I’ve discovered over the years that water, and specifically how much you need, is a pretty contentious issue. How to get an adequate water intake is also a confusing area. Can I include tea as part of my 8 glasses? Does juice count? How can I possibly drink THAT much?! When we’re not particularly active, for example during the winter months, getting lots of water seems like less of a concern so we drink less. As we spend more time out and about, especially during the warm weather, we could be overheating and are more likely to need to take on more fluids. If we’re not naturally in the habit of drinking plenty of water, we’re quickly at risk of dehydration. Many of us don’t know we’re dehydrated until it’s too late. So how DO you recognise when you’re dehydrated?
Why is water so important?
There are many schools of thought when it comes to drinking water, but the basic facts remain the same. Your body needs it! If you want to function optimally, you need that essential H2O.
The human body can go for weeks without food. But we can’t go without water for more than 24 hours without becoming severely dehydrated, due to the amount of water our bodies use to simply exist on a daily basis. We use water every second of every day. Every cell, tissue and organ needs water. We need water for temperature regulation (such as sweating), waste elimination, digestion, making blood. Water’s needed to lubricate our joints and deliver nutrients to our cells. Even breathing in and out! All these processes depend on water, so it’s easy to see why not getting enough can be dangerous to our health.
Add in additional elements such as certain illnesses (eg. Diabetes, kidney disease), or even dieting and exercise, and the risk of dehydration increases dramatically.
Before we look at how to recognise when we’re dehydrated, let’s first look at just what is dehydration.
What is dehydration?
There are a number of types and levels of dehydration. It’s actually an extremely complex subject which we can’t cover in too much detail here. But the basic definition is an excessive loss of bodily fluids. Simply put, dehydration occurs when the body needs more fluids than are being consumed in order to function normally.
These bodily fluids that are being lost. and which are essential during dehydration, are either water (H2O), one or more electrolytes, or commonly a combination of both. These different types of dehydration are known as hypertonic, hypotonic and isotonic respectively. So depending on the type of dehydration, you need to either increase your water intake, or take on electrolytes (such as are found in isotonic drinks).
How do you recognise when you’re dehydrated?
There are a number of common indicators for dehydration. These include:
- Dry mouth
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Decreased urination or dark-coloured urine
- Muscle weakness
- Digestive issues
As I mentioned earlier, many of us don’t know when we’re dehydrated. We wait until we’re thirsty before we top up our fluids. But by that stage we are already in the “dehydration zone”! And because dehydration can progress from mild to severe very quickly, it’s important to ensure the body always remains well hydrated.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps we can all take to avoid dehydration:
- Drink enough water every day. I was always told to drink 1 glass of water for every hour I’m awake. It sounds a lot, but 1 glass an hour is probably doable for most people. Other recommendations include drinking a minimum of between 25-50% of your body weight in ounces of water every day (eg. if you weigh 140lb (or 10 stone), you typically want to try to get at least 35–70 fluid ounces (around 1 to 1.25 litres) of water a day (note: the urine observation test is a very good indicator of adequate hydration – pale and clear is good. Dark means you need to drink more!)
- Eat more “hydrating” foods. Examples include melon, cucumber, celery, carrots, citrus fruits, bell peppers, berries, avocado, tropical fruits (such as mango and pineapple)
- Stay hydrated during and after exercise. When you work out you use up more water (through sweating) so drink more water on active days and continue to do so even after exercise is finished (see below). If you’re doing particularly vigorous or prolonged exercise, try drinking an isotonic drink to maintain essential electrolyte levels
- Try healthy alternatives to plain water. Some people struggle to drink just plain water all day, so try fresh fruit smoothies (including frozen ones), homemade vegetable juices, hot water with lemon or a touch of honey, sparkling iced water with lemon or lime
- Avoid overconsumption of salt, alcohol and caffeine. These can exacerbate dehydration so keep them to a minimum
- Stay hydrated during illness. Particularly important if you’ve been vomitting or had diarrhoea as this strips the body of vital fluids. Severe dehydration can lead to additional complications such as kidney problems. Use electrolyte drinks to help restore balance to the body
What about when I work out?
Staying hydrated not only keeps you in a state of good health, it improves the efficiency of your workouts. When you’re exercising, your muscles need an increased blood supply – if you’re not sufficiently hydrated, it’s harder for your heart to pump the blood to the muscles. You’re going to have to work much harder and you’ll recover more slowly. When you’re properly hydrated, you’ll also feel more energised (as everything’s working the way it should!).
How much you drink will depend on factors such as the intensity of your workout, how much you sweat, the local climate (are you in an air-conditioned gym or outside in full midday sun). An article on Water Tips for Efficient Exercise by Gina Shaw (WebMD.com) suggests:
- 1-2 hours before your workout, drink 15 to 20 fl ounces (400 to 570ml) of water
- 15 minutes before you start exercising, drink between 8 and 10 ounces (225 and 285ml) of water
- During your workout, drink another 8 fl ounces (225ml) every 15 minutes
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Stay hydrated for your long-term good health
Drinking sufficient amounts of water every day can feel like a real chore for some. But it really is essential. Not just to your general health and wellbeing, but to your very survival! Even mild dehydration (just 2%) can interfere with your body’s ability to function. If left unchecked, dehydration can all too quickly become severe (10% loss in body fluids), and at this point it is considered an emergency!
So don’t deprive your body of its most valuable fuel. Do whatever you can to stay well-hydrated. Whether it’s water, smoothies, fruit and veg, ensuring your body is able to function they way it should is the best gift you can give yourself. And the best bit? You already have it on tap!!!