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Dr. Rick's Health Tip of the Month

July 1999

Drink Lots of Water

By Rick Allen, DC

Water is the single most important nutrient for athletes! (Remember that dancers are athletes!) Water makes up 60% of our bodies and 70% of our muscles. It carries nutrients to our tissues and waste products away. When we don' t have enough water, our performance lags. Strength, power, and endurance all suffer. Evaporative cooling requires 2 to 3 liters of perspiration per hour during heavy exercise. Just remember how much you perspired dancing a fast Lindy in a hot dance hall! Loss of body water equaling just 1 to 3% of the body weight will have an adverse effect on athletic performance (read " dancing" ). You may even get to the point of having weak knees and a foggy brain from heat exhaustion. Worse yet can be heat stroke, when the body's sweating shuts down in an attempt to conserve water and the body temperature rises quickly to a dangerous level.

Don' t Wait Until You Feel Thirsty

So what' s wrong with just waiting until our brain flashes a warning "You' re thirsty. Drink?" Thirst may not occur until more than 1% of your body weight is lost. This is equivalent to about three cups of fluid. This doesn' t sound like much, but it is enough to decrease performance. Because the body's thirst mechanism does not work well during exercise, you must be sure to drink more than enough to just quench your thirst.

Choosing The Right Fluids

Plain cool water is the best and cheapest source of fluid. Drinking water is the easiest way to rehydrate the body. Cool fluids are absorbed faster than warmer ones and are less shocking to the stomach than ice cold ones. Generally, we have sufficient carbohydrates and minerals to last an evening of dancing, so sports drinks or carbohydrate replacements designed for long distance runners are not usually necessary. Stay away from salt tablets. They actually draw water out of the blood stream into the stomach. Fruit juice diluted 1:1 with water is good. The dilution brings the carbohydrate concentration down to 6 to 8%, which is the optimum for absorption. Soda pop and undiluted juices are too rich in carbohydrate, which can cause stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea. Caffeinated drinks, such as tea, coffee, and cola beverages, and alcohol are diuretics and dehydrate the body even more.

At longer events, such as Folk Life, where people dance for three days solid each Memorial Day weekend in Seattle, I suggest eating foots that contain a lot of water, such as oranges, watermelon, apples, and grapes.

How Much Water Is Enough?

You need to drink water before, during and after dancing. Drink a glass of water before you get started dancing. Later, you should drink at least 3-4 ounces of water every 15 minutes when dancing vigorously. That' s two cups an hour. Sounds like a lot, but it is only about half the amount you can lose by heavy sweating. You definitely need to continue rehydrating after the dance. Down another glass or two before leaving the dance hall. That will give your body a chance to rehydrate before you go to bed.

Bring Your Water Bottle

It is a good idea to bring a water bottle to the dance. Filled with good, clean, filtered water, it prompts you to rehydrate all evening long. If, instead, you choose to ask for water from the bar or your server, I suggest you tip them generously early in the evening. They are providing a service that will keep you dancing at your best!

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