For instance, when you’re feeling irritable, drowsy or unable to concentrate, there’s a strong probability that your body is telling you its thirsty. Other early signs and symptoms of mild dehydration, explains Lisa De Fazio MS, RD, include headaches, reduced muscle performance, muscle cramps and dry eyes.
For competitive or recreational athletes, a mere two percent dehydration level can reduce performance by as much as 10 percent, states Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a sports dietitian in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and member of the Dallas Dietetic Media Bureau. Clearly the importance of hydration is nothing to balk at.
So what can you do to prevent dehydration, and how much water should you consume daily? Let’s take a closer look.
What is dehydration?
A whopping 60 percent of your overall body weight is water, and several organs and muscles contain as much as 80 percent. Dehydration occurs when the body lacks the proper amount of water necessary to perform physically, physiologically and mentally. Mild dehydration occurs when you lose just one liter of water. If you experience an increased heart rate, changes in blood pressure or thicker blood, you could be showing signs of moderate to more severe dehydration.
Several biochemical and physiological cellular reactions require both water and electrolytes, like chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium in balance. Electrolytes make you feel thirsty which, in turn, promotes fluid intake and hydration. Carbohydrate metabolism keeps us active and productive. Without the proper balance, you will feel unusually sluggish and lethargic.
A healthy, adequately hydrated individual should have clear or pale urine, but an obvious sign of dehydration is urine closer in color to apple juice or oil. Dehydration is more common during hot summer months, in the morning immediately after waking, during tournaments, two-a-day training sessions or following lengthy periods of exercise.
How much water do you need?
Actual quantity of daily water intake varies for each individual based on age, weight, weather and attire, illness, and both the duration and intensity of exercise. However, generally speaking, Ms. De Fazio recommends eight to nine glasses of water per day on average to replace fluid expenditure from kidney filtration, respiration and perspiration.
If you consume milk or alcoholic, caffeinated or carbonated beverages, which are dehydrating, your body’s water requirement will increase. The same holds true during episodes of consistent exercise, during which you should consume 5 to 10 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
What’s the best way to hydrate?
Hydration comes in several forms, but plain water is, without a doubt, the best and most cost-effective option. One downside to water, however, is that it lacks the carbohydrates you need for energy and glucose replacement. Water also lacks the proper balance of electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, required during intense exercise sessions, Ms. De Fazio explains. Carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement is critical for athletes because they are naturally more prone to heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke or vomiting.
Soup, tea, smoothies, vegetables, juices, jell-o, decaffeinated coffee, fruit and low-calorie beverages like crystal light drink mixes also provide an excellent means for re-hydration, some of which also include electrolytes and carbohydrates, to help you prevent health consequences. Popular sports drinks like Gatorade, Propel, Powerade and Vitamin Water replenish the body during moderate to intense periods of physical exercise, boosting energy and performance. Just remember a sports drink is designed for sport, not for sitting behind a desk or math class, explains Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD. Then you should rely on water.
Steer clear of juices and soft drinks containing excessive amounts of sugar especially during physical activity or exertion as they can upset your stomach. Gatorade brand sports drinks contain measured sugars and carbohydrates ideally balanced to absorb quickly, replace lost glucose, boost athletic energy and ensure proper hydration even during peak temperatures. If you would rather eat your electrolytes as opposed to drinking a high-calorie sports drink, consider the following food sources paired with a tall glass of water:
Sodium Food Sources: baked chips, pretzels, crackers, soups, beef or turkey jerky
Potassium Food Sources: bananas, avocadoes, strawberries and potatoes
While water may not be the sole key to health and wellness, hydration is an essential element to feeling your best and performing at your peak.