A good portion of the country is in a heat wave at the moment. In more normal years, we would probably be hearing about it more than we are, but of course, this is hardly a normal year. Nevertheless, when it is this hot, we need to be even more mindful of our hydration, especially if we are exercising outdoors. Here in Colorado, several areas have hit 100, and some record highs have been broken.
But, there still seems to be a lot of confusion over how much water we should be drinking. Almost everyone has heard “drink at least 8, eight ounce glasses (64 ounces) of water a day.” But did you know that advice is not based on any solid research? In fact, science does not back any one size fits all hydration rule, because lots of factors come into play.
Here are just some of the factors that come into play with hydration needs:
Body size: In general, smaller bodies need less water due to smaller surface area and volume. However, children can become dehydrated easily.
Exercise level and intensity, and whether it is indoors or outdoors.
The climate: Obviously hot weather is going to make you sweat more and need more fluid, but humidity also plays a role, with dry climates making us need more water than humid ones. Also, altitude comes into play over about 3-4000 feet and makes us need more water as well.
Salty foods can make us retain water and feel thirstier. Generally, drinking more water will help us flush the excess sodium from our bodies
Hormones: women of reproductive age will need more water at different points of their cycle.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding: similarly, women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding need more water than others.
Alcohol: when we drink alcohol, it dehydrates us, so we need more water to make up for it.
So, How Much Water Should I Drink?
Under normal conditions, most of us can start with some simple tips that should keep us well hydrated:
Drink mostly water when you feel thirsty, and then drink a little extra.
Have a glass of water with all meals.
Keep a water bottle on your desk at work to remind you to drink
After a moderate workout, make sure to drink 8 – 32 ounces of water
If you are exercising vigorously for more than hour, try to drink 8 -16 ounces an hour, and at least 16 – 32 ounces in the hour afterwards.
If you feel hungry, particularly outside of meal times, try drinking a glass of water first. Often thirst will be disguised as hunger.
Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet which have a lot of water in them and will help keep you hydrated. Generally speaking, foods make up about 20% of our water consumption.
When the temperatures soar, exercise early or late and add in more water than the above guidelines before, during, and after exercise.
Hydration with Exercise
While we’ve already discussed drinking before, during, and after exercise, we haven’t looked at what happens when you don’t drink enough. Just a 2% drop in body weight from dehydration impairs sports performance. A drop of 5% can lead to a 30% decrease in performance! The performance reduction is due to many factors from decreased blood volume to increased core body temperature and decreased sweat rate. It is difficult to recover from the performance drop by drinking more once it has occurred, so always better to try to prevent in the first place.
Extreme cases of dehydration while exercising in the heat can help contribute to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, a life threatening condition. So, again, drinking enough water before and during exercise is critical in hot weather. And, because we need more water, we might need to replace some electrolytes as well. Sodium and potassium are the key electrolytes lost in sweat.
There are plenty of sports drinks available that have electrolytes. Think of using these when you are sweating a lot (or drink before and after a sweaty workout), however, skip the ones with loads of added sugar unless you are looking to replace some calories to fuel your workout as well. And skip the brightly colored drinks too as the color generally comes from chemicals that aren’t doing your body any favors.
There are several sports drinks that will replenish the electrolytes without the added sugars and chemicals. Ask 5 different endurance athletes and you might get 5 different favorites, so try out a few of the better ones to see what you like. Nuun, Ultima, and even unflavored Pedialyte are all good options to try among others. There are even electrolyte tablets that you can eat with water if you don’t want to get the drinks
Regardless of weather you are living in a hot spot or not, make sure you are hydrating your body. Experiment with the above tips and quantities to see what makes you look, feel and perform better!