Water accounts for nearly 70 percent of a person’s body weight. It’s necessary for life.
Yet every day, the average person loses nearly 10 cups of water as the body rids itself of toxins through breathing, sweating and going to bathroom. In order for the major organs, muscles and brain to function properly, people need to continually replenish this fluid to prevent dehydration.
Why is it important to stay hydrated?
Water is foundational to health. Fluid surrounds the nucleus of every one of the billions of cells in your body. A healthy, hydrated body:
- Maintains a stable temperature
- Metabolizes energy efficiently
- Supports a regular heart beat and blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of kidney stones
- Increases muscle strength and stamina
- Enhances performance
- Improves mental alertness
Proper hydration helps your body eliminate the wastes and toxins that cause gout and other painful conditions. It also helps the body lubricate your joints, which reduces joint pain and inflammation.
When a person loses two percent of the fluid in his or her body, dehydration starts to cause fuzzy thinking. Fluid loss of 10 to 15 percent is a serious health concern requiring medical attention.
Signs of dehydration
Do you feel thirsty? If you answered, “Yes.” You may already be experiencing the earliest stage of dehydration. Early signs of dehydration may include a dry mouth, dry eyes, headache, nausea, dizziness, constipation, slowness of thought and listlessness.
An easy way to gauge your level of dehydration is by looking at your urine. If you have to go to the bathroom every two to four hours and your urine is pale yellow, you are probably well hydrated. If you don’t go to the bathroom all day or your urine is the color of lemonade or apple juice, you need to drink more liquids.
How much liquid do you need?
Everyone should drink at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water every day, right? Well, that’s what we’ve heard for many years. But, hydration is a bit more complicated than following a one-size-fits-all recommendation.
In reality, the amount of fluid a person needs depends on several unique factors.
Size. A larger person needs more fluid to maintain hydration than a smaller person.
Activity Level. An individual who works out or is very active requires more fluid than someone who sits at a desk all day.
Environment. A hot and humid environment causes people to sweat. Sweating removes fluid and electrolytes from the body, which often need to be replaced to prevent dehydration.
Diet. A person who eats oranges, salads, soups, watermelon or other “water-filled” foods may get as much as 20 percent of his or her daily fluid through food.
In 2004, The National Academy of Sciences recommended that men consume 125 ounces and women consume 91 ounces of water each day.
But, water isn’t the only beverage that counts.
We believe safe, clean water is the best choice for hydration. It has the fewest calories. And, thankfully, in the United States, it’s readily available.
But not everyone likes plain water.
If you like a bit of flavor in your water, add fresh or frozen fruits, berries or freshly cut cucumbers and mint for natural, low-calorie flavoring.
Coffee, tea and fruit juices can add variety to your daily beverage selections. Eating juicy fruits and vegetables also counts as fluid intake.
If you’re athletic or have a physically demanding job, consider drinking a specially formulated sports drink that replaces the sodium and electrolytes lost through sweat.
There are a few beverages to avoid. Sugar-laden soft-drinks or soda may keep you hydrated but they also add unnecessary calories to your diet.
Alcohol is also on the unfavorable beverage list. Alcohol not only increases calories but also acts as a dehydrating agent.
When should you drink?
Like exercise and meal planning, the most effective way to make sure you are getting enough water in your diet is by drinking water as a part of your daily routine.
- Many people choose to start the day with 16 ounces of water before they eat or drink anything else.
- Plan to take a drink of water every two or three hours during your day. You can set a timer or set reminders on your smartphone until drinking water becomes a habit. Another option is to drink a tall glass of water 15 minutes before each meal. You may find yourself feeling better and eating less.
- Drink your last 12 to 16 ounces of water at least two hours before going to bed to avoid getting up at night to go to the bathroom.
- If your job requires physical exertion hot, summer days, you may need to drink a beverage every 20 minutes or so.
Calculate how much fluid you need to replace after exercise.
It’s easier than it sounds. First, make sure you are well hydrated. Before starting your workout, weigh yourself. After your workout, weigh yourself again. The difference in your pre- and post-workout weights is the amount of fluid you need to replenish to maintain hydration during exercise.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s Selecting and Effectively Using Hydration for Fitness, drinking water before and after exercise is important. The organization recommends drinking 16 to 20 ounces of water four hours before your activity begins. Drink another 8 to 12 ounces 10 to 15 minutes before your competition or workout. During a competition, drink three to eight ounces of water or a sports drink every 20 minutes. Limit your consumption to less than a quart of water in an hour.
Don’t confuse thirst with hunger. If you feel hungry, but your stomach isn’t rumbling, try drinking a glass of water and waiting for 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re no longer hungry, your body probably was asking for more fluid rather than more food.
Dehydration can lead to heat stroke
A person, who is dehydrated, is more susceptible to heat stroke and heat exhaustion during warm or hot temperatures. If it’s hot and humid, be aware of the signs and symptoms of severe dehydration:
- Flushed skin
- Loss of appetite
- Mental Confusion
- Dry Cough
- Muscle Cramps
- Swollen Hands and Feet
If you notice several of these signs in yourself or someone else, seek medical attention, immediately.
Can I drink too much?
Yes, you can.
Your kidneys can process approximately four cups of water or fluid each hour. If you drink more than that, you can experience a condition known as water intoxication or hyponatremia.
Water intoxication lowers the amount of sodium in your bloodstream and floods the inside of your cells. Hyponatremia is a serious condition. Initially, it produces symptoms similar to dehydration but can progress to seizures, coma or death.
If you’re well-hydrated, your urine is clear, you are going to the bathroom frequently, and you experience dehydration symptoms, you may be drinking too much water. You may need medical treatment. Contact your primary care provider for advice.
Balance is the key to hydration
Monitoring your fluid outputs and the color of your urine can help you determine how much liquid you should be drinking. Proper hydration will help you move, rest and feel better.
If you have questions about hydration, contact your primary care provider. If you take a diuretic medication, talk to your provider before making a change in your diet or drinking habits.