Importance of Hydration

It is no surprise that you need to stay well hydrated when engaging in physical activities, sports or when working out. Maintaining proper hydration levels is extremely important not just for maximizing performance and recovery, but for sustaining your health and even safety.

This is particularly important for someone who has a spinal cord injury (SCI) because of compromised sweating function and poor temperature regulation. If you or your clients are not consuming adequate amounts of fluid the following problems can arise:

• Blood volume drops leading to less nutrients being delivered to the muscles and delayed removal of by-products
• Sweat rates drop
• Body temperature rises quickly
• Maximum aerobic performance decreases
• Gastrointestinal distress
• Fluid and electrolyte imbalances
• Heat cramps
• Hyperthermia
• Premature fatigue
• Heat exhaustion or heat stroke

How Can You Tell if You Are Not Getting Enough Fluids? You can tell if you have not consumed enough fluids if your urine is a dark yellow or even orange color. If you feel thirsty, you are already 2% dehydrated and this will have a negative impact on your physical and mental performance.

What are the Best Fluids to Drink? Drinking before, during (if possible) and after a game, workout or race is important. However it’s not just when you drink it is also what you drink. A lot of the energy/sports drinks on the market are filled with sugars, artificial colourings/flavourings and additives which do not promote health. There is no replacing good clean water, but if you have been working out you not only need to replace the water you’ve lost but also your electrolytes (essential minerals such as sodium and potassium that are depleted from sweating). Consuming water with electrolytes and glucose is also advantageous for athletes as it avoids depletion of muscle glycogen (the energy glucose) stored in your muscles providing direct fuel to them. Drinking water with glucose and electrolytes also helps to maintain mental function, which is critical to performance. Mental fatigue leads to muscle fatigue even if your muscles have plenty of glycogen!

Here are two great home-made drinks to help provide you with essential glucose and electrolytes:

1. 1 liter of water with one cup of orange juice and ½ teaspoon of salt
2. 1 liter of water with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and ½ teaspoon of salt

Coconut water is another delicious and natural source of sugars and electrolytes that your body needs after a hard work-out. Just be sure to read the ingredient lists as many brands have unnecessary sugars and artificial flavours added to them.

Other Strategies to Ensure You Maintain Healthy Fluid Balance
To ensure you maintain proper hydration levels it may be helpful to maintain a fixed drinking schedule before, during and after competition - the best way to do this is to carry the fluid with you so it us readily available. This can be in the form of a water bottle or a camel back (convenient bag that you can attach to your wheelchair, and has a long plastic straw-like hose that you can just bring to your mouth to sip your fluids).

As for how much to drink before the game, race or physical activity, here’s a helpful guideline - drink 0.5 liters 1 to 1.5 hours before the game/race and avoid foods and drinks that are a natural diuretic such as tea, coffee and sodas.

Keep hydrated, keep healthy and kick arse!!

Kylie James and Joanne Smith
Co-authors of the book Eat Well Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury