Dancers know they need to drink plenty of fluids. As little as 1 to 2 percent fluid loss from sweat can affect mental and physical performance, causing issues with focus, memory, balance and endurance. "Proper hydration also minimizes muscle cramping and aids in recovery. It's good for digestion. It helps lubricate joints," says Yasi Ansari, MS, RDN, CSSD, a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with athletes and dancers. But with so many hydration options out there—even if you just stick with water—how do you know which are the best choices for your body?
Purified vs. Tap
Bottled-water brands make a lot of claims about the provenance and purity of their product. However, many of those terms are loosely regulated and more about marketing, explains registered dietitian and performance nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD. "No one is testing to ensure that your water came from that Swiss mountain," she says. If you're serious about drinking clean water, you can just as easily buy a filtration pitcher or attach a filter or purifier to your faucet.
But is there actually anything wrong with drinking tap water? Thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed in 1974, "if you live in the U.S., you should be fine," Koskinen says. (Situations like the one in Flint, Michigan, where the drinking water has been contaminated, are rare.) Note that because tap water is run by municipalities, there will be local differences and considerations. For instance, those with thyroid issues may want to avoid tap water that has been fluoridated for dental health.
In terms of hydration, there's little difference between sparkling and still water. "If you enjoy sparkling water, go for it," Ansari says. But be cautious about consuming those bubbles immediately before or during rigorous activity: "For some people, sparkling water can cause gas," Ansari says. "Monitor how you tolerate it."
Flavored waters can spice up your hydration regimen, but processed versions may include ingredients that come with side effects. "Artificial sweeteners can interfere with the gut microbiome and lead to diarrhea," Koskinen says. "Artificial colors may impact mood and behavior, especially in kids." Instead of opting for a prepackaged flavored water, she recommends making your own: Infuse a pitcher of water with citrus fruit, berries, mint leaves or cucumber slices. If you have a long rehearsal or performance day ahead, add a bit of honey or cane sugar. "When you're working hard," Koskinen says, "that extra source of glucose can drive you through the activity."
What about supplementing your water with nutrition powders? "Look for electrolyte powders that contain sodium," Ansari says. "Consuming an electrolyte-enhanced beverage before and during activity can help keep you hydrated, especially if you're someone who sweats a lot." Just know that supplement packets are made to facilitate hydration during intense training, not to replace nutrients from meals and snacks, says Koskinen.
When and How Much?
"Hydration is an ongoing status," says Koskinen. "It takes time for your body to absorb water and to get rid of any excess." Aim to consume fluid (including from food) over the course of the day, rather than guzzling large amounts at once. To know if you're adequately hydrated, check your urine. Clear or pale yellow is good; medium or dark yellow is not.
Ansari proposes drinking two cups of water about three hours before training, one cup 20 minutes prior, and then about four large gulps every 15 to 20 minutes during activity, if possible. She also recommends drinking water with meals or snacks. "Make hydrating part of your daily routine," she says. "It's part of the game plan that sets you up to be successful."