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August 2005skill builder

Don't Hesitate - Hydrate

Good old water, plus carbs and electrolytes, can help you beat the heat.

By Dan Oko

For 30 years, Dr. John Ivy, the chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin, has been working to understand the machine that is the human body. Generally, Ivy works with burnt-orange Longhorns and elite athletes, such as competitive weightlifters, but anybody planning even a modest outdoor adventure would do well to heed the good doctor’s advice. In short, clearing away the thickets of fad diets and advertising hype, Ivy’s approach to eating and drinking suits active Texans.

Whether you plan an afternoon nature walk or a weekend hike across the desert, Ivy cautions that the first thing to do before heading out is to check the weather. In Texas, where temps have reached a record 120 degrees Fahrenheit twice in the past century, the primary nutritional concern for anyone outside is staying hydrated. “Temperatures in the low 90s and above will cause you to lose fluid quite rapidly,” Ivy explains, adding that high humidity levels increase the amount of sweat, making fluid replacement crucial.

In order to beat the heat, Ivy says, it’s not enough just to drink a little water, but you must make sure you find a beverage that contains fuel in the form of carbohydrates, helpful salts known as electrolytes and a little protein if you’re pursuing vigorous activities. “For the average person, fruit juices are just fine,” says Ivy. “But for hard hiking or mountain biking, the best sports drinks to look for have both carbohydrates and protein.” In addition to providing fuel, research shows that the presence of carbohydrates helps the body absorb liquids more efficiently, while protein helps revitalize muscle.

Beyond what to drink, when you drink is crucial. Thirty minutes before heading out, Ivy suggests drinking a pint of something with electrolytes. Carrying a beverage and vigilantly swallowing a couple of mouthfuls of liquid for every 20 minutes of activity will help keep you hydrated. If you become dehydrated, initially you’ll likely experience only mild discomfort, but sooner or later thirst can diminish your performance — making it hard to pedal your bike or, in extreme cases, even cast a lure — while in the long run dehydration can be deadly.

You can live a lot longer without food than without drink, but meals are obviously an important part of outdoor nutrition. Ivy is quick to point out that most diets, such as the wildly popular Atkins, have little to do with athletic performance, but are designed with weight loss in mind. In his most recent book, The Performance Zone (2004), Ivy seeks to point out healthy nutritional options for weekend warriors and pro athletes alike. Ivy is emphatic that active sports require plenty of calories, with an emphasis on carbohydrates.

As with hydration, timing for eating is crucial: Ivy recommends eating something as soon as exercise is over. And while carbs are central, protein and even fat are also part of Ivy’s dietary prescription — sports bars, jerky, nuts and fruit top his list. Like your car after a long drive, your body needs to refuel, so instead of worrying about calories, just enjoy.

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