An often forgotten, yet vital, nutrient is water. The human body is made up of approximately 70pc water, so it is needed more than any other nutrient each day to survive. It is literally the essence of life!
Every single cell in our bodies contains water. Bone cells are about 22pc water, fat cells are about 25pc water, and muscle cells are about 75pc water. Outside of the cells, our blood is made up of nearly 85pc water.
And for a good reason. Water plays an active role in all sorts of bodily functions, including regulating body temperature, providing protection, and removing waste products.
Staying hydrated is vital for overall good health and sports performance, so a constant supply of water throughout the day is needed.
If water is lost from the body and it is not replaced than dehydration can occur. When we are dehydrated we can no longer efficiently supply oxygen and vital nutrients to the cells of our bodies, and we'll start to feel pretty lousy as a result.
A 0.5pc loss of body water increases the strain on the heart, 1pc loss reduces aerobic endurance, 3pc loss reduces muscular endurance, and more than 4pc loss you are talking serious problems, such as heat exhaustion, coma, and even death.
Symptoms of dehydration are thirst, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite, constipation, and impaired physical performance.
Some of these symptoms may sound familiar, akin to a hangover, but with good reason. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, which causes more water to be excreted from the body. A hangover is therefore a mild case of dehydration. So if you are looking for that miracle hangover cure, then water is your only man.
The amount of water we need to drink each day depends on overall body size, how much we sweat, and the types of foods we eat.
On average, for every kilogram of bodyweight, you need to drink 35ml of water. So for example, a 70kg female would need around 2.5 litres of water per day. A larger man weighing 85kg would need around three litres.
Bear in mind that some of the fluid can come from food. So if you eat a lot of vegetables and fruit in their raw form, or "wet" carbohydrates such as cooked wholegrains, then it's possible to take in one litre of water from food alone.
If you are struggling to drink your daily dose of vitality, set a behavioural goal of drinking a glass of water first thing each morning to set you off on the right foot. When you have mastered that habit, then introduce another glass before each meal throughout the day. Before you know it, you will be close to your target amount.
Endurance athletes, such as runners and cyclists, are at unnecessary risk for dehydration, lower training intensity, and heat illness without adequate fluids on board.
Even a 1-2pc drop in hydration will affect your performance. Your blood volume will reduce, your ability to maintain a safe core temperature will reduce, and the amount of oxygen pumped to your working muscles will be reduced.
Don't wait until you are 'thirsty' to hydrate. At this stage, you're performance will already have been affected. So for endurance sports, it's extremely important to pay extra attention to your hydration status before it is too late.
An extra one litre of water may be necessary on days where you are exercising, or approximately 150ml extra per 15 minutes exercise. Be extra vigilant on hot days.
If you are a 'salty sweater' and lose high amounts of salt through your sweat, then you should replace both lost fluids and electrolytes by eating salty foods or drinking fluids that contain sodium to avoid muscle cramps, particularly in warm weather.
Monitor your fluid intake during your training instead of taking a 'just drink as much as possible' approach and aim for no more than 800ml per hour to prevent over-hydration.
A common myth is that drinking lemon water first thing in the morning can help to melt body fat. Yes, while water is an essential ingredient for the fat-loss process, by helping to make the body as efficient as possible, it's about time this myth was laid to rest.
Drinking lemon water does not burn body fat. Although that's not to say it has no benefits, it does. Here they are:
• Drinking lemon water is a good way to hydrate the body first thing in the morning due to increased water intake
• Adding lemon spices up plain water to make it more palatable and easier to drink
• Lemon juice may help some people with digestion
• It's a good source of vitamin C.
That's about it! Other tasty twists to add to water to help make it more palatable, are cucumber, melon, ginger, mint, or even some frozen mixed berries.
Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer and runs monthly online group nutrition coaching programmes and hosts nutrition seminars around the country. See www.thenutcoach.com