Summers are energy-sapping and dehydrating. Fitness for this season is all about getting the body acclimatized to rising temperatures, choosing foods that help you maintain high energy levels through the day, staying hydrated with fruits and vegetables that have a higher water content, and warding off typical summer infections like those of the urinary and digestive tracts.
Dehydration is your main enemy during the hot months. The soaring heat makes your body lose more fluid than is ingested, and with extreme dehydration, the activity of cellular water is significantly affected. Cellular fluids inside and outside the cells play a key role in carrying vital nutrients and vitamins to body tissues and in excreting wastes. Dehydration also reduces blood volume, which in turn causes blood pressure to drop and makes the metabolism sluggish. Reduced blood volume also increases blood sugar levels, which in turn triggers the urinary excretion of blood sugar and exacerbates dehydration.
Microbial growth, including bacteria, fungi, other pathogens and viruses, also proliferate in hot and humid weather. Such bacteria and viruses are responsible for the increased incidence of urinary tract infections, colds, coughs and diarrhoea in summer. In fact, for every 10-degree rise in external temperature, the activity of microorganisms increases twofold. Food deterioration is caused because of the growth of microorganisms on food surfaces and also because high temperatures kill the action of the enzymes within the cells of the food. Foods, therefore, spoil easily and this gives rise to summer infections.
Chill factor: Watermelons help keep you cool and maintain hydration.
It is important to note that when people maintain a nutritious diet and a balanced fluid intake (in other words, when fluid intake equals output), then internal body temperatures—the temperature of muscles, tissues and organs—are maintained at a level where the basic activities of metabolism, like respiration, digestion and excretion of wastes, are carried out in optimum fashion. Also, when the body is dehydrated, the cooling benefit of sweating is lost (as sweat evaporates, it cools and lowers body temperature), and the body could get even more dehydrated. Timely intake of water is a must in summer. Take 1/2 to 1 glass every hour when awake.
The role of nutrition and food choices is, therefore, threefold: First, it must provide energy; second, maintain hydration status and fluid balance; and third, enhance immunity.
Here is a list of food choices that tick all these boxes.
•Lemon-ginger-cinnamon water can be had warm or chilled with a dash of honey and is best taken first thing in the morning. The lemon has properties that help detoxify the liver and enhances immunity, ginger has antibiotic properties and protects against stomach infections, and cinnamon helps keep blood sugar balanced through the day.
•A glass of vegetable juice, including tomato, carrot, celery and spinach, with 1/2 to 1 tsp of flaxseed oil: This is a high-energy juice, rich in antioxidants to boost immunity. The flaxseed oil provides essential omega nutrition, which also boosts immunity.
•Cooling beverages, including aam panna, kokum juice, pomegranate juice, water flavoured with orange wedges, and cranberry juice for those who have urine infections, are good.
The following additions will be useful as snacks or as additions to your main meals. All the suggestions are high in fibre, water content and complex carbohydrates, so they provide sustained energy, essential omega fats, and antioxidants.
• Yogurt-based raitas with spinach, dill, peppers and okra (bhindi) and a smattering of roasted til (sesame) seeds
• Cucumber and sprout chaat with pomegranate
• Chilled musk or watermelon and pumpkin seed fruit salad
• Chilled fruit medley with orange juice and walnut shavings
• Buttermilk-based gravies or kadhi with vegetables, brown rice and grilled chicken
• Coconut milk-based curries with vegetables and steamed fish are nutritious, light and healthy. Coconut milk can inhibit microbial activity in the gut.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com