Drinking and staying adequately hydrated is not only essential for health, it is essential for living optimally. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can result in a drastic reduction in cognitive function.
Your body is 60% water by weight, and proper hydration optimizes blood pressure, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, moves waste out of the body, and aids in digestion. With increased summer temperatures and outdoor activities comes increased water loss through sweating and evaporation as your body works to stay cool.
Although you may think drinking water and staying hydrated would be simple, many people are challenged with drinking sufficient water for their needs.
Lack of hydration has been associated with:
- Skin irritation (acne, dryness, chapped lips)
- Digestive imbalances (gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea)
- Brain fog, poor mental performance
- Stiffness, inflammation, and muscle spasms
Furthermore, lifestyle factors and dietary choices can further hinder your hydration attempts. These include:
- Stimulants like caffeine
- Refined sugar/salt
- Processed/refined foods (especially dehydrated and dry foods like chips and crackers)
- Lack of sleep
How Much Water Do You Need?
The standard advice of 8 8-oz glasses of water per day may be well-meaning, but unfortunately it is inaccurate. It was never based on any evidence and does not take into account the water in foods (especially soups and vegetables).
Body weight, nutritional needs, age, and activity levels all affect the amount of water someone needs every day. A young athlete will have very different water needs from a more sedentary older person. Healthy individuals not living in extreme climates or participating in endurance sports, can maintain healthy water levels throughout the day by simply listening to the signals of thirst.
The body has to balance the amount of water excreted with the amount consumed, to keep a constant ratio of water to other substances in its fluids. The concentration of other substances in these fluids signals the body to conserve or excrete water. For example, a high concentration of salt in the blood, will cause feelings of thirst and signal the kidneys to conserve more water, rather than excreting it through urine. The thirst will fade when water and salt levels are rebalanced and the kidneys begin to excrete any excess water.
Your body requires approximately half your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water to function properly. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you would need 75 oz. of water or the equivalent of 6 – 7, 12-oz glasses.
Of course, you may need more water if you are particularly physically active that day or have spent time in the heat. You may also notice that with the increase of clean, quality water and your Paleo diet rich in water-containing vegetables that you need less water. This is a generalized guide to consider when seeking optimal hydration.
For the average person, people engaged in shorter-duration exercise, and endurance athletes not immediately preparing for or actively engaged in long workouts or races, drinking to thirst is still the best recommendation.
Tips For Optimal Hydration
Drink throughout the day. Keep water handy so it is available if you want it, but there is no need to become overly obsessive over it. You can only absorb a certain amount of water and drinking more does necessarily hydrate you more
Hydrating first thing in the morning is the most effective time of the day to drink your water. A night of sleeping leaves you dehydrated when waking – make it a point to start you day off with some water which will do wonders in your efforts of staying hydrated throughout the day.
Use A Timer
For some people, using a timer can be a helpful way to reprogram the mind for better drinking habits. Simply set the timer on your phone for every hour. When it goes off, drink some water. It is important to not gulp down the entire glass but instead drink slowly. This will support keeping a consistent flow of water in the body preventing a dehydrated state.
Adding an unrefined, raw sea salt to your water will increase its absorption because proper mineral balance is necessary to stay hydrated. You could also add liquid minerals to your water for an extra boost.
Drinking mineralized and/or sparkling water is another way to get these added minerals.
The added minerals in water support hydration, they will help boost adrenal and thyroid function, providing more natural energy.
Add Some Flavor
Many people believe plain water is boring and avoid drinking it. It can be simple to create variety in the flavor or taste of your water. As a bonus, this can also make the water more hydrating. An easy addition is that of fresh lemon juice and unrefined sea salt. This mineralizes the water and the lemon juice makes the water cells more bioavailable. Herbal tea sweetened and infused waters are also good options.
Drink Water Alone
Drinking water with food can dilute the enzyme and acid activity otherwise released while eating leading to poor digestion. This in turn inhibits how much water you are able to absorb. Eating dried, dehydrated and overly salty foods results in needing water to rehydrate the foods as they are being eaten. This is one of the factors that create feelings of thirst when eating any heavily-processed food.
Eating a whole food-based, Paleo diet is important. Most animal proteins can contain up to 60% water content and the Paleo diet encourages a high consumption of fruits and vegetables which all have a high-water content.
Eating a Paleo-type diet results in you being less likely to dehydrate your body. Experiment with having a glass of water 30 minutes before each meal, and then proceed to not drink any water until at least an hour afterwards.
Not consuming foods and beverages that ultimately cause dehydration is an important step in hydrating properly and optimally. Coffee and other natural stimulants like green tea can provide many health benefits. You might, however, choose to limit your consumption and/or balance them with plenty of hydrating liquids.
Excess caffeine can have a diuretic effect in the body, resulting in possible dehydration. If you are drinking a caffeinated beverage for extra energy, consider trying some pure, mineralized water. You might be pleasantly surprised as to how much more energy you have by hydrating better.
Stay Away From Sport Drinks
Most sports drinks are not your friend. They contain high concentrations of glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, sucralose, xylitol and a host of unnatural ingredients like dyes, stabilizers and preservatives. For an electrolyte-rich re-hydrating treat try coconut water. It is packed with potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium and can replenish lost fluids and electrolytes from exercise and hot summer temperatures. Try freezing coconut water ice cubes or pops for a refreshing, hydrating, Paleo friendly summer treat.
One of the simplest ways to stay up-to-date with how hydrated you are to monitor your urine. You can often tell how hydrated (or dehydrated) you are depending a few of its characteristics. If your urine is dark in pigment or yellow, you are likely dehydrated! In general, the darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are. The first step would be to get some sleep, drink quality water and avoid what may be dehydrating you.
Similarly, if your urine is color and odor-less, you may be drinking too much and risk dehydration because your electrolyte levels will be falling too low.
If either of these situations is happening consistently, then definitely follow up with your health care team.
Water is the elixir of life and drinking enough is one of the best things you can do to support your wellness goals. Staying adequately hydrated benefits your entire body, from your skin tone to your kidneys. During the warm summer months (or anytime for that matter), it is important to stay aware of your water intake and to ensure you are getting enough fluid and electrolytes to keep your body in its peak condition.