Water: The Forgotten Nutrient

A study was concluded and published in the prestigious, peer reviewed Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal, a publication of the American College of Sports Medicine. The study was done with basketball players and involved evaluating the possible effects of dehydration on "vigilance capability” (whether or not one can recognize an event taking place; how fast can the recognition take place; and how fast can a proper response be made).

In other words, I see a car coming at me. How fast will I recognize that this is not a good thing and then how fast can I decide what to do, and then how fast can I do it? The premise being that the dehydrated state may not only negatively impact one’s physical performance, but perhaps the cognitive capability is also negatively impacted. The results of this study (which was done at the very reputable Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University) indicated that indeed, the dehydrated state does impede "split second cognitive functioning.”

It seems to me that while the study was done with basketball players, because of the speed at which the game is played and the speed at which skilled players are supposed to make decisions and react appropriately, the dehydrating effect on "vigilance capability” would be similar on other activities as well. For example, baseball revolves around what I (arguably) feel is the most difficult operation in the world of sports…and that, as many might agree, is the attempt to read a pitch and then direct one round surface to collide with another round surface at the most optimum spot of each surface, for the best possible control over the result…meaning the direction, distance, and speed of the ball when hit. Adding to this challenge is the pitcher having the ability to throw the ball with a variety of speeds, in a variety of pathways (overhead curve, side arm curve, drop ball, knuckle ball, etc.). The batter has approximately 0.4 seconds to size up the situation, make a decision, and react with the bat.

The bottom line is, researchers suggest that while most coaches, managers, and players are aware of the importance of hydrating and the effect on fatigue and physical comfort, most are not aware of the effect on "brain performance.” We tend to push hydration, but not in a routine fashion. Many times an athlete will not feel the necessity to take in water, even during "time-outs” or so called "water breaks.” Perhaps we should direct water intake to become more of a rhythm / routine operation so that the athlete is directed to take in water at proper or dedicated intervals, whether or not he or she feels the desire. During timeouts, athletes, too often, are eager (or "antsy”) to get back to play and thus overlook drinking / sipping water. The younger the athlete, the more this behavior is probable. What is the old saying? "You can lead a horse to water, etc.” All the more reason that coaches, trainers, etc. should be more precise in seeing that the athletes take water.

In addition, in this study plus a follow up study done by the same researchers (published in a later edition of the journal), the degree of cognitive performance limitation and the degree of needed hydration was not influenced one way or the other by either plain water or carbohydrate-electrolyte reinforced water. In other words, it seems as if a deficiency in plain water is what brings about the cognizant slow down, and likewise, a replenishment / maintenance of plain water is what safeguards against the cognizant impedance. The value of the enriched fluids seems to relate more to muscle performance. It may be that certain brain tissues might absorb plain water at higher volume and/or quicker rates.

The importance of hydration (the intake of water) has been known for just about as long as history has been recorded. But its relevance has gone through a variety of cycles. We’ve used water to cool us down (an external application). In boxing, water is often splattered on the face between rounds. At the same time, water is swished in the mouth and then spat out with a bit, perhaps, swallowed.

We teach that water is an excellent conveyance for replenishing selected nutrients in the body (especially since the introduction of "Gator Aide” and then the variety of drinks since). When one teaches nutrition we teach the relevance of protein to growth; the importance of carbohydrate to energy; the value of fats to both. We teach the functions of vitamins and minerals. We do all of this under the umbrella of "nutrition”. Do we teach "water” as a necessary, equally important "nutrient”? If we do not get enough of certain minerals, we can get muscle cramping (among other concerns). If we do not get enough protein (amino acids) we may stunt growth / repairing (among other concerns). If we do not get enough carbohydrates we may feel fatigue (among other concerns).

In survival education the military teaches that under some circumstances water may be more important than food. Water is critical in just about every metabolic process / mechanism in the body. Water is the important solvent in the body. Water is an important coolant for the body. More and more we learn that water is proving to be essential in our abstract capabilities, as well as critical in our physical performances.

There is no need to allow "dehydration” to exist. Why not give water the same depth of coverage as the other nutrients when teaching "nutrition”?

Let us not allow water become a "forgotten nutrient”.


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