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By: Cailyn Schroeder
Everyone pushes hydration, hydration, hydration when exercising, but no one really explains why that’s important or how to properly do it other than stating your performance decreases. Hydration plays a part in most functions of the body from the cellular level all the way up to the entire organism. It also regulates body temperature which also helps to maintain all of those functions. When we exercise our body temperature increases and we start sweating to cool off, the same way a dog starts panting. Our respiratory rate also increases which is another method of fluid loss. A decrease in hydration of just 2-3% body mass can decrease physical performance and mental performance which we all know are both essential to a successful hunt (Jukendrup, 2010; JADA Position Paper, 2009). Say I’m 175 lbs, if I lose 3.5-5.25 lbs I am underperforming in the field. That may seem like a lot of weight to have to lose but you would be surprised how easy it is. Everyone’s requirements are obviously going to be different since sweat rates vary by individual, but The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has a position paper outlining nutrition for exercise performance. They recommend that athletes drink approximately 16-24oz for every pound lost during exercise. Obviously it is hard to weight ourselves while in the field on a hunting trip but during training it might be worthwhile to determine your typical losses. That way you can get an estimate and be properly prepared for your trip. Maintaining hydration is especially important during exercise sessions that are longer than an hour. Hunters in general lie more on the endurance end of the athlete spectrum. Obviously we perform tasks that are short duration high intensity but when you are hiking miles in the backcountry day after day, you are definitely performing endurance exercise. Many of us also end up hunting in extreme heat or cold and at high altitudes which are environments that prompt a higher focus on maintaining adequate hydration. During these situations we are probably less likely to notice our level of dehydration because it happens over a longer period of time.
Hydration with water alone is also not going to cut it if you are out there hiking for more than an hour. The recommendations from the ADA are to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour in order to maintain blood glucose levels. If you are hunting, especially in the backcountry, odds are you are working hard enough and long enough to need these carbohydrates. Fortunately sports drinks on the market can help satisfy both. In no way am I promoting any product but just for a frame of reference, 20 ounces of a regular Gatorade had 36 grams of carbohydrates and 20 ounces of Powerade has 35 grams of carbohydrates. The 20 ounces fall within the recommended fluid intake and the carbohydrate content of these drinks falls within the range recommended as well. There are also supplemental squeeze gels or energy chews that can provide the same carbohydrate content, they just would not kill two birds with one stone like the sports drinks can. When weight or space is an issue, taking a water filtration system to hydrate with along with one of those gels or packs might be more efficient while still meeting those recommendations.
There are also dangers to consuming too much water. If you drink too much water without replacing electrolytes, you put yourself at risk for hyponatremia. This is when you have too little salt in your blood. Drinking excess water will dilute the amount of salt which causes your cells to retain more water. Symptoms of hyponatremia are confusion, weakness, and fainting (Jukendrup, 2010). Though experiencing hyponatremia is uncommon, it represents how important it is to be keeping up those electrolytes along with your fluid.
**Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Information presented in this article is based on scientifically published literature and is not intended to be used for specific individual nutrition counseling needs.
American Dietetic Association. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(3). 509-527.
Jukendrup, A., & Gleeson, M. (2010). Sport Nutrition: An Introduction to Energy Production and Performance (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.