Keep Exercise Sustainable: Hydration Information

I’ll level with you right up front: If you want to read the definitive post on how much water you should drink to be perfectly hydrated, this is not it. Surf on.

However, if you feel some confusion surrounding the issue of human hydration, drink up. You are not alone. The question of hydration has fascinated—and nagged—me for years. First, I was informed that if I wasn’t drinking at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day minimum, I would turn into a raisin. Then, it was half my body weight in ounces. Then, if I exerted myself more than switching on a TV remote, it was my full body weight in ounces. Between drinking and peeing there was hardly time to complete a sentence.

More recently, as a fitness professional, I’ve been called upon by my clients to make recommendations about water intake: how much, how often, detriments of too little or too much, benefits of just right. Do you need a sports drink, water with electrolytes, or just plain water? Can you “store up” water? Should you drink right before exercise? During? After?

In the process of looking for the definitive hydration answer, I have discovered that the water world is flooded with contradictions, misinformation, myths, inconclusive research, and mildly outrageous claims. I figure there must be some truth floating around in there somewhere.

That being the case, I will attempt to share with you my hydration experience, filter out some of the more questionable soft water facts, and provide you with enough information for you to make your own choice.

Water Facts

Water is essential for all life. Humans happen to be made up of approximately 70 percent water. We NEED water to stay alive. It’s generally accepted that humans can only live three days without water. It’s easy to understand why when considering the following functions of water in humans (source: Physician and Sports Medicine, Nancy Clark MS, RD – May 1995).

Here’s how water functions in our bodies:

  • in saliva and stomach secretions, it helps to digest food
  • in blood, it helps transport nutrients and oxygen to all the cells of the body
  • in body fluids, it helps lubricate joints and cushions organs and tissues
  • in urine, it carries waste products out of the body; likewise, it’s essential for forming and passing feces
  • in sweat, it removes body heat generated during exercise

Additionally, water is essential for brain function, cell growth, body temperature regulation, and reproduction. Turn off the tap and everything starts to shut down. Three days tops.

Fine. How much water do I need to drink each day to remain hydrated and keep my body functioning?

From here it gets murky and therein lies the rub. Is it hot out? Did you exercise today? Are you diabetic? Have you eaten fruits and vegetables recently? Are you taking medication that can affect water retention? Do you sweat a lot? Are you an elite athlete? Or, how about this: ARE YOU THIRSTY?!?

Listen to your body

Your magnificent body comes with a built-in thirst response that lets you know when it’s time to replenish your water stores. Go figure. Some sources advise that if you “wait until you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.” People. That’s why you’re thirsty. Unless you are an elite athlete or running a marathon or engaged in some other extreme situation where you need to replenish your water stores more frequently than normal, your body will tell you when it’s time to drink up. Here are some clues:

  • You feel thirsty
  • Your pee is a dark yellow color (disregard the yellow coloring from your supplements)
  • You have a headache or your joints ache
  • You feel foggy-headed
  • You are constipated
  • You aren’t feeling up to working out

For the normal, average, regular human being, the signals you receive from your body should be enough to keep you hydrated. Thirsty during or after a workout? Drink some water. Sluggish in the middle of the day? Try some water. Parched after a good night’s sleep? Down a refreshing glass of water.

As for a magic number of ounces to keep you perfectly hydrated: I maintain that it is a function of the individual and affected by:

  • Size and weight
  • Body type
  • How much physical exertion you engage in
  • Temperature and humidity outside
  • How much and what types of food you’ve eaten (it’s estimated that the water in fruits and vegetables accounts for roughly 20 percent of the water we ingest in a day)
  • How much and what types of beverages you consume (latest info from the world wide web is that coffee and tea, once considered diuretics, can now be counted in your daily fluid intake—brilliant)
  • How much alcohol you consume—does not count for water and taxes your system in competing ways

However, don’t take my word for it. Or claims from a bottled water or sports drink company, for that matter. I will tackle the sports drink debate in another post, but in the meantime, for normal humans operating in the normal day-to-day and paying attention to their thirst response and signs of dehydration, you are most likely getting the water and electrolytes you need from the water you drink and the foods you eat.

If you want to attach a number to your optimal hydration, how about keeping a record of howyou feel as a function of how much water you’ve had to drink on a given day. Compare your thirst response to how you feel. Experiment. Find out for yourself. You’ve got a three-day margin of error.

Here’s to you and your hydration. Drink up.

And Go Well!