Updated: Mar 20, 2020
How much water have you had today? Despite its importance and enormous impact on our health and day-to-day functionality, this question seems to be often left out of conversation. Drinking fluids is essential to stay alive. But how much liquid do we really need, and what does being hydrated really mean?
Larry Kenney, PhD, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State, says that "Hydration is important because the body is comprised mostly of water, and the proper balance between water and electrolytes in our bodies really determines how most of our systems function, including nerves and muscles." The human body is composed of roughly 60% water and every major system is influenced by fluid balance. We depend on water to survive. Every cell, tissue, and organ in our body needs water to work properly. Also, when we notice temperature rise, getting enough to drink is crucially important whether you’re playing sports, traveling or just sitting in the sun. Keeping the body hydrated at all times helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles work efficiently. In this article, I will discuss a little more about the importance and give you a guide guide to what hydration is and how to cope with it on a daily basis.
But WHAT is Hydration?
If we look into the dictionary definition for the term hydration, it means “The process of causing something to absorb water,” or “The act or process of the introduction of additional fluid into the body.” But to better answer that question we first should talk about dehydration. When our body is in a state of not having enough water for it to function optimally, with symptoms like muscle cramps, confusion, rapid pulse, and headaches, that means that we are probably DEHYDRATED. Some people like myself are trained to know when dehydration is becoming an issue in their bodies. I say that because I have learned in my swimming career, where I spend about 4 to 5 hours a day training at an intense level, that I tend to lose a lot of liquid and electrolytes through sweat (yes - swimmers sweat too).
From personal experience at a high intensity sport training regiment I know how to differentiate a simple stress-related headache from a dehydration headache. I am also the type of athlete who sweats a lot and very easily due to an increased metabolism system, so unfortunately cramping and headaches have been present in my journey with many episodes through my career. In order to get our body back into its normal state, we need to go through the process of replacing the missing water and electrolytes, also known as hydration. The easiest way to know if we are on normal water and electrolytes level again and no longer dehydrated, is that the signs of dehydration will disappear rather promptly.
METHODS OF HYDRATION
So there’s a few different ways you can hydrate or rehydrate your body. The easiest and most famous one is the classic and simple way of drinking water. You might it’s funny I had to mention that but most people get caught up on the simple act of drinking enough water every day and end up suffering from dehydration symptoms.
Consumable other liquids provide water to help with hydration too. These would include drinks like coffee, tea, lemonade, soda, etc. But be careful: A moderate amount of caffeine should be good and is not harmful for most people. However, I’d advise you to limit your daily intake of caffeinated drinks. Caffeine may cause some people to urinate more frequently, or feel anxious or jittery. One thing I’d definitely be very careful and try to avoid would be Energy drinks. They usually tend to contain large amounts of caffeine and ingredients that overstimulate you (guarana, ginseng, or taurine), which are things your body doesn’t actually need. Not to mention that most of these drinks are also high in added sugar. If you haven’t yet, you should check this article where I talk a little more in depth about the problems with high added sugar diets and benefits of a low sugar diet.
Even the foods that we eat contain some amount of water. Water can also be found in fruits and vegetables (for example, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce), and in soup broths, and some foods contain more water than others. So, eating clean and healthy is another way to properly stay hydrated.
If you plan on exercising at higher intensity, I’d advise you to try out sports drinks. They can be very helpful especially if you’re planning on exercising at that higher level for over one hour. Sports drinks also usually contain carbohydrates and electrolytes to help you boost your energy levels back up during and after intense workouts. But be careful, most sports drinks available might contain high levels of sugar, therefore having unwanted calories. Watch out for sports drinks that contain caffeine too.
I know that staying hydrated might seem like a difficult task at times, so here are a few tips that can help you on a daily basis:
1. Keeping a reusable water bottle with you during the day.
2. Adding a slice of lemon (for those who find it difficult to drink plain water).
3. Drink water before, during, and after a workout (You could try a sports drink here too if you know you will be working out or exercising, just make sure it’s low calories and low sugar).
4. Schedule your intake, for example: drink water when you wake up, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and when you go to bed.
I personally would not recommend you waiting until you notice symptoms of dehydration to take action. The sooner you start your awareness/prevention journey, the better.
People who exercise at a high intensity for too long are at a higher risk for dehydration alongside with people with certain medical conditions like kidney stones or bladder infection. People that are pregnant or breastfeeding and people that are trying to lose weight and not getting enough fluids during the day should also be very careful!
As a professional swimmer and lover of practicing sports in general, I am aware of what my body needs and aware of the best recovery methods in terms of hydration. In case you are like me and like to practice sports or physical activities on a daily basis, there are also liquid and electrolyte replacement products available that are low-sugar and low-calories. Hydra-Guard Sports Drink for example is a great way of replenishing your essential electrolytes after a workout but keeping the calorie count low and consuming only 5g of natural sugars per bottle. You could use the code PM10 for a special 10% discount on their website, and I also recommend you to subscribe to their newsletter because they are always releasing special codes for even higher discounts on their products.