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.