You Need Water.

The national news shows are reporting the drought across the desert southwest is the worst on record. Lake Powell water levels are down an astonishing 115 feet. Hollywood is remaking the classic football movie The Longest Yard (why I wonder, but I digress) …at a New Mexico detention center, the producers want natural grass and the locals are having a fit about the amount of water needed to keep the grass green. Water really can be an item of importance and debate, regardless of the setting.

I have just returned from my annual trek to the American College of Sports Medicine meeting where all things science and activity are on the agenda. You would think that the issue of water and sports would be well hammered out, but it really hasn’t. About the only thing known for sure is this: withholding fluids (whatever the fluids are) is flat wrong, bordering on negligence. Just because Denzel Washington, in Remember the Titans, told his football team that ‘water makes you weak’ is hardly an endorsement or justification to restrict water intake. It’s the recipe and guidelines that is the root of confusion. For example:

When we work out, we sweat. When we sweat, we lose weight. Therefore, we should try to drink fluids to prevent weight loss. Not so fast. Anyone training who is trying to match fluid intake with sweat loss will feel bloated and likely get nauseous and could very well vomit. So how closely should intake and losses be matched? Most athletes will sweat more than they drink, and about the maximum difference that can be comfortably tolerated is 2%. Thus, a 150lb player who adequately drinks during training might weigh 147 after practice…if they can keep up with sweat losses. Not as easy as it sounds. The more practical guideline is to try to regain the weight over 24 hours (I was in a study once where we were to replenish 4% sweat losses in 4 hours-typical time from weigh-in to wrestling. No one could do it and the one who did got sick).
All you have to do is drink water. Nothing is better than water. Not so fast on this one. Water is only good if it stays in you and pure water doesn’t stay in the body very long. Go work out and look at the color of the urine…pretty yellow and concentrated. Drink lots of water and the next couple urinations will lighten up. This is good. But a little later, the urine will darken up again. However, if the fluids have some salts in it, more water stays in the body…the urine will lighten up and stay lighter for longer periods.
Everybody sweats, so everybody drinks the same because everybody sweats the same. Yeah, right. Look at your teammates or other people working out. Some sweat big time, others hardly seem to sweat and do you really think your sweat tastes as salty as your teammates?. Obviously, there is more fluid being lost by one than the other. However, the salt concentration of sweat varies a great deal between people. The big time…Man U, Ajax, Juventus, AC Milan, Real Madrid, etc. all test the sweat concentrations of their stars and prescribe drink make-ups specific to the player…Hey, these guys are worth millions and the owners are going to do anything to keep their stars healthy and on the field. You can’t get this done (well, yes you could…it isn’t all that hard, just need access to a good university exercise science program and a few bucks to pay for the service-write me, I’ll give you the name of the closest people to you). Anyway, it is kind of scary just how good the sense of taste is. The heavy salt sweaters, given the choice, will chose the more salty drinks while the lighter salt sweaters will favor less salty drinks. Thus, have water and a sport drink available and let the players satisfy their thirst however they want….they will probably do a pretty good job of mixing the salt and water needs.
A final bit of logic to consider. In long term events (triathalons, ultramarathons) have had people drink too much water and develop some pretty severe symptoms indicating that their system is too diluted. I only bring this up because of the number of summer tournaments being contested with players playing multiple games in a short period of time. The fluid balance of salt and water is pretty closely balanced by the kidneys – get too much or little of either and the kidneys will adjust whether water or salts get dumped or kept to ensure proper balance. One problem with the kidney blood supply is that during exercise, the blood flow slows down to divert blood to the working muscles meaning less blood flow and subsequent urine volume. Now we all know that sweat is a combination of salt and water meaning we are losing both when we sweat. Now if you only drink water, you are only replacing the water lost, not the salts. Water is absorbed by the GI system pretty quickly….far more quickly than the kidneys filter the blood. Thus, the delicate salt and water balance of the body is being diluted by drinking just water. Thus, it is also a good idea to have both water and a sports drink available and let the kids choose. Keep it close, available, and cold (important).
A couple other items from ACSM.

1. This one hit the papers recently. I can’t remember the country, but the water bottles made available to the opponents had been tainted with a powerful tranquilizer in an attempt to gain an advantage.
2. The potential for tainting of supplements (and the possible positive drug test) is pretty high. After a manufacturer prepares and bottles a supplement, the machinery must be cleaned (the most expensive part of the entire process for the supplement manufacturers) before working on the next item. If the prior item has a banned item, it can show up in the next batch and you are stuck. Willing to take that risk?
3. Most supplement suppliers procure their raw ingredients from the cheapest source possible. One Chinese supplement company routinely found positive tests for testosterone. Their plant shows no presence or contamination, but it turns out that one of their suppliers supplied tainted material.
4. OK, so go after the suppliers. How? You test positive and blame a company for that positive test. Can you conclusively say that once the bottle was opened that the product wasn’t contaminated after the fact? That is the defense the producers would take…
5. The chance of testing positive may be small, but when a positive test pops up, just try getting out of it. There were 2 positive drug tests at the Euro 2004…the first for the Euro. One was for a performance enhancing drug, the other for a corticosteroid-a medically prescribed drug that the doping control officers were aware of….so far.

By the way, as a lover of the beautiful game, I am always looking for the opportunity to watch great games, and I find too many Americans will pass on such a chance. If you missed the Netherlands v Czech Republic game at the Euro on Saturday June 19, you missed what I think was probably one of the greatest modern era games (Czech Rep won 3-2 after being down 0-2). Brilliant individual and team offense, world class saves, idiotic moves by coaches, 30m shots off the crossbar…worth the price if it comes out on DVD. Much to be admired, learned and appreciated no matter what the interest level of the spectator.

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