The devil lives in my lower intestines. I know how he got there, too. It’s not a stomach bug that’s going around, and it’s not from anything that I ate. No, the atrocity that’s taking place in everything from my duodenum down came straight from the Rocky Mountains.
The day before yesterday, two studs named Richie and Dana and I all decided that it was time to appreciate the great outdoors. We were going on a hike to soak in Mother Nature’s beauty. Richie and Dana work for a Globo Gym, in fact I hired both of them when I was running the place, and so there were 3 fitness professionals preparing for what was supposed to be an enjoyable midday jaunt through God’s country. Needless to say, we all trusted our abilities to enjoy a longer hike, and the route that we decided to hike was slated for about 15 miles. 15 miles at 3 miles an hour is about 5 hours, so if we get there by 2p, we should be done by about 7p, long before the sun goes down and in time to enjoy a healthy, well-balanced meal consisting of a Wendy’s triple stack, fries, and a Frosty. And so, I strapped my beautiful beagle, Doris, into her harness and we were ready to rock.
Now when I use the term “fitness professional” please understand that there are all kinds of differences from one fitness professional to the next. Besides the fact that we’re all different human beings, we all have different interests and how we work out varies significantly. Dana is what you'd call an earth muffin. She LOVES rocks, like in a way that sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable. She loves rock climbing, hiking up large rocks, repelling down them, she keeps rocks that are special to her in velvet bags, and she’s planning to add a quartz centerpiece to her shower so that she can harness the healing power of that particular rock by standing on it chanting while lathering with organic soap made from coconut oil, guava extract, and real bits of ring-tailed lemur.
I digress, the point is, she’s an outdoorsy person, and so is Richie. He moved all the way from the UP to Colorado to enjoy what nature has to offer. Richie plans on becoming a famous male physique/nude gay art model, and keeps himself in ridiculous shape year round. They’re fit and healthy and awesome.
I’m a little bit more of what you might describe as a big fat strong guy. Most of my conditioning work comes in the form of chasing the dogs when they get out, walking up and down the stairs 7-10 times because I keep forgetting things when I’m trying to get out the door, and helping people move, which amongst my family and friends seems to happen about every 6 weeks. In the past 3 years or so, I haven’t done much in the way of cardio because I didn’t want it to interfere with my strength gains. Before that, however, I was a cardio/conditioning junkie. I have probably run about 15 5k’s, 5 or 6 10k’s, and 7 triathlons. Resting on my laurels, I thought that was no reason why I couldn’t at least just walk up and down a couple of hills. Besides, I thought, it’s 5 hours of walking. I mean, I’ve been at the zoo walking for more than 5 hours, this should be no problem.
The first 4 miles of the hike was directly up a hill. My legs hated me already, and there was a whole lot more to go. By some fluke of my usually super keen navigational skills (I forget how to get home from work about twice a month), we end up taking a left where we should have taken a right, which takes us to where we’re trying to go, but it does it with an extra few miles of trail. Those extra few miles prolong the climb, and so it’s now 4:30 and we’re way behind schedule. Also, it’s about 95 degrees outside, and my less than awesome conditioning has me sweating like a stuck pig. I brought 3 liters of water for Doris and I thinking that it would last me for a 5 hour hike that is described as “moderate” by my trail guide. I’m not sure what a “difficult” hike looks like, but unless you're building the trail as you go, I’m not sure how it could be much harder than what we were doing. Up a hill that lasts for a mile, down a hill so steep it’s impossible to do anything but pucker your cheeks and sprint praying that God spares you your knees and your life if only so you can tell the world your tragic story. Rinse and repeat for 20 miles and you have a pretty good understanding of the hike that we did.
As you might have guessed, I ran out of water about 12 miles in, and that was only because I was rationing my water. If I would have taken a drink every time I was thirsty, I would have run out in the first 30 minutes. Dana brought even less than me, and she was out too. Richie had more water than the both of us, but still not enough to cover Dana and my failure in preparation. Although he was happy to share, once you’re out, you’re out, and Dana and I were doing everything in our power to conserve as much water as possible. Remember when I said it was hot, I'm out of shape so I’m sweating every drop of water out of me, the hike was harder than we had expected, and we took a wrong turn that made the hike last an extras 2 hours? Well, put on top of that running out of water and let’s just say that the idea or kicking Richie and stealing his Camelback crossed my mind once or twice. I might have tried it, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have lifted my legs higher than about Richie’s mid shin and the amount of force and coordination that I could have produced would have been comparable to a muscular dystrophy patient. The harder we hiked to try to get home, the more I sweat and the more water I lost. My tongue was sticking to my cheek from a lack of fluids and there was no chance that I was going to make it another 8 miles without some water.
That’s when I did it. I thought, “We’re nothing more than domesticated animals, and there’s no reason that a little river water should kill me. Dehydration will kill you, but water? What’s the worst that could happen?” Now, I know that there are little buggies that live in water that you can’t see, and I know that tape worms exist and I know, I know, I know. I didn’t care, i was getting nauseous and it was worth the risk. Besides, my dog drank it, and that gave me some kind of assuredness that another mammal had gone before me. Also, Dana agreed to try a little, so I figured we were all in this together. Dana had a sip or two of water. I had over a liter. Fortunately, as far as I know, I did not contract any terrible disease that requires medical attention, but as I said before, the devil decided to set up camp for the week, and he’s not leaving without a fight. With Pepto-Bismol as my holy water, by digestive system has spent the last couple of days performing centuries old exorcism rituals that, while extremely effective, force me to expel the evil inside of me with nearly no warning day or night.
So now, the battle against the forces of evil rages on begging the question, did I make the right decision? To answer that question, we must first evaluate the value of water to our body. Water’s impact on the human body’s systems is very nearly endless. Most people know that the body is comprised of mostly water, but very few people understand why we need so much of it. First, it’s important to understand where all that water is going. The short answer is everywhere. Blood is about 83% water, your brain and muscles are comprised of 75% water, and even human bones are up to 25% water. Water in the human body is everywhere.
When I say that muscles and other organs are made of water, one might ask, “Really, so my muscles are like big water balloons?” Well, yes, kind of. There are large amounts of water in your muscles because your muscles are made of cells, and those cells are full of water. Instead of thinking of your muscles or other organs like big water balloons, you should think of your cells like tiny water balloons, and because there are billions of cells in your body, it takes a lot of water to keep them full. This water is known as intracellular fluid: intra meaning “within”, and cellular meaning “of the cell”. The fluid within the cells accounts for about 60-70% of the total water in the human body. The rest of the water is called extracellular fluid and is the term used to describe every fluid in your body that is not contained within a cell wall like blood plasma (the fluid in which blood cells are suspended) for example. Now, the water isn’t there all by itself. It’s full of nutrients and electrolytes and maintaining the right balance of fluids and electrolytes keeps the right amount of water in the cell and the right amount of water out of the cell. How the water gets in and out of cell is a whole chapter in an Anatomy and Physiology textbook, so we’ll skip that particular lecture. Besides, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you understand that your cells need to be full of water to function properly, and there also needs to be water “floating around” in your body to allow your cells to operate properly. Water is needed on the macro-scale, too, to keep your joints from rubbing together, your organs from sticking together, and your eyes, ears and mouth healthy. Water is also found inside certain organs like the gastrointestinal tract (not in mine anymore) and in your brain in the form of cerebrospinal fluid (possibly never in Chad’s).
The stuff is everywhere! Water is understood to be, without a doubt, the single most important nutrient a person consumes. Adequate water intake leads to a list of benefits as long as my arm because every cell and virtually every organ requires adequate water to function properly. With that said, let’s dive into why you lose water.
If I pour a cup of water and seal it up air tight, no water will escape and even if a hundred years goes by, it’ll stay there. Obviously, that’s not what happens when water goes into the human body, but what does happen? There are 5 main ways that water loss occurs, and probably more that I can’t think of. For all intents and purposes, you only need to remember these 5: urinating, defecation, insensible water loss, vomiting, and sweating.
Everybody pees. Most people know that urinating is “getting rid of” waste in the body. That waste comes in the form of uric acid, urea, ammonia and various nitrogen rich substances that are produced during cell metabolism, and after they're filtered out of your bloodstream by your kidneys, they head to the bladder where they wait to be excreted in the form of urine. All of these waste products are suspended in water which is why urine is a fluid. Because your body needs water for many other functions besides urination, it’ll use the water you give it for as many things as possible besides urinating. Your urine will become super concentrated if you're not getting enough water because your body is using the water elsewhere. This shows up as urine with an intense color, and it may even feel a little uncomfortable to go pee. I often tell my clients that if their urine is clear or very close to clear at least once or twice a day, they can be pretty confident that they're getting enough water. At the point where your urine is clear, you’ve probably had more water than you need, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.
Everybody poops. About 75% of feces is water with the rest being made up dead bacteria, indigestible compounds like fiber, certain fats, live bacteria, and mucus from the lining of the intestines. In essence, feces is everything your digestive system needs to get rid of. Similar to urine, feces’ concentration can change depending on how much water is available. Usually, your body self regulates, but the exception is when you get diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused either by disease or the introduction of a substance that pulls water to the bowels like sugar alcohol. Either way, it can be quietly dehydrating, and many people don’t make a correlation from intestinal distress and losing copious amounts of water. Heck, even if you're not sick it takes a lot of water to make feces, so if you're having dry, hard excretions, drink some water and see if it helps.
Insensible water loss
The most silent killer, insensible water loss refers to the water that evaporates off of your skin that didn’t come from sweat glands and water lost from breathing. The combined water loss can equal as much as a quarter of a gallon per day, and because you don’t sense it (hence the name) it is easily forgotten. Whether you're keeping track or not, your body notices that it’s missing, and it needs to be replenished. The tricky thing about this type of water loss is that it doesn’t take any electrolytes out of your system, so it’s possible to have an electrolyte concentration that is too high if you’re not careful. Dehydration from this source should not be treated with sports drinks, just pure water.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you get sick either from food that you ate, or an illness and you vomit you're losing water. Vomiting is often accompanied by diarrhea, and the two pack a pretty powerful punch especially if you're too sick to keep water down. The best move is to try to consume small amounts of water throughout the sickness, and in my personal experience, if I drink right after an episode it seems to stay down better. I'm not saying like three seconds after I pull my head out of the trash can, but after everything settles down a little, I can usually keep about 4 oz. down without any additional vomiting.
How much water you lose when you sweat depends on several factors including how hot the temperature is, how strenuous the activity is, how humid it is, how long you’re exposed to the environment that makes you sweat, and your body’s particular cooling needs. The best way to determine how much water you’ve lost due to sweating from exercise is to weigh yourself before and after your workout. If you're 165 pounds before the workout and 161 pounds after the workout, you’ve lost about 4 pounds of water. A gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds, so a 4 pound loss equates to half a gallon of water. Sounds like a lot, but losing water during a workout is okay just make sure you replenish your water after you’re done. Even if you were drinking water during your workout, if you lost a significant amount of weight, make sure that your post workout includes replenishing water. Also, I really don’t care if you’re thirsty or not. Thirst really only sets in once you've already lost a significant amount of water. Just drink the same amount of water that you lost, period.
Sweating, unlike some of the other types of water loss, also depletes the electrolytes in your body. That’s good news because it means that you don’t have to worry about your electrolyte balance getting out of whack. Even though you're losing the electrolytes, you’re also losing water so the electrolyte concentration in your body isn’t getting too high. It’s bad news because you need those electrolytes for your body to function properly. If I lose all the potassium or chloride in my body for example, my cells are going to be missing crucial pieces to the puzzle in terms of cell function. Not that the two electrolytes I listed are the only deficiencies that sweating can create, but they are some common ones.
Most people who are doing moderate intensity exercise in a climate controlled environment really don’t need to worry about electrolyte balance because electrolytes are plentiful in the foods we consume, but for athletes who are routinely losing 2-8 percent of their weight during bouts of intense activity, electrolyte replacement is something that I’d keep my eye on. If you're sweating that much and only replenishing with water, you’ll be losing water and electrolytes but only replacing the water and that can lead to having electrolyte concentration that is too low. Gatorade and Powerade can help keep electrolytes stocked up in your body, and there are some versions that have sugar and others that don’t in case you're worried about the extra calories or tooth decay associated with that much sugar.
So, there you have it. Understanding that there are multiple ways to lose water should get you inspired to pick up a fancy new BPA free water bottles and drink away. The next question is, “How much water should I drink per day?” The answer to that question, just like almost every other question related to the human body, is: it depends.
The Institute of Medicine advises that men get about 3 liters of water per day, and women get about 2.2 liters per day. Other recommendations include 8 x 8 ounce glasses per day, which is 64 ounces. Some of my textbooks have recommended 96 ounces for active adults. There are about as many recommendations as there are recommending bodies, and that’s because people are so different in their hydration needs. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic recommends, and I like it: drink enough water that you produce 1.5 liters of colorless urine per day. 1.5 liters is probably 2 separate trips to the bathroom. I tell my clients what I recommended above: you’ll have different hydration needs depending on what you're doing in a given day. Make sure your urine is clear at least once a day preferably twice. If you’re hungry, you have a headache, you feel sleepy, you’re slightly nauseated for no apparent reason, you have a pain in your side, or if you’re actually thirsty, drink water until your eyes are going to pop out of your head and see if that fixes it. You might be surprised to find out that all you needed was some water.
Another time you need water is when you’re all out and you’re 8 miles from civilization, which brings us back to the story. I can’t say that it didn’t cost me, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d still drink from that river. Granted, I’ve probably lost 10 times the amount of water that I drank in the past few days, but timing is everything and given the necessity of water to my body, I think I made the right call.
The information and discussions on this webstie/blog are intended for general information only. You should not rely on any of the statements made without consulting a medical professional of your choosing.