shows that a beverage that tastes good will lead to greater consumption…and I’ve yet to taste a “homemade” brew that tastes good. I encourage athletes to stick to the tried and true sports drinks when exercising at high intensity, for long duration, or during hot and humid practices (think football, soccer, tennis, or cross country practice in August).

Enjoy coconut water if you want a light tasting refreshing drink (and can afford it), but athletes will still get great benefits from drinking sports drinks.