Hydration is yet another of those fitness topics that we can research to infinity online, yet never get definitive answers. Hopefully here, we can cut through the clutter and get you some real information that will aid in your fitness progress.
Let’s start with all the things that can be caused by dehydration. The list is long, and includes fatigue, loss of concentration, cramps, decreased energy levels, constipation, lightheadedness, dizziness, headaches, and, long term, can lead to diminished renal function.
Another side effect of dehydration is the creation of sugar cravings. When we exercise with low fluid levels, we use stores of glycogen (stored carbohydrates) at a faster rate, so, when finished, we feel cravings for high carb foods. like sweets.
Dehydration can also lead to Hypernatremia, or elevated sodium levels. Since fluid is the normal conduit for sodium leaving the body, without sufficient fluid, sodium is retained. This can show itself in a variety of symptoms, like fatigue, irritability and lethargy. In advanced stages, hypernatremia can lead to seizures and a comatose state.
An upside of being sufficiently hydrated, in addition to the health benefits, is feeling more full. This will result in seeking less food from hunger cravings, which allows us to more easily stick to a solid food plan. Having the proper amount of water in your body helps your systems function as needed, so your digestion and circulation will more optimum. There are aesthetic benefits, like clearer skin. Water also enables your muscles to perform better, giving you more from your exercise sessions.
How Much Water Do I Need?
Experts are far from agreeing on an exact amount that each of us should consume, but agree that activity level, physical size and your climate are considerations. A 200 pound active person in Arizona would need more than a 120 pound, inactive person in a cooler area. One great test is urine color. If clear with little or no odor, you are likely getting enough. If it has color, and/or smell, you are not getting enough. Warmer seasons require more, as do increases in activity levels, such as beginning an exercise program, or adding in more exercise. If you are consuming 2/3-3/4 ounce per day for each pound of body weight, you should be more than safe. Most experts agree that the old adage of 8 times 8 ounces per day is not an effective guide for healthy hydration.
How Do I Stay Better Hydrated?
For starters, don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink. Hydration is best done proactively. Keep a water bottle close at all times. Make sure you take a water bottle to your exercise sessions. Drink through the day, not just at certain times. In the morning, if you are a coffee drinker, make sure you add in some water with your coffee, which is a diuretic and can leave you dry. Check the information included with any medications you are taking for warnings about dehydration as well.