Hydrating for Both Performance and Life

Soldier drinking water out of a canteen

If you have ever been dehydrated, you know the pain, lethargy, and general inability to function it normally induces. Illness can lead to this level of dehydration, but so can long days in the heat, sports practice, manual labor, or military missions. Having enough water in your day is important to staying hydrated, obviously.

But, it isn't just lack of water that makes you feel less than optimal; loss of electrolytes contributes the most. Glucose and electrolyte imbalances and loss of water produce mild symptoms of dehydration.

These include:

  • Lethargy and sleepiness                   
  • Thirsty (mild to excessive)
  • Dry skin and mouth
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

As dehydration worsens, you will advance into more dangerous phases:

  • Stop sweating                        
  • Higher heart and breathing rate
  • Fever                                      
  • Sunken, dark eyes
  • Dark urine                              
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Heat stroke                             
  • Death

Whether it's maintaining normal body functions, performing at a high activity level, enduring hot, humid, and arid environments, or getting over illness, the composition of water, salts, and sugars in your body is critical to your success in these endeavors.

For instance, have you ever had the flu and spent a few days vomiting and enduring diarrhea?  Usually, the day that someone is finally able to keep down and digest water and food, they have a big bowl of chicken noodle soup. Chicken noodle soup is loaded with sodium and potassium, both are electrolytes, and of course it contains much needed macronutrients: proteins, carbs, and fat. This replenishment of electrolytes is key to feeling better.

I have been treating recovery from dehydration due to illness and high physical output in the heat the same way for years. I drink the amount of water I lost, but I consume plenty of salts – sodium, potassium, magnesium – that were also sweated out during two-plus hour physical events. I'm talking about the kind of events that require special levels of rehydration where you can wring out the sweat from your clothes (humid environs) or you have salt stains on them (arid/desert climate).

You can't just drink water in these conditions, or you could suffer from hyponatremia or water intoxication. Typical stories of this occurring usually come from long endurance races like marathons and triathlons where athletes spend many hours sweating profusely, but only rehydrate with water. Not replacing electrolytes can lead to kidney damage and can actually kill you in these conditions. Other instances of hyponatremia occur when people just consume too much water in a very short period of time, like a few gallons in an hour.

Being on a constant search for rehydration and sports recovery products, I have found moderate successes with the variety of sport drinks on the market (Gatorade, Powerade, etc), but I either felt like I was consuming too much sugar or too much fake sugar. This is not a very scientific approach to rehydrating, and the subject could use a more serious approach.

Research in the area of rehydration has lead me to seeing how third world countries fight dangerous diseases like dysentery, chronic diarrhea, and other dehydration symptoms of illness.  I also found how the United States Special Operations Community fights dehydration in the deserts and high mountain plains during deployments and training. The research led me to an easy to use single use powder package called Drip Drop. This is a medical grade product that can be easily found online in Amazon.com or at the official website: www.dripdrop.com. The reasons why groups like MarSOC and Army Special Forces use Drip Drop can be read on the links provided below:

But the most telling use of its effectiveness is the doctors who take on humanitarian missions around the world. Allowing an ill person to rehydrate gives them a fighting chance; often the symptoms of dysentery, cholera, malaria, ebola, and others will kill you before medication takes effect. 

DripDrop Founder Dr. Eduardo Dolhun, MD personally delivered the product to disaster areas where he donated his time and medical expertise. Dr. Dolhun brought DripDrop to Haiti, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and Malawi.

So after trying Drip Drop for the past several workouts, and after a bout with stomach flu, I can see why groups like UNICEF, the World Health Organization, as well as the military special operations communities recommend it over just water or sports drinks that have too much sugar and not enough salts.

Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  There are also over 800 articles on Military.com Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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