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Water – An Essential Nutrient

Water, although we take it for granted, is one of the 6 classes of nutrients that we must ingest on a daily basis. 60 to 70% of our body is composed of water. Without it, the constant and necessary chemical reactions that occur all the time in the body can’t take place. Constant consumption is essential, as we cannot conserve or store water in our body. Yet, most of us probably get about 1/3 of the valuable hydration benefits we need.

Water comprises over 70% of solid body tissue and helps regulate body temperature, carry nutrients and oxygen to cells, remove waste, cushion joints, and protect organs and tissues. Insufficient water consumption leads to headaches, grogginess and dry, itchy skin. Severe dehydration affects blood pressure, circulation, digestion, kidney function, and nearly all body processes. A healthy body maintains proper hydration by balancing fluid intake and output. You normally lose about 2 ½ quarts (10 cups) of fluid daily through perspiration, urination, respiration and bowel movements. This amount needs to be replenished daily.

The question is: how much, and what beverages, should we drink? It is prudent to consume a minimum of 8-10 cups of fluid per day. This is in addition to the water you get through eating solid foods. For instance, a baked potato with skin is about 70% water. Eating fruits and soups is another way to ensure that you are staying hydrated. Water is certainly the best way to achieve this goal. Milk and juice are about 90% water, and also are good sources of fluid. It is important to note that caffeinated beverages not only don’t meet your fluid requirements, but because they act as a diuretic and expel fluid from the body, they can be harmful in terms of staying properly hydrated.

People who are exercising need to exhibit extreme caution in order to maintain a high level of hydration. According to the guidelines issued by the American Council on Exercise, one should drink 2 cups of water within an hour before exercising, consume 4-8 ounces of fluid every 10-15 minutes during the workout, and consume 2 cups of fluid for every .5 kilogram lost during exercise at the conclusion of the workout. One should never lose more than 2% of his body weight due to dehydration. This is dangerous and can affect your performance. Also, remember that we here in the Middle East live in a hot and sometimes very dry climate, and therefore need to be extremely careful to drink enough in the summer months.

How do you know if you are beginning to dehydrate? Don’t rely on the thirst reflex. If you are thirsty, you’ve already waited too long before drinking. Urine that is a dark, gold color indicates that you are not drinking nearly enough. One quick tip on maintaining good hydration: every time you are ready to eat one of your meals or snacks, drink 2 cups of water before and 2 cups after. This will ensure that you stay hydrated and healthy.

And water is heart-healthy. In a 6-year study of 34,000 people, men who drank 5or more glasses of water a day had 51% lower risk of hear attacks than those who drank 2 glasses or less. The study also found that men and women who drank more than 5 glasses per day had a 44% lower risk of fatal strokes.

Can I drink too much water? The answer is yes, but it’s highly unlikely in normal circumstances. Almost anyone who engages in exercise or sports has probably faced some degree of dehydration at one time or another. We’ve all know for a long time that drinking before, during and after exercise is a must, especially in the hot summer weather.

On the flip side, researchers have discovered that it is possible to drink too much water. Drinking too much may cause a condition called hyponatremia, or low sodium, which is a potentially dangerous condition. What are the signs of hyponatremia? Lower levels of sodium can lead to anything from a weird feeling, to nausea, vomiting or in extreme cases, even death. Today, the rule of thumb for athletes is to drink before your event, but to rely on your thirst sensation to water up as you go. For those of us who are doing short and medium workouts, hyponatremia is probably not a big concern. Nevertheless it is possible to overdo it on the water, so following the same advice of hydrating beforehand, and then drinking when thirsty along the way is the way to go. And always be sure to drink after an exercise session as well.

Drinking a sufficient amount of water is another way to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at [email protected]

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