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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
My 3 great nephews joined a swim team for the first time…the Hartwell Hydros. They range in age from 6 to 9 years and it is fun to hear about their races and see the enjoyment they get from swimming. After watching a swim meet, here are some tips for parents whose kids are on swim teams; sort of a nutrition 101.
1. Just because kids are surrounded by water doesn’t mean they don’t need to drink water. After 30 minutes of swimming, kids can get dehydrated. Couple that with warm pool water, hot, humid air around the pool, and summertime high temperatures and kids can get dehydrated more quickly than adults. On swim meet days, keep your little ones hydrated by providing him or her with a water bottle and encourage drinking throughout the day. Ten to 20 minutes before the swim meet, have them drink 1 cup of water. Keep the water bottle near the pool so kids can sip water between heats. Sports drinks are useful for kids who sweat heavily and for those who don’t like water. Skip the fruit juice and soft drinks as they are too high in sugar to be good fluid replacers.
2. Keep quality carbs around the pool. Swimmers use muscles in the arms, legs and trunk and these muscles are fueled by carbohydrate. Choose carbs that provide nutrients to sneak in needed vitamins and minerals…fruit (bananas, orange or apple slices, or grapes are good choices…easy to pack and quick for snack). Fig bars or oatmeal cookies are better choices than chocolate cookies or candies (and fruit leather doesn’t qualify as a fruit, despite marketing claims).
3. Recover for the next day’s training. Swimmers train long and hard and need to refuel after a workout or a meet. Low-fat chocolate milk is a great recovery food….it provides high quality protein and carbohydrate along with nutrients like calcium, potassium and Vitamin D needed by kids for growth and development. Peanut butter on whole grain bread or crackers, trail mix with nuts, or low-fat string cheese and turkey wrapped in a tortilla make great snacks for the ride home.