I’ve written about this previously, and will again, because it’s important, sometimes even life-saving information. Yet too many people—including athletes—don’t pay enough attention to it: dehydration.
I was reminded of that lack of attention when my friend ‘Bob’ (not his real name) went on a strenuous hike in the high mountains of Utah, spending more than two hours under the blazing sun in temperatures above the 90’s (F). Bob consumed his entire water bottle during the hike. It held about three cups of water. He’d consumed no other liquids and eaten only one slice of buttered bread that morning. After the hike, we went to a diner for a late lunch. Bob got up to grab more napkins.
He took about four steps, and suddenly toppled, face first. This was a ‘timber’ topple. His joints didn’t flex to allow a gentle faint, he just keeled over, not even putting his arms up to protect his face; which is what he landed on.He broke his nose, and scraped off the skin under his nose to his lip. His two front teeth went through the inside tissue just above his lip. He lost one front tooth; the other front tooth was sore for weeks.
What happened to Bob has a name: syncope. It means a temporary loss of consciousness, commonly known as fainting. While there are numerous causes for fainting, one of the big ones is dehydration resulting from active exercise that causes heavy sweating—without enough fluid replacement.
Currently, there are some basic misunderstandings about the body’s fluid needs. So let’s get rid of some ongoing liquid myths. First, too much water is almost as bad as too little. The hue and cry over drinking enough water, along with the solemn pronouncement that everyone should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, causes many folks to consume more liquid than they actually need.
A very good way to calculate base water need was described by the New York Times in an article on hydration. One paragraph stated, “It’s not wise to rely solely on thirst to guide your water intake. Nor should quenching your thirst be a measure of whether you’ve drunk enough. To calculate how much water you need each day, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.08; the result is your requirement in eight-ounce cups.
But even that quote needs some clarification. It’s not that you need ‘water,’ it’s actually liquid that your body needs. Liquids of nearly every kind contain water. That includes soups, beer, tea, coffee, vegetables, and other foods. It’s hard to calculate and include food liquids in the NYT equation. Plus, that equation changes depending on circumstances. For example, if you’re sweating or physically working hard, you’ll need more liquid. If you’re at a higher altitude than normal, you need more liquid. Likewise, having a fever, increased urination, diarrhea or vomiting increases your need for fluids.
You may not always feel thirsty when you need water (remember that!), but there are also other symptoms that can tell you to gulp down a cup or so. One is if your mouth is dry and your tongue sticks slightly to the roof of your mouth. Another is if you suddenly feel tired with a loss of energy. Or if you feel irritated for no real reason, you may need to consume some liquid.
More serious symptoms of dehydration are sudden dizziness or feeling light-headed or confused. If you’ve lost a lot of fluid, you may also need to replace electrolytes, which are substances that conduct electricity, such as calcium, potassium and more. We humans are electrical beings. Our nerves, muscles, cells, brain—in fact every quantum of human life—functions via electricity.
For athletes, the need to have the right amount of liquid is essential. Being just five per cent dehydrated can affect athletic performance enough to knock an established leader down to the middle of the pack.
Finally, one of the most important parts of being correctly hydrated should begin the night before a training session or competition. Give fluid enough time to reach every cell and then fill the bladder with waste products by morning. Don’t think your body will distribute liquids thoroughly when consumed half an hour before you compete or train. You may have just chugged down a quart of liquid, but it will take time for it to fully hydrate you.