Drinking plenty of water each day can improve your overall health, but did you know it can also affect your mood? Water aids digestion, assists your metabolism and can reduce the risk of kidney stones and several other diseases. Plus, as nature’s own moisturizer, it can give a younger looking glow to your skin. Best of all, water can help keep hunger at bay. Still, knowing how much to drink, when to drink and how much may be too much can be confusing unless you have some clear and easy guidelines that can help you maintain that perfect balance.
The eight glasses a day rule is still generally advocated for optimum health, but with activity and exercise that 64 ounces (half gallon) of fluids may not be enough. Exercising in the summer heat, demands added fluid intake. So, when the heat is on, plan ahead, so that your body doesn’t run low on fluids and put you at risk of heat stroke. For good hydration, water is by far the best beverage to choose – it has zero calories and is sugar free! Keep water on hand as you exercise and be sure to drink water before and after your workouts – especially when temperatures rise.
For a refreshing change of pace, occasionally squeeze a few drops of juice from a fresh lemon or lime into your glass of water or dilute your favorite juice. Don’t include tea, coffee, or alcohol when adding up your daily fluid intake as these beverages act as diuretics and actually remove fluids from your body.
What happens when your body heats up?
When you exercise, the muscles in your body heat up. Therefore, the blood that flows through your muscles heats up as well. To cool down, the blood passes close to the skin’s surface where some of the fluid is lost to perspiration which in turn cools the body. During an hour of exercise, the body can lose more than a quart of water. It needs enough water to cool down by perspiring and to keep it running right. Without sufficient water, you can experience muscle cramps, fatigue and loss of motor coordination.
Recognize the signs of dehydration
Become aware of your body and the signals it sends out to warn you that you may be experiencing a drop in fluid levels. Remember, our bodies are approximately 40-60% water and our brains are nearly 90%. Water regulates body temperature, cushions and protects our organs, aides in digestion, transports nutrients and helps us get rid of waste. It’s important to replenish your body’s supply of this essential element. If you don’t, dehydration can have some serious effects on your body’s strength, efficiency and alertness. Look out for these signs:
- Thirst — Once you begin feeling thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. To prevent this, we recommend pre-hydrating, that is getting enough fluids into your body before you start to exercise. Don’t wait until thirst strikes to take a glass of water — drink throughout the day.
- Headache, fatigue, nausea, lightheadedness, cramps and irritability — As we mentioned in our opening, dehydration can affect mood, so, if you are feeling cranky without good reason, you may be dehydrated and need a good long drink of water to feel like yourself again.
- Infrequent urination — If you urinate only twice a day, your body is not getting enough fluids.
- Dark colored urine — If your urine is a deep concentrated color, you may need to drink more water, more often. If your body is well hydrated, your urine should be pale yellow or nearly clear. One notable exception: if you take daily vitamins, your body eliminates the excess vitamins and may produce urine that is more richly colored.
Is drinking too much water a problem?
For the majority, this is rarely the case; but, if you are an endurance runner or take part in other strenuous exercise or sports in hot weather (tennis, soccer), and drink excessive amounts of water to cool down, you may actually be diluting the electrolytes and sodium levels your body needs. The condition, known as hyponatremia, can be dangerous and its symptoms are virtually identical to dehydration. So, it may be difficult to tell whether you need to drink more or whether you need to get your electrolytes back in balance. Highly active athletes will periodically need to snack on salty foods.
Know the guidelines for healthy hydration and exercise
Here are some hydration hints from the American Council on Exercise that can help cut through the confusion of knowing how much water to drink and when to drink during exercise:
1-2 cups at least one hour before exercising
1 cup (8 oz.) 20-30 minutes prior to exercising
4-8 oz. every 10-15 minutes during exercise, sip fluids frequently
8 oz. within 30 minutes after exercising
2 cups for every pound of body weight lost after exercise to get your fluid levels back to normal
Staying well hydrated gives you more energy and greater endurance, helps you stay cooler and feel better so that you can go farther and faster and work harder to burn more calories.
Water Can Also Dampen Your Appetite
Another great reason to stay hydrated is that drinking water can help hold off hunger pains. In fact, we often confuse thirst with hunger. So, you may think you’re hungry when you’re actually dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water 15-30 minutes before a meal can help prevent overeating.
The bottom line: stay hydrated to be happier & healthier!