Thursday, August 14, 2008

Water, Sugar or Electrolytes? What You Should Drink During Practice.

I had a wonderful class today with Johannes. One of the things I enjoy most about practising at Bikram Fitzroy is the diversity of teachers. With such varied styles there is certainly no chance to switch off from an engaging practice - no matter how long your day has already been, you’re somehow forced to gladly participate to your utmost. I once heard a fellow student comment that 'it doesn't matter how you feel before the class, you're always glad you went once it's over', and I think this really sums up one of the things I most love about Bikram.

As far as variety goes, difference in teaching styles is just the beginning. Now I know I shouldn’t be looking around the room (eyes on self!), but I just can’t help but notice that it’s not just plain old H2O being carried into the room with many students. Apart from a naughtily wandering mind, the bottle we bring with us to class is really our only crutch. Our only (if ever so brief) escape once the sweat starts dripping. So I guess it’s no wonder we all have our own particular ways of individualising and perhaps getting more out of that liquid lifeline.

But personal preference aside, what should we be drinking in class? Well, water is definitely a good place to start. Certainly preferable to sports drinks, which generally contain plenty of sugar and artificial colourings, not to mention a litany of synthetic chemicals. In case you’re wondering, this is a sure way to dehydrate your body, as your liver will be working overtime to flush out those toxins by taking water out of your muscles. The only reason you should ever consume these or any other sweetened drinks in class would be if you are becoming extremely faint and the teacher gives you one.

So is water alone sufficient to help you get the most out of your practice? If it’s plain old tap water, then no, I’d have to say it’s not. This may come as a surprise to many readers, but the truth is that (although it may be highly purified), our tap water does not contain adequate minerals to replace that lost through sweat.

When you sweat, you lose vast amounts of water and sodium (salt), but also a host of other minerals and trace elements including chlorine or chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, nickel, chromium, and manganese. Many of these are absolutely vital to our health. For example, chromium assists in reducing sugar cravings and stabilising blood sugar levels. It is absolutely essential to replace these lost elements. Particularly when you imagine how many of those vital nutrients are contained in the 3 or more litres you may lose during a particularly busy class!

It’s crucial to ensure that you replace not just the lost fluid, but the health and energy-giving nutrients that are found in that fluid.

There are several ways to do this:

1. Use organic sea salt in your water. You can purchase this at any health food store. Ensure it is organic, or it may have been subject to bleaching. Pure organic sea salt contains over 80 minerals and nutrients. Did you know that we are supposed to get nearly 85% of our minerals from our drinking water? Unfortunately, the purification of water not only kills of bacteria, but also destroys these vital nutrients. By adding sea salt to your water (around 1-2 pinches per 500ml), you are re-mineralising (otherwise known as re-energising) that water and basically turning it back into the life-giving substance it should be. I actually like to add this much sea salt to all my drinking water, with a little extra thrown in for Bikram.

2. Take Electrolytes during or after class. Electrolytes are available in most Bikram studios for purchase. The generally have a pleasant citrus-y taste, and perform a similar job to that of sea salt. If you’re practising 4 or more times per week, I’d recommend both approaches.

3. I’ve heard some talk of people adding lemon, a little vinegar, and some maple syrup to their water. Lemon and vinegar can certainly both aid in digestion, so if this is an area of concern for you, it’s not a bad way to help finish off the natural process that some postures begin for you. Maple syrup is a little more questionable. Even if it is natural and organic, it is still a form of processed sugar, and as much as it might taste nice and give you a small energy boost with each sip, the fact is that each time you ingest sugar your body begins to flush existing water from the body. Can’t escape your physiology on this one I’m afraid! If you struggle with energy throughout class, it is worth looking at what you’ve consumed in the lead up. In my next post I’ll be discussing what best to eat before class. You can also ensure optimal energy by making sure you are well hydrated before class. If you wait till you get into the room to drink up, you’ve left it too late.

Do you have your own tips or habits for getting more out of your water during class? I’d love to hear your comments, ideas and feedback. Please get involved in the comments section below!

Food for Yoga. Food for Life.



Anonymous said...

How much water do you recommend drinking before a 6am Bikram class? I know that you have to be well hydrated before a class but it is diffucult to do this if you are only for awake an hour before you step into the room!

Kat Eden said...

I would have at least 300ml ... drink it as soon as you wake. You shouldn't have to pee as you are dehydrated after sleep. And just bring plenty of salted water to class!