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Why do we need to be hydrated?

From the time primeval species ventured from the oceans to live on land, a major key to survival has been the prevention of dehydration. This is the case to an array of species, including us. Without water, humans can survive only for days, with impacts of dehydration being felt in a very short space of time.

We are predominantly made up of water. Our brains are about 70% water while our bodies are generally about 50–75%. It’s not actually that surprising that our water intake has such a big effect on our performance. In fact, according to research, 2% dehydration can influence one’s mood, lead to fatigue and considerably reduce alertness.

In a continuingly developing study, hydration status has been shown to affect cognitive functions. If hydration levels drop and are sustained, then dehydration can affect short-term memory and the inability to process visual information properly.

A lack of water can also affect one’s mood. One study of 25 women showed that dehydration (-1.36% loss of body mass) led to poor mood, reduced concentration, and increased the frequency of headaches and a tendency to find tasks harder.

It is also important to consider that as we age, our water reserves decline due to reductions in muscle mass. Our kidneys become less effective at retaining water, as well as other age associated declines. This is a serious consideration for employers as more than 30% of the UK’s workforce are aged over 50.

Here are some of the major benefits of staying hydrated:

  • Improves energy levels and brain function
  • Improves alertness
  • Prevents mood swings
  • Prevents and treats headaches
  • Assists with bowel movements
  • Improves physical performance
  • Assists with weight loss.

How much water should I drink?

We are constantly losing water from our bodies, primarily through sweating and going to the toilet. Therefore, we have to restore our fluid levels. Generally, health authorities recommend two litres per day (eight ounce glasses). However, we would recommend that you continually sip on water throughout the day, as opposed to gulping down eight glasses. As with all health related subjects, it’ going to depend on the individual and the environment you’re operating in. Keep a diary (or use an app) to track your fluid intake. Ask yourself a few questions based on the variables above including mood, alertness and fatigue.

Hydration and exercise

Firstly, consider your hydration before, during and after. Aim to drink 500ml (steadily) before you exercise and little and often during. There are so many variables to consider such as body weight and intensity of exercise so listen to your body. If you feel thirsty, sip away.

After exercise, aim to consume another 500ml to 1000ml. However, here’s a simple way to calculate what you might need to replace.

The sweat rate calculation:

  • Weigh yourself before exercise (ideally do this first thing in the morning after you go to the toilet).
  • Weigh yourself after exercise.
  • Compare the figures.
  • For every kilogram of body weight you lose, drink up to a litre and a half of fluid.

We know it’s enjoyable to reward yourself with a glass of wine or a beer following exercise but try to get some water (and electrolytes) into your system first. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics which means they remove water from your body by increasing how much urine your kidneys produce, which leads to further dehydration.

Caffeine and hydration

We often get asked about tea or coffee and if it contributes to your daily intake of two litres. Although you will be getting some fluid from the drink, the negatives outweigh the positives. Enjoy your coffee or tea (not too late in the day) but remember to add another glass of water where possible.

Top tips

  • Start your day with a glass of water no matter what.
  • Invest in a water bottle that you will look after. If you have a bottle you cherish, you’ll take it with you wherever you go and ensure it’s filled up.
  • Consider purchasing a bottle with a trackable gauge so you can see how much water you’ve consumed and by what time of the day to guarantee you’re staying hydrated.
  • The body also has its own indicators of hydration levels. Keep an eye on urine colour when you are visiting the toilet and get yourself a refill if it is any colour other than ‘pale straw’.
  • Don’t be tricked by hunger. The feeling of hunger is often our body indicating that we’re dehydrated, reach for a glass of water first.
  • Sip water between every mouthful when eating a meal. This has numerous benefits for our hydration and digestion.

 

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