Monday, June 2, 2014

How Should I Hydrate?

     In my job I regularly combat heat illness, dehydration, and the various signs and symptoms that accompany them. I get asked all the time, "Which is better for me, water or Gatorade"? My answer is always different based on the level of activity, environmental conditions of the activity, and duration of activity. I recently was asked a question that I didn't have an answer for. I have never been asked this question before, and I was truly stumped. "Is Coconut water better to rehydrate me than water or Gatorade." Huh, that is a new one. As far as I'm concerned, coconut water is a recent trend in hydration choices that has really made an impact in the market just in the last few years. I don't know if coconut water is better than anything else or just on the rise because of current marketing campaigns. 

    I sought out a nutritional expert that could give me some insight into this question. I contacted several dietitians, nutritional professors, and several other nutritional experts, but I wound up with the same answer every time, "I do not have enough information to give you an educated answer." Finally I contacted Amy Goodson. Amy is the dietitian for TCU, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, and USA Track & Field Dietitian Consultant. I think her resume speaks for itself. She agreed to answer a few questions for me, so heres what she had to say.

Does Coconut Water have health benefits?
     It is a great source of potassium, which is an electrolyte and essential in the body. With approximately 480 mg per 8oz serving, coconut water compares in potassium to about 12oz of low fat milk. It does contain small amounts of other nutrients also and supplies about 10gm of carbohydrate per 8oz, which is fine for the average person drinking it as a low-calorie beverage, but a little low for those participating in exercise over an hour long.

What are the most important nutrients and electrolytes to consider for rehydration?
     Rehydration consists of fluid, sodium chloride and potassium primarily. When a person sweats, sodium (salt) is the primary electrolyte lost in sweat and thus the one that needs to be replaced during and after exercise. Yes, potassium is also needed, but not in the amounts that sodium is. Sodium is needed to prevent cramping during exercise and also to maintain blood sodium levels. If you are a salty sweater, as indicated by the white lines on your clothes, hat, or shoes after sweating, then it is likely that you will need more sodium than the average person.

Does it matter when you load up on electrolytes, before or after activity?
     There is no specific electrolyte recommendation before activity. Typically with athletes, or people that we know to sweat in large amounts, we recommend that that the individual consume salty foods before the activity. Foods like pretzels, crackers, popcorn, jerky, and salting your food can be great ways to intake sodium in addition to eating foods like strawberries, bananas, avocados, and low-fat dairy for potassium. And of course, drink plenty of water.

Do you think coconut water is a current trend that will fade away or is it here to stay?
     Many of the coconut products, be it coconut water, milk, or oil have become heavily marketed products in the last few years. As anything, it will lose steam eventually, but I suspect it will remain on the market and likely popular as a low-calorie, flavored water beverage.

     I think the logical conclusion to prepare your body for the demand its going to face. If you plan on being out in the sun all day, chances are your going to sweat a lot and lose sodium in the process. With all that salt coming out you need to replace it, unfortunately water and coconut water have very little to offer in the way of sodium. I will continue to pack my large Gatorade when I go out with a few carb and salt pack snacks to ensure that my body will continue to function at the level that I need it to.


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