It is easy to recognize the importance of hydration when we are working hard or in the middle of a workout. Just the obvious signs of sweat and thirst keep us reminded of staying hydrated. But we need to pay attention to the importance of hydration even when the need is not pressing.
Keeping a steady flow of fluids is essential to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every part of our bodies. Water and other fluids carry nutrients on the cellular level, they flush bacteria from the bladder, fluids sustain the heart, brain, and muscles.
Drinking water is obviously the best way to stay hydrated. But if you are working out, you are also going through electrolytes and essential minerals. Part of the importance of hydration is to maintain the balance in your muscles and bloodstream.
Hydration is critical for people who engage in serious exercise. Beyond the loss of fluids in the body, the imbalance of minerals and electrolytes can lead to cramps and more serious problems.
There is a science behind the importance of hydration. Staying hydrated is elemental to health, and the physiology of hydration is a matter that impacts the entire body.
We know when we are not staying properly hydrated. We feel it in obvious ways, and we know we are simply not able to perform at our best. The benefits of staying hydrated begin with how we feel. But there are some important benefits to staying hydrated that are much more significant than feeling good.
Some of the most important benefits of staying hydrated include:
- Maximize physical performance. Even losing as little as 2 percent of your water content can have deleterious effects on physical performance. But what you may not know is that athletes tend to lose as much as 6-10 percent of water content by sweating. This can lead to changes in body temperature, it can cut down on your motivation, and it can increase fatigue. Keep in mind that muscle is about 80 percent water. Staying hydrated during and after exercise can reduce the stress of physical exertion and increase your physical performance.
- Energy levels and brain functions. Even a loss of 1 percent of water content in your body can have a negative effect on brain function. Studies have shown that by staying properly hydrated during and after exercise increases brain function, memory, and can protect against mood swings and headaches.
- Prevents headaches. Dehydration triggers certain types of headaches. One study demonstrated that simply paying attention to hydration relieves and even prevents headaches.
- Intestinal regularity. It is perhaps not the most pleasant topic but it is an aspect of good health. It is just a fact that low water consumption increases the risk of constipation. Maintaining fluids and staying hydrated ensures intestinal regularity.
- Fight kidney stones. Kidney stones result from a build-up of minerals in your kidneys. The main cause of this build-up is a lack of hydration. Kidney stones are extremely painful. By staying hydrated you can significantly lower your risk of kidney stones.
- Weight loss. Two separate studies showed that drinking half a liter of water increased metabolism by as much as 30 percent for more than an hour. This translates into enhanced periods in which the body burns and processes excess fat. The result is weight loss.
- Building muscle. Proper hydration can enhance endurance and by extension, it can help you build muscle. Even a small decrease in water levels in the body substantially decreases your ability to continue weight training. By paying attention to hydration, you are much more likely to build muscle.
Beyond the obvious benefits of hydration, there are many other things going on that speak to the benefits of staying properly hydrated.
Signs of dehydration
Dehydration is extremely dangerous. If you are exercising or engaged in intense physical work dehydration poses some real risks. Sings of dehydration include:
- Extreme thirst
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
Children, older people, and people with chronic illnesses are more prone to dehydration. They are also most at risk for serious complications that can come with dehydration. All of this can be avoided by simply paying attention to your water intake while engages in any type of activity that depletes your body of water.
How to maintain optimal hydration
Optimal hydration consists of a balance between your fluid intake and your metabolic needs. This varies according to age, physical fitness, and physical activity. Doctors recommend that we obtain optimal hydration through a balance of water intake, fluid in foods, and other beverages. How we achieve this during the different phases of a day is another matter.
When it comes to maintaining optimal hydration for physical exercise, you need to consider the issue before, during, and after a workout since your hydration needs will change over the course of a workout.
Proper hydration begins even before you work out or compete. Getting your fluid balance in order is essential to getting the most out of a workout. And being properly hydrated can make the difference when competing.
Prior to a long race or an intense workout, drink plenty of fluids the night before. Drink juices that are 100 percent juice and not filled with junk like high fructose corn syrup for sweetening. Drinking skim milk is another way of hydrating and adding other nutrients. Pay attention to the color of your urine to check if you are properly hydrated. Pale yellow is healthy.
The morning of a race or workout, drink about two 8 ounce cups of water. Allow sufficient time for your kidneys to flush out your system.
The general rule for staying properly hydrated during a workout is to drink 2 8-10 ounce glasses of water every 10 minutes. But if you are engaged in intense workouts, the kind of workouts associated with high-performance athletes, you will need more than water.
Fluids that replenish electrolytes and minerals will help maintain your hydration balance and support the high levels of exertion. There are all kinds of sports drinks out there. Look for sports drinks that contain sodium and potassium and do not contain extra sweet fillers and artificial ingredients. Some sports drinks contain carbohydrates for added energy.
Post-workout hydration will simply consist of replenishing the liquids used up during the workout. If you want to be precise, you can weigh yourself before and after working out to get a sense of how much water weight you burn. From this, you can gauge how much liquid you require. The main thing is to keep up the flow of liquids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates you needed during a workout. Hydration is primarily a game of balance.
Tips to staying hydrated
Staying hydrated is mostly common sense. If you are thirsty, you need fluids. But we know that exercise and intense workouts added some degrees of complexity to this simple idea. To stay properly hydrated, follow these tips:
- Drink enough water to prevent thirst.
- Monitor your fluids by paying attention to the color of your urine. Pale yellow is normal. Too dark or a bad order indicates dehydration.
- Water is best, but for intense training and workouts, drink sports drinks that contain electrolytes and do not contain artificial sweeteners.
- Start your workout hydrated.
- Avoid alcohol the day before working out or competing. It is okay to have a beer or a glass of wine. Just avoid being hungover.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These contain water and they contain electrolytes and minerals.
- Some people recommend eating salty foods or drinking things like tomato juice since sodium is good for maintaining mineral balance in your muscles and the salt will help you retain water.
- Drink plenty of fluids post-workout, including sports drinks. It is crucial that you maintain the fluid intake even after you are finished working out.
Again, some of this is common sense. Yet, ignoring these things can lead to serious consequences if you become dehydrated.
Just to give you a sense of how important hydration is to our entire body, here are some basic facts on the function and role of water in our physiology.
- The human brain is about 95 percent water.
- Lungs are 90 percent water.
- Muscles are 83 percent water.
- We lose just under one liter of water by perspiring even when we are not exerting ourselves.
- We lose water simply by breathing.
- Water regulates body temperature.
- Water is the main component of blood. This supplies the entire body with everything we need to stay alive.
Staying hydrated is not simply a matter of being comfortable. Nor is it a matter of being able to compete or workout regularly. Staying hydrated is a matter of maintaining our health at the most basic level.
Hydration frequently asked questions
- How much water should I drink in a day? The old 8 glasses of water a day is not actually true. It is recommended that you get about 100 ounces of water a day, but some of this can come from the foods you eat.
- How much water comes from food? On average, we get about 20 percent of our hydration needs from foods.
- How much should I drink during exercise? Break about every 20 minutes and drink 8 ounces of fluids.
- What is the effect of alcohol on hydration? Alcohol is the most dehydrating thing you can consume. Coffee, by contrast, has similar diuretic effects, but this is offset by the amount of water contained in coffee.
- How much water do we lose in a day? We shed about 10 cups of water every day simply through basic metabolic processes.
- Can I tell if I am dehydrated by the color of my urine? Yes. Normal urine is a pale yellow color. If your urine is dark brown or if it has a foul odor you are showing signs of dehydration.
- Should I avoid drinks and snacks that contain sodium? No. Sodium works well with the hydrating process. It works as an important electrolyte during exercise, and it can help you retain water during intense exertion.
Best Hydration Supplement
There are more sports drinks and hydration supplements on the market than anyone could keep up with. Many of these sports drinks are little more than soda pop with some electrolytes thrown in. While there are some reputable products that contain the nutrients and hydration you require, far too many of the products that are available are simply not healthy.
NF Sports offers a hydration supplement.
Hydrate contains their all-natural formula that can help your body rehydrate, replenish and recover. Hydrate contains the most bioavailable forms of electrolytes. Including Hydrate with your regular training supplements will ensure that you are not only properly hydrated, it will also maintain the balance of electrolytes necessary for high-intensity training.
Wrapping things up
Hydration is one of those things we can easily lose sight of precisely because it is such an ordinary part of life. Staying properly hydrated seems like something we all just know how to do. But as we can see, the stakes in staying properly hydrated are quite high. We run the risk of serious health problems if we do not stay hydrated.
For people who work out or are engaged in intense athletic training. Hydration becomes even more critical. While most people will be just fine by staying on top of how much water they drink, athletes need more. Intense training and workouts will deplete your body of electrolytes along with water. You need to keep replenishing these important minerals.
Drinking enough water is important. But if you are going the extra mile (perhaps literally) you need a hydration protocol that will keep up with the way your body becomes depleted of water and electrolytes.
We can see the importance of hydration for basic bodily functions. Everything from your brain to your kidneys requires proper hydration. Serious athletes simply cannot compete without paying close attention to staying hydrated.