What to drink in our extreme heat is a topic of conversation I’ve heard a lot recently. How about on your summer run or bike ride? Are you team sports drink or team water? The answer is not always as clear as, well, water. It really depends on the duration and intensity of the physical activity and on how much you sweat. Even if you aren’t doing any “physical activity” with extreme temperatures you should hydrate your body just as responsibly.
The basic guideline for most people is that if you are doing continuous exercise for 60 minutes or less, then water is fine; beyond 60 minutes and if the intensity is high, you should consider a sports drink. In intense heat follow this same rule if you’ll be exposed for the same time frame. This is because sports drinks include electrolytes which help regulate nerves and muscles, carbohydrates which help restore the body’s glycogen or fuel levels and water which helps hydrate. So sports drinks really do triple duty whenever you exercise — or are in extremely hot conditions — for longer periods of time. They not only help the body achieve optimal performance during exercise, like giving the body that extra carbohydrate kick when fuel levels have been tapped, but can be crucial for properly maintaining an endurance athlete’s body functions.
But did you know electrolytes; which include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium; are not created equal.
Sodium is by far the most important while exercising. Sodium is found in salt. But sodium, aren’t we supposed to cut that rather than add it? Yes, the average American who struggles to get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day should. However if you are exercising for long durations and at a high level of intensity, you need sodium.
According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, the average person should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The average consumption is over 3,000 mg. Much of the sodium comes from processed foods, which fitness enthusiasts often skip. Women are particularly vulnerable to sodium depletion since they tend to take public health messages a little more to heart — maybe a little too much.
In order to get this extra sodium, you could, in theory, aside from sports drinks, just add a pinch of salt to your water bottle. But the taste might discourage you from drinking altogether and that would obviously defeat the purpose. I would actually recommend people of all ages consume whatever beverage will help them maintain a good hydration level, particularly when working out in the heat.
Don’t like plain water? That’s fine. One popular way is adding cut fruit or herbs to water. My personal favorite combos are cucumbers and mint or strawberries and fresh lemon. It only takes a couple pieces of fruit to add a ton of flavor. You can even make up a whole pitcher of flavored water and let it sit in the fridge overnight to help give it more flavor.
Don’t worry about the carbohydrates or calories of a sports drink if you exceed the 60 minutes in a workout. These sports drinks are engineered to have the perfect levels of carbs and electrolytes, and they are relatively low in terms of calories. For example, a common sports drink on the market contains 20 calories per serving (eight ounces), 110 mg sodium, 30 mg of potassium and 5 grams of carbohydrates. That’s not bad.
How much to drink? Use the pee test. Most medical professionals recommend this as the easiest way to check hydration. In other words, every time you urinate, check the color. It should be the color of light lemonade. If it’s darker, you are dehydrated. If it’s lighter, you are over-hydrated, which can lead to everything from headache to coma, even death in severe cases.
A good guideline for the amount of fluid needed daily is to take your weight and divide it by two. That represents the number of fluid ounces you should consume in a day. In other words, if you weigh 100 pounds, you should take in 50 ounces (just over 6 cups) per day.
If you plan to exercise, up the intake by 2 to 3 cups (16-24 ounces) before exercising. This is called pre-hydration. Then you should be consuming another cup every 15 minutes while exercising. Remember cold drinks are more easily absorbed in the stomach. Then add a cup or two after exercising for post hydration. This is in addition to the daily recommended amount of fluids we discussed above.
We are constantly asking our body to do hard things for us. But really we should be focusing a little more on respecting our bodies and asking what we can do for our body. Be ever so mindful of this in the peak seasons for not only exercise but outdoor adventure and being out in the hot sun. Even grandma and grandpa out fishing or gardening need extra fluids this time of year. Remember water is calorie-free, caffeine-free, inexpensive and readily available, but if you will be extremely hot or doing more than an hour of exercise then go ahead and grab your favorite electrolyte or sports drink.
Sarah Patino is the Certified Nutrition Educator for Food Sense at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2408 and at email@example.com.