Remember to keep the liquids flowing this summer.
By Sara Mattillion, Graduate Dietetic Intern, Northern Illinois University
You have probably heard that you are supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day. To be fair, it’s a rule of thumb. But do we really need that much? Or even more? How do you know if you’re getting enough water? Can too much water be a bad thing? Hang tight, folks! We’re about to dispel some myths and get down to the facts.
Plant or animal, one thing remains constant: the need for water. Every cell in the human body requires water to survive; we are approximately 60% water! Therefore, one of the most important things you can do for your body is . . . yes, you got it- stay hydrated! Proper hydration allows your body to regulate its core temperature, it aids in digestion and waste removal from the body, and without it, our joints and eyes would be dry and sore!
So, how do you know if you are dehydrated? You might feel dizzy or lightheaded. You could have a headache, feel sleepy or fatigued, maybe even a little confused. Your mouth might be dry, and your urine could be dark. But the easiest way to tell if you’re dehydrated is thirst. When you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated! A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports that even being a mere 1% dehydrated negatively affects mood, attention, memory, and coordination. When the body loses water, the blood becomes more concentrated (think thicker), making it harder for your heart to circulate it through the body. This is taxing on the circulatory system, meaning the heart is working overtime to maintain a stable blood pressure. This feedback loop is what leads people to heat exhaustion and fainting.
Believe it or not, over-hydration can be just as dangerous as dehydration. Sodium is an essential mineral that aids in regulating fluid balance, muscle function, and our nervous system. If you consume too much water, sodium levels can drop as your blood stream becomes more diluted, a condition called hyponatremia. When this happens, you can experience symptoms similar to that of dehydration, such as fatigue, headache, confusion, and bloating. In severe cases over-hydration can lead to seizures, organ failure, and even death. But before you ditch your friendly water bottle, keep in mind that you’d have a severe stomach ache long before you over-hydrated!
So how much water do you actually need? Well, that depends on who is asking! Children on average need 1 to 2 liters of water a day, or between 4 and 8 cups of water. The average adult should aim for at least 25 to 30 milliliters per kilogram of body weight per day…or in plain English, about 58 to 70 ounces of water.
Fluid needs can increase for a variety of reasons. In the summer months, we tend to be more active outside. The heat and excess perspiration automatically increases your body’s need for water. As a general rule, water should be consumed throughout the day and during all stages of exercise. You can try the following: drink 20 ounces of water 2 hours before exercise, 8 ounces about a half hour before you begin, 10 ounces every 20 minutes while exercising and an additional 8 ounces within 30 minutes post-exercise. Of course, if you’re pushing harder or working out in the heat, you might need more! Another consideration is that pre-existing medical conditions may affect your water requirements. Certain medications like diuretics, laxatives, antihistamines and blood pressure medications can increase your need for fluids, too. Illness (think vomiting and diarrhea) and pregnancy or breastfeeding all lead to extra fluid loss as well.
Time to test your knowledge! What color should your urine be if you are adequately hydrated? If you guessed yellow… you’re right! Keep an eye on the shade of yellow as it tells more of the story. Pale yellow to yellow indicates hydration. Very pale yellow or clear means you are sufficiently hydrated. Keep in mind, however, that clear urine on a consistent basis can suggest over-hydration. If your urine is dark yellow or brown, you are dehydrated or extremely dehydrated. Urine should never be red or pink. These colors can be indicators of compromised kidney or liver function. If this happens, seek medical attention ASAP!
Now that we know the physiology, let’s discuss how to keep our bodies working well with appropriate hydration. There are plenty of sports beverage options out there. It can be confusing with all the brands and styles…but which is best? To get the obvious out of the way, water is best. It gives our bodies what they need without the added sugar and empty calories that sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade provide. But,, if you are an athlete, or someone who engages in strenuous physical activity (especially outside in the heat), a sports drink might be for you. Those who are prone to electrolyte imbalances will also benefit from these types of drinks. Not everyone likes water and not everyone likes sports drinks. Adding fruit or herbs to water, or flavoring sparkling water are also great options; a mix of lemon slices, cucumber slices, and fresh mint makes for a refreshing twist on plain water. And if you’re a coffee drinker, here’s a helpful rule to remember: drink a cup of water for every cup of coffee that you drink.
Staying hydrated isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a chore. Here are my favorite tips to keep the liquids flowing this summer:
- Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink. Thirst means you are already dehydrated. Instead, try taking sips of water throughout the day.
- Keep a reusable water bottle with you (or hydration pack if you’re hiking or biking). Keeping it filled with water makes it easy to take a drink!
- Set reminders on your phone to take a drink of water (maybe 1 per hour). The more you do this, the more of a natural habit it will become to constantly drink water.
- Try adding fruit to your water for a change of taste.
- Foods count! Cucumbers, celery, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and melon are all terrific food-based sources of water!
Still not a fan? Challenge yourself to drink an equivalent amount of water the next time you have a beverage. Small changes, over time, make big differences!
Like most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hydration. Aim to drink water throughout the day and have a little more if you’re especially active or out in the heat. Remember the signs of dehydration and don’t wait until you’re thirsty! It might take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll find the right hydration strategy to suit you. •