Sports Hydration 101: Essential Tips for Women in their 20s to 50s
When solo hiking in the Grand Canyon several years ago, I didn’t know I was experiencing dehydration—because I wasn’t thirsty. Hikers and runners can become dehydrated more quickly at higher altitudes and sometimes lose their craving to drink, which is one of the body's signals to rehydrate.
While I survived the episode, I learned a lesson in sports hydration. An increasing number of women participate in amateur and professional sports or pursue physical activities independently. Sporting companies that used to make one-size-fits-all sporting goods now offer tailored products designed to fit women’s bodies.
Sports hydration products have also kept pace with the growing popularity of healthy activities. The focus is slowly turning towards recognizing the hydration and nutritional challenges women face while participating in sports. The first step begins with understanding optimal hydration, also known as euhydration.
The human body is constantly regulating its water levels. Optimal hydration keeps the body from overheating, maintains cardiac function, and aids muscle recovery when the sports activity is completed. Maintaining optimal hydration is no mean feat.
The body strives to sustain a fluid balance of +/- one percent of the total body water weight at all times. During exercise, people lose water, a process called dehydration, through sweat, respiration, and sometimes urination. The dehydration rate is affected by air temperature, humidity levels, altitude, wind speed, and exercising in direct sunlight.
There are three easy ways to assess your level of dehydration:
- Thirst. When you are thirsty, you need to drink. It is the body’s innate way of notifying you of impending dehydration.
- Urine Concentration. Observing the color of your urine is another way to assess your hydration level. Urine should be a light yellow color. When it deepens to a deep yellow or orange, you are dehydrated and need to drink.
- Body Weight. Not everyone weighs themselves before participating in sports. However, weight loss between the beginning and end of an event signifies dehydration.
People assume most of the body's water exists in the blood. However, over 90 percent of body water hangs out in and around the cells, and only eight percent circulates in the blood. During rehydration, the blood acts as the delivery system, retrieving water and nutrients from the digestive system and distributing them to the cells.
Most Important Things to Remember About Hydration and Sports in Women Between the Ages of 20 and 50
Have you asked yourself why the age range between 20 and 50 is special? It’s because women between the ages of 20 and 50 have mature bodies and between two major life events: puberty and menopause. Women differ in water weight and fat content from men, and they also contend with fluctuating hormones, menstrual cycles, pregnancies, and breastfeeding.
Body Water Composition
Since women have more fat content and less lean tissue, women have a lower percentage of body water weight than men. The percentage of water weight in a woman is 52-55 percent; in obese women, it is even lower. Approximately 60 percent of a man’s body weight is water, and 70 percent in children. The difference in body water weight is why women become dehydrated more quickly than men of comparable size.
Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle
A woman’s “cycle” is more than just five or six days of menstruation. However, most women’s athletic performance research has concentrated solely on this interval despite women reporting that hormonal fluctuations during the rest of the month impact their athletic performance.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
In the not-so-distant past, pregnant or breastfeeding women did not participate in any sports activities. In today's world, women should still refrain from all contact sports after the first trimester of pregnancy for the safety of their unborn infant. However, women are now encouraged to keep running if there are no underlying reasons to refrain from the activity.
Women can participate in sports and exercise while breastfeeding but should be mindful to drink adequate fluid with nutritional supplements to hydrate both mother and baby.
What Type of Fluids Should Women Consume During Physical Activity?
Choosing what to drink after exercising is confusing. The market is flooded with sports beverages in a multitude of colors and bottle designs—all claiming rehydration powers.
Sports drinks with nutritional value are now labeled as functional beverages in the US. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other electrolytes have been added to replace losses incurred from sweating during exercise—in addition to carbohydrates for an energy boost, B vitamins for increased metabolism, and amino acids to reduce muscle fatigue and facilitate healing.
But what happened to drinking water, fruit juice, or eating water-rich fruits such as watermelon or grapefruit? And is it okay to rehydrate after exercise with a glass of wine or a can of beer? Here are some answers:
- Alcohol. Any alcohol above two percent is a diuretic and not advised for hydration purposes. Your urine output will exceed the liquid you drink. In addition, being in a state of dehydration and having a lower percentage of body weight will put you at risk for inebriation, which may affect your balance and personal safety.
- Caffeine. Caffeine will increase your urine output at rest but doesn't cause diuresis during sports activities. However, sports officials suggest that caffeine is consumed only moderately during exercise.
- Fruit Beverages. Fruit beverages are usually high in sugar but may not contain electrolytes lost during exercise. Their water content will help rehydration, but their sugar content makes them an unhealthy choice.
- Skimmed Milk. Skimmed milk is a perfect, naturally occurring protein beverage, complete with amino acids. It functions well in hydration and helps repair muscle damage.
- Sports Drinks. If you are participating in intense exercise, sports drinks are engineered to provide hydration, and energy, replace electrolyte losses, boost your metabolism, and repair your muscles. Most sports drinks are isotonic, meaning the added electrolytes match your body content. You should seek guidance if you choose to drink hyper/hypotonic beverages.
- Water. Water is the gold standard of hydration and should be available before, during, and after races.
You can also hydrate with high water-content fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, grapefruit, oranges, and tomatoes.
When New Technology Provides Another Option For Rehydration
The most common hydration method is eating or drinking fluids that travel down the esophagus and into the stomach. Stomach acids break nutrient particles into smaller pieces, then exit into the intestines for absorption into the bloodstream. Food and nutrients take eight to twelve hours or more to reach the bloodstream. Water is more quickly absorbed.
That's how it was until Nanotechnology found a faster way to deliver nutrients.
Nanotechnology is currently revolutionizing many sectors of the world. In healthcare, scientists have learned how to break down nutrients into nano-sized particles that are too small for the eye to see. For reference, a nano-particle is about a billionth of a meter. Nano-sized nutrients, encased in cell-sized delivery packages, can now enter the bloodstream without going through the process of digestion. And that is the beginning of a new sports drink called Nanohydr8.
Nanohydr8 is an energy sports drink that uses nanotechnology to deliver electrolytes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids directly to your blood cells. You can choose a caffeine-free option if you’ve already enjoyed your coffee for the day. People take Nanohydr8 before they exercise or compete in a sports event because they don’t have to wait hours for it to reach the body’s cells.
There are many exciting options to rehydrate after exercise. So why is it that people continue to die of dehydration? Is it because they don’t know the symptoms?
Signs of Insufficient Fluids During Exercise
If you become dehydrated, your ability to think clearly can be compromised. Research shows that even mild dehydration causes cognitive impairment and short-term memory loss, negatively affecting performance. Some people have even died of dehydration while carrying life-saving water in their backpacks.
You can correct mild dehydration by drinking fluids. Moderate to severe dehydration can become a medical emergency. If you learn to recognize dehydration, you may save your life or another’s.
Here are some signs of dehydration:
- Dry mouth and lips
- hot, dry skin
- Heat rash
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- A weak or bounding pulse
Deaths by dehydration are especially sad because they are entirely preventable. Knowing the symptoms of dehydration and how to rehydrate are critical components of sports safety.
Amount of Fluid to Drink Before, During, and After Exercise
Knowing when and how much fluid to drink before, during, and after exercise can prevent dehydration. Here are some recommendations:
- Hydration before exercising. Unless you are participating in a high-intensity sport or expect limited access to hydration on a hot day, you don't need to pre-hydrate. Drinking too much water reduces the body's sodium levels and causes exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). Low sodium allows water to enter the cells and makes them swell. Swelling in the brain can be fatal. Early symptoms of EAH and dehydration are very similar; a healthcare professional must perform a blood test to reach a definitive diagnosis.
- Hydration during exercise. Hydration during exercise aims to prevent the body from losing more than two percent of water weight. Athletic trainers recommend that women drink an equal amount of fluid to balance the losses from sweat, respiration, and menstruation. They suggest that if you can't calculate your losses, always drink when you become thirsty. Some women drink less than they should during competitions to save time on bathroom breaks which can compromise their scores, but this choice can cause personal harm.
Nanohydr8 recommends drinking one bottle before an event and one bottle every two to three hours if the exercise is intense and you are sweating. They also advise pregnant and nursing women to drink the non-caffeinated version.
- Hydration after exercise. After exercising, you should drink one and half times your estimated fluid losses within the first four hours. For intense workouts, some of your hydration should include electrolyte replacement instead of just water.
Tips for Staying Hydrated During Exercise
Many tips for staying hydrated during exercise are standard tips for anyone. However, some are tailored specifically for women’s bodies.
Tips for Women
- Carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions. Research shows that choosing a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution improves performance while menstruating.
- Sports drinks with iron. Menstruation can deplete your iron stores. It is suggested that women drink sports beverages with added iron to reduce iron deficiency.
- Additional hydration. While breastfeeding, remember that you are rehydrating for two. If your breast milk volume dips, increase your fluid intake.
- Drink to thirst. When thirsty, drink.
- Acclimatize. If you are traveling to an event, plan to arrive early to acclimatize to the heat/cold or altitude, or both. Heat accentuates dehydration, but cold and altitude can reduce the urge to drink, also causing dehydration.
- Optimize your hydration. Don’t begin your event dehydrated. Drink plenty of water the night before but remember not to over-hydrate.
- Access to water. Ensure you have access to adequate water supplies.
- Cover up. Direct sunlight and wind speed increase dehydration. Wear a hat and long sleeves.
- Frequent hydration breaks. Take regular hydration breaks during the sports event.
- Take a buddy. If you are hiking solo, ask a buddy to go along. If you cannot find someone, leave your hiking plan with a friend and tell them when you expect to return.
- Speak with your pharmacist. Some medications can put you at greater risk for dehydration. Ask your pharmacist to review your medications with you.
Women actively participate in sports now more than ever before. The female’s percentage of water body weight, hormone fluctuations, pregnancy, and breastfeeding cause different challenges than men or children have and may put women at increased risk for dehydration.
Sports beverage development has kept pace with the increased number of female amateur and professional athletes and those who pursue other physical activities. Nanotechnology and Nanohydr8 have spawned a new way of absorbing nutrients. Knowing the symptoms of dehydration, understanding the importance of hydration, and following rehydration guidelines give women an edge in staying healthy and hydrated while participating in sports. And that is sports hydration 101.
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Alice Blackmore, MN, RN, Content Writer
Alice Blackmore is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and owner of Insightfulnursing.com. She has expertise in pediatrics, maternal health, critical care, and long-term care. She now shares her years of experience through writing.