Prevent heat injuries with both food and water
July 25, 2014
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Good hydration is necessary to avoid heat injury during hot conditions and when exercising in the heat.
But did you know that the food you eat is just as important? Food provides energy and electrolytes.
Even if you are just sitting, the body needs energy to maintain a normal body temperature.
The more extreme the air temperature, the more energy the body needs to stabilize its temperature. So getting enough energy which comes from food is important too.
In fact, if you are exercising or exerting yourself, this energy is just as important as drinking water.
Food also provides electrolytes. Electrolytes help the body retain the water you drink.
Have you've ever drunk water after fasting for many hours, such as first thing in the morning? If so, you may have noticed that water seems to go right through you. That is because your electrolyte levels have gone down due to the many hours since your last meal.
So, if you don't have enough electrolytes, you will have trouble staying hydrated.
If you are sweating a lot, you are losing electrolytes too. But as long as you are eating regularly, your body will be able to replace them.
Many sports drinks contain electrolytes but these drinks should not be consumed in place of eating, just for the electrolytes. Sports drinks may also have too much sugar for the level of your particular activity.
The bottom line is that these drinks should be used for the occasional adjunct to healthy eating and not as a replacement for it.
The length of time you can go without eating and still be ok in the heat will depend on a variety of factors such as fitness level, medical conditions, medications, hydration level, outside temperature, humidity, availability of shade, stress, etc.
Consider a snack if it has been more than five or six hours since you last ate. If you are exercising or exerting yourself, or if it has been more than eight hours since you last ate, you will likely need something more substantial than just a snack.
So, as you enjoy the warm summer months, remember to eat healthy so that you can maintain your hydration and energy level.
(Editor's note: Lt. Col. Ann Loveless is chief of Preventive Medicine at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital)