"I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man." ~Henry David Thoreau
Staying properly hydrated is extremely important for everyone and is of special concern to dancers who engage in regular physical activity – sometimes in very warm weather and at outdoor performances. The human body uses water for tears, to lubricate joints, for digestion, to transport oxygen and glucose to muscles, to transport metabolic wastes like carbon dioxide and lactic acid away from muscles and as sweat to cool down during exercise.
When we exercise, our body temperature rises, and we begin to sweat. When the sweat evaporates, our body is cooled down, and this action keeps our cells from overheating and beginning to die. In addition to water, sweat contains the electrolytes sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, which help regulate fluid levels and muscular reflexes. It is important for the dancer to replace both the lost fluid and the lost electrolytes.
Not all drinks are created equal, and dancers need to know the best thing to drink to stay hydrated and healthy.
Soda should be avoided for several reasons. The carbonation bubbles in soda create a bloated feeling and will likely give a feeling of fullness before providing hydration. Soda contains large amounts of refined sugar and has no nutritional value. A 12-oz can of Caffeine Free Pepsi contains 10 ¼ teaspoons of sugar, which can create a sugar high while offering little hydration value.
While fruit juices are also high in sugar, they contain vitamins and nutrients. They are not the best option but are a healthier choice than soda. Consuming the actual fruit is preferable since, in addition to hydration, the body will reap the benefits of the fruit’s phytochemicals. Phytochemicals have been shown to have antibacterial and antioxidant qualities and play a role in fighting cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Sports drinks are often recommended as a hydration solution for those who are active. These drinks will hydrate and contain electrolytes. Unfortunately, sports drinks contain high fructose corn syrup (manufactured sugar), food dyes and such a small amount of electrolytes that a person would have to consume large amounts of them before seeing any effect. Renowned dietitian, Nancy Clark, recommends making your own electrolyte filled sports drink that avoids the corn syrup and dyes, using the recipe below:
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup hot water
¼ cup orange juice plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 ½ cups cold water
1. In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in hot water.
2. Add the juice & remaining water; chill.
Yield: 1 quart
A fairly recent addition to the beverage aisle in stores is vitamin water. Vitamin waters are high in caloric content and contain small amounts of added vitamins. During exercise, blood is diverted away from the digestive system so the small amounts of vitamins these drinks provide have little chance of being absorbed by the body.
Plain old water is still the best way to keep the body hydrated during exercise. It is important to drink small amounts before, during and after exercise to keep the fluid levels balanced in the body. Eating a salty snack like pretzels before exercising will help the body retain some fluid, and eating recovery foods like yogurt, salted nuts, pizza, pretzels and bananas will help replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat while dancing.