Conventional wisdom tells us to drink eight ounce glass of water a day. But how true is the eight by eight rule? For some, this seems unnecessary and for others it’s barely enough.
When you’re an intense runner, long distance hiker or into an extreme sport, the amount of water you need to drink to maintain your sport is a high stakes question. Too little? Dehydration. Too much? (Yes, it’s possible) Overhydration. So where’s the sweet spot? It’s important to know how to stay hydrated to make sure you find that sweet spot.
In this article, we’ll focus on how to stay hydrated as well as give a general overview on why it is important to be properly hydrated, what it means to be dehydrated or overhydrated and the different ways to stay hydrated from gear to liquids other than water. This is all to help you choose the right hydration system to support your intensity.
H2O and Your Inner Flow
Humans are roughly 60% water. We know that without enough water, we’re at the very least thirsty and at the most extreme, dead.
What does water really do for our bodies though?
- Water feeds our cells, regulates our body temperatures through smelly, salty perspiration.
- Water flushes waste out of our bodies through urination and bowel movements.
- Water works to keep our bodies going in a variety of less obvious ways too, like lubricating joints and protecting sensitive tissue like the spinal cord.
- Water impacts stomach, skin, kidney, and urinary health.
- It even supports cholesterol regulation!
- Water is lost through the most unconscious of human body functions too- like breathing.
- Water impacts our strength, power and endurance. When properly hydrated, water can help decrease recovery time so you’re back to pounding the pavement or summiting mountains faster.
It’s also been found that some people need to drink more water than others. This population includes:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Those with kidney or bladder conditions.
- Those who are in hot environments.
- Those who are exercising.
- Those who are trying to lose weight.
- Those who are ill, especially if they have been vomiting or experiencing diarrhea.
The Dreaded Dehydration
When you lose or use more fluid than you take in, your body is unable to carry out its daily functions. This is dehydration.
Sipping on a standard sized water bottle will likely be enough when you are just starting to notice symptoms, which are:
- Dry nose and mouth
- Becoming sluggish and sleepy
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
Severe dehydration can lead to death. Be proactive. Try to notice how much fluid you are losing and hydrate before symptoms even have a chance to manifest.
Too Much Water Is a Good Thing or Is It a Bad Thing
Overhydration is also called water intoxication or water poisoning. With overhydration, concern is mostly limited to extreme athletes. For more tips on how to prevent overhydration, see our article on this topic.
Overhydration is when the ratio of sodium to water in the blood is diluted because of an over-ingestion of water.
Early symptoms of overhydration include:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Muscle weakness
- Excess urination
- Water retention
Severe overhydration can lead to:
Overhydration can be treated with water restriction, eating foods with a high salt content or an IV with high sodium liquids. Also see our piece on the symptoms of water intoxication for more information.
Eight by Eight?
The old saying goes that you should drink eight glasses of water eight times a day. This bit of conventional wisdom is under fire these days in regards to normal day to day activities. It’s now believed that your ideal level of hydration is based more off of your weight and of course, activity.
Still, some say it’s less about water and more about fluid intake in general. It’s always a safe bet to drink when you are thirsty and monitor your urine color, which we’ll get into in just a moment.
For day to day activity, it’s now believed that to stay hydrated you should be drinking between 20-50% of your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 160lbs, you should be drinking at most 80oz and at minimum 40oz of water a day.
When it comes to intense exercise, answering the question of how much water you should be drinking deserves some extra attention. When to drink water is just as important as how much water you should be drinking. It’s believed that:
- 2 Hours Before Exercising: Drink 16oz of water.
- During Exercise: Drink 14-33oz every hour frequently and in small amounts. Electrolyte and carbohydrate rich drinks will be of good use during this time as well since you’re using the carbs and electrolytes you’ve stored up for this activity.
- Within 30mins After Exercise: Drink 8oz of water with hydration supplements to aid your post workout recovery.
Checking The Scale
It’s worth noting that you should weigh about the same pre and post exercise as well. If you’ve lost weight through sweating, you’re not drinking enough water.
If you’ve gained weight, you’re probably drinking too much water. Maintaining the same weight before and after exercise is a good indication you have been properly hydrating.
The Transparent Truth
Another important clue into your hydration health is the color of your urine. The following chart has been complied to help you pay attention to your body and better gauge your water intake needs.
|What Color?||Transparency||Are You Hydrated?|
|NO Color||Transparent||You’re drinking a lot of water and may want to cut back.
|Transparent||You’re in the normal range. This color is considered normal and that you are well hydrated.
|Transparent||You’re still in the clear. This color indicates that you are ideally hydrated.
|Becoming more cloudy||You’re at normal hydration but will need to rehydrate soon.
|Cloudy||You need water.
|Cloudy||You are definitely becoming dehydrated and seriously need water.
|Very opaque||Severe dehydration has occurred and medical assistance is required.
Making Water A Way of Life
We’ve got some suggestions to get into the routine of drinking more water each day.
- Keep a bottle of water at your desk and refill it throughout the day.
- Start your morning with a glass of water and drink another when you’re ending your day before going to bed.
- Use your phone. Set “water breaks” throughout the day to remind yourself to hydrate.
- Find an app that will help you track the cups of water you’ve drunk.
- Drink a glass of water after each time you use the bathroom.
- Drink a glass of water during each meal.
- Use a filter on either a pitcher, bottle, or your kitchen sink. The better tasting the water, the more inclined you’ll be to drink it.
- Try flavoring your pitcher with slices of fresh fruit.
- Use or make a marked water bottle. With ounces and time of day side by side, you’ll have a quick way to assess if you’re falling behind on your water drinking goals. Add smiley face or a quick note of congratulations to yourself towards of end of the bottle. Committing to being healthy is worth celebrating!
Rehydration: Water Isn’t Your Only Option
Still not a big fan of water? There are other ways to stay hydrated too. We’ve mentioned the word electrolytes a few times now and if you’ve ever seen a Gatorade ad, you know it’s something that can be added to water to help with recovery. But what is it exactly?
Electrolytes are minerals found in your body’s fluids, like blood and urine, that contains an electric charge. Your body uses the electric impulses of electrolytes to communicate between cells. These impulses aid in your ability to taste, see, smell, touch and hear; pretty important features of the human body.
Chloride, potassium and sodium are major electrolytes. Gatorade, for example, contains sodium and potassium but there are other great sources of electrolytes too. High amounts of Potassium specifically can be found in:
- Citrus fruits
- Tomato Juice
- Orange Juice
There are also some surprising results regarding rehydration and fat-free and whole milk. The New York Times recently covered a British study that created a hydration index of thirteen common beverages, and the gist of it is that oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte, fat-free milk, whole milk and orange juice, all had higher rehydration indexes than water.
Which means that hours after drinking, these beverages remained in the body longer than water.
Water’s hydration index is 1 whereas Pedialyte, fat-free milk, and whole milk had hydration indexes scoring at 1.5 and orange juice scored 1.1. That’s a pretty significant difference.
But why is milk so efficient at rehydration?
When you drink, it signals the kidneys to get rid of extra water in the form of urination. Because milk contains electrolytes and nutrients, the stomach empties slowly and has less of a dramatic influence on the kidneys.
The study also revealed that drinking moderate amounts of caffeine and alcohol or beverages with high levels of sugar, had similar hydration indexes to water. Leading us another nugget of conventional wisdom that doesn’t scientifically ring true anymore.
Caffeine, alcohol and sugar are not dehydrating. Drinking soda instead of water and a rehydration supplement are in no way recommended, but it can rehydrate you just as well. It’s primarily the high level of sugar that makes soda a poor rehydration choice.
I’ll briefly go over a few more common sources of rehydration that are not water:
If you’re looking to go the all- natural route but are sick of plain ol’ water, coconut water might be a good option for you. It has a higher concentration of both sodium and potassium than Gatorade too.
When it comes to recovery, there are even certain coconut waters that have added protein. If you’re thinking of making the switch from a sports drink to coconut water, you should drink the same amount you’re used to pre, during and post activity.
Sports drinks are designed to keep your water to sodium ratio in balance, a good thing when it comes to maintaining and recovering from a heavy workout.
Sometimes they have added carbs or sugar and the amounts are specific to types of activity, so be sure to read the label.
Hydration Tablets or Drops
Tablets or drops are great if you are just looking for sources of electrolytes and not a source of carbohydrates.
Fruits and Vegetables
Cucumbers have been found to have the highest water content at 97%, than any other solid food.
The following fruits are vegetables also have a high water content and are dense in nutrients.
|Bell Peppers||Green 93%|
Raspberries and Blueberries 85%
|Citrus Fruit||Grapefruit 90%|
|Carrots||Baby carrots 90%
Full sized carrots 88%
To be support hydration, it is recommended to eat two or three servings of fruits and vegetables with every meal. There are easier ways to do this than by having a salad with two meals a day or by snacking on berries though.
Other foods and snacks that have a high water content and are easy to grab on the go include:
- Chicken noodle soup
- Tomato sauce
Pass the Salt
We’ve talked a bit about the delicate balance between salt and water in the body as well as the importance of potassium. With that information, it should be less of a surprise to you when I say that to stay hydrated we need to ingest a certain quantity of salt.
There is some dissention among which salt is best, whether it be table, Himalayan or sea, but the bottom line is that in its proper quantity, salt is good for your body and helps with hydration.
The Center of Disease Control has guidelines around salt consumption and recommends that “Americans consume less than 2,300mg of sodium per day”. While most people are not salt deficient, but are actually overdoing it, there are some ways to become more conscious of your salt consumption and integrate into a healthy hydration plan.
Monitoring how much salt you cook with or how much salt is in what you’re eating is a worthwhile but for some, an intimidating start. Adding a pinch of salt and a slice of lemon to your drinking water is a small way to bring your salt consumption to mind.
Increasing Your Circulation
One of the best ways to stay hydrated is actually to keep moving! Increased circulation through movement improves electrolyte levels and helps circulate nutrients to your cells.
Any type of movement from walking to weight training, increases circulation especially after long hours sitting at a desk like many of us do.
Wearable Water: Gear to Support Hydration
From running to hiking, there are plenty of options in the world of gear to support your hydration needs.
We’ll take a look at the four most common wearable hydration systems.
- Pros: The drinking tube makes it easy to drink on the go and there’s storage for whatever else you may need or want to hang on to. The reservoir inside can have as high or low capacity as needed and you can’t feel the water sloshing around.
- Cons: Difficult to refill quickly and for some the sensation of having weight strapped to your back may be a big drawback, there’s more of a time and effort commitment requires to clean it.
Hydration Reservoirs are great for sliding into packs you already have and are backpacking or biking.
- Pros: Pockets are easy to access, great for either running or backpacking, water weight is evenly distributed.
- Cons: There is a potential for chafing.
- Pros: Quick and easy access, ergonomically shaped bottles, quantity enables you to fill some with water and some with sports drinks.
- Cons: The belts ride up on some people, easy to drop bottles if you’re in the zone.
- Pros: The hand strap and thumbhole elevate a traditional water bottle to a very helpful piece of gear. Quick and easy refill, lightweight, and packable.
- Cons: Feeling unequally weighted and if filled with very cold water, your hand will get cold.
What We’ve Learned
The biggest takeaway when thinking about hydration is that there’s just not one way to do it right and the best thing you can do it pay attention to your body.
With a deeper understanding of how your body uses water, you now you know the signs of dehydration and overhydration and can prevent them.
What it takes to support a healthy body is first and foremost understanding this. Then you can get into the fruits, vegetables, liquids and containers that are the best for your lifestyle.
Let us know what you think. Do you prefer to run in a hydration vest? Or bike in a belt? Love the taste and benefits of coconut water over basic bottled water? Have a favorite electrolyte supplement? We definitely want to know – the comment section is below!