The best options to keep your body hydrated

We already know that keeping our bodies properly hydrated each day is essential, but staying hydrated still remains a challenge for the majority of Americans. Many experts have recommended we drink “eight glasses of water a day,” but this advice begs a few questions: how large exactly is a glass? Should I only drink water, or can I hydrate via other sources? How will I know if I’m dehydrated, and how can I avoid it?

Water makes up to 60% of the adult body, so it is no surprise that water plays a crucial role in many of our bodies’ vital functions such as:

  • Regulation of internal body temperature
  • Joint lubrication and maintenance
  • Delivery of nutrients to cells
  • Removal of waste products from the body
  • Boosting of metabolism

A surprising benefit associated with increased water intake is weight loss. Drinking water at specified times throughout the day is shown to both suppress appetite and increase metabolism, resulting in weight loss.

Despite the known benefits of proper hydration, dehydration remains a very real and common threat to our day to day lives. The good news is that dehydration can be easily prevented. Learning the ins and outs of proper hydration is key to keeping our bodies healthy.

But first, how will you know when you’re not hydrated? A feeling of thirst may be the most obvious answer, but there are other important tell-tale signs beyond thirst that you should look out for to let you know you need to replenish your fluids. Dehydration will often cause:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Less frequent urination
  • Darker than normal color of urine
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Decreased athletic performance

Feeling thirsty may be one of the first signs you need to reach for a drink, but thirst may actually signal that you are in fact already dehydrated. It is important to not wait until you feel thirsty to replenish your fluids. Keep a water bottle handy at all times and make sure to sip from it throughout the day to prevent thirst or dehydration.

Techniques for Staying Hydrated

How much water is enough? There is actually no right answer. Recommendations have changed over the years and really depend on individual factors such as how active you are, where you live, and how healthy you are. Although “eight glasses a day” seems to be a reasonable goal for most, some people require more and some less. Still, a general guideline exists: 3.7 liters of fluid a day for men and 2.7 liters of fluid a day for women. This includes fluid from water and other beverages, as well as food.

Water may be the most common source of fluid we drink to hydrate, but researchers have also identified several other fluid sources that may also be consumed to stave off dehydration.  The body absorbs water more effectively when it contains electrolytes - including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium - or carbohydrates. When beverages contain carbohydrates, their passage through the body slows as energy is extracted from the fluid. Since the beverage is retained in the body for a longer period of time, absorption of the fluid is increased. Commercially available sports drinks containing electrolytes such as Powerade provide good hydration.  Processed beverages such as soda are not effective options for hydration.  If your goal is to simply maintain normal hydration levels throughout the day, water consumption will suffice.

Considerations for Exercise

Athletes must take special considerations into account when they are formulating a hydration plan. Vigorous exercise and training require additional hydration measures, as a state of dehydration can have a significant impact on athletic performance. Only a 2% drop in body weight due to dehydration may be enough to incur a steep decline in performance. Athletes are recommended to consume a sports drink with electrolytes to maintain both fluid levels and electrolyte levels. One or two liters per hour of fluid should be consumed; larger men should consume two liters per hour and smaller women should consume one liter per hour. Each liter should contain between 500 and 1500mg sodium in order to replace the fluid lost during exercise and to enable absorption of water.

Proper hydration is not a one-size-fits-all practice. When you consider your own hydration needs, it is important to remember your main goal. If you are simply looking to stay hydrated without exercising significantly, continually drinking water throughout the day, aiming for three to four liters a day, should serve you well. If you are an athlete training for a competition, or otherwise exercising regularly and looking to maintain peak performance, increase your hourly fluid consumption. Make sure to consume fluids with added electrolytes to maintain adequate sodium levels in your blood.