Monday, May 28, 2007

So thirsty . . .

. . . the body wants water but the sailor wants to make weight! A topic which never seems to die . . . dreadful weigh in's for sailing. Had I been capable of creating a magic pill during my days at Pfizer, addressing this one sailing "woe"; I'd surely be a billionaire, sailing the South Pacific in my pimped-out V70 and managing Team SailTrim's fleet of One Design boats!

Not possible . . . yet, so lets talk! What does a sailor do to their body when they push it physically while dehydrated?

In past newsletters I've mentioned how one "feels" thirsty well after the body has already reached a physiological state of "dehydration" and how important it is to avoid said state by taking in fluids before one ever gets "thirsty".

All pressures aside of making weight, if one understood the damage done to their body as a result of dehydration plus physical exertion: would they still do it? I would hope not . . .

When the body is dehydration, along with temporary weight loss there is unseen damage. How? Every cell in the body requires water to function and survive, without they lose function and die. Properly hydrated cells are plump, happy and easily communicate with surrounding cells. A group of "talking" cells a.k.a. "tissue(s)" work together with little effort when there is a proper balance of water. Tissues that are in good working order lead to functioning organs and organ systems.

Sailor's Perspective:
  • Dehydrated muscle can lead to muscle cramps and decreased function of muscle groups
  • When muscle is not functioning properly, the joints supported become susceptible to injury
  • Aside from poor cell communication, fluid in joint capsule is minimized making joints more prone to damage when in use as a result of triggered localized inflammation (ex. trimming sails on a Farr40 the day of weigh in on a dehydrated sailor may set the stage for future shoulder injuries in an otherwise "fit" individual as a result of joint inflammation triggered by the decrease in joint capsule fluid which normally helps prevent bone on bone contact/friction during joint movements when present)
  • End of day re-hydration will help minimize further damage the following day but will not undo the day's physiological events. For the professional sailor the stage can and likely has been set for possible joint issues later down the road . . . was it worth it??

Phew . . .

The above is one example and does not include the impact on neurological function. Mental clarity is the first thing to suffer when dehydration sets in. The brain really hates to be parched and goes on strike quickly! Accurate decision making leaves the boat and for example, a dehydrated foredeck crew, while physically exerting themselves during a set or douse could easily injure themselves. When dehydrated it's much easier to make non-typical mistakes like inadvertently being unaware of a line wrapped around a foot or losing balance and taking a fall on or off the boat . . . and to think this could all be during a practice sail, imagine if it was race day . . .

It's rather impressive the number of things which may go wrong by not drinking water and further amazing how we'll intentionally purge our bodies of moisture to make weight despite the risks for the love of sport (since sailors are not the only athletes who walk such lines). There is a fair bit of scientific literature supporting how "bad" it is to dehydrate the body on purpose. I can assure you SailTrim will keep writing on the subject.

At the end of the day it comes back to lifestyle and most people find it easier to dehydrate for weigh in then a little tweak here and there in their day to day in effort to lose the same amount of weight. It's too bad, most of these same folks I imagine, have the desire to sail well into their more mature years.

Maybe someday there will be a magic pill to undo the damage of our youth, but till then; is it worth it? Is it worth long term shoulder, spinal or knee damage when making small diet changes could have you weigh in ready minus long term bodily damage . . . I know my answer. I plan to still be racing when I'm 100!

So drink up!

~ Jenn

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