Hydration: Why It’s Important and How Much Your Body Needs
Everyone is always saying “make sure you’re drinking enough water!” Why is hydration so important? How much water is enough water? Do coffee and tea count?
“Hydration is important because the body is comprised mostly of water, and the proper balance between water and electrolytes in our bodies really determines how most of our systems function, including nerves and muscles,” says Larry Kenney, PhD, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State.
Water also helps remove waste, improves metabolism, controls body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. A lack of hydration can cause you to feel, tired, weak, faint, anxious, and can also cause rapid breathing and heart rate once your hydration levels drop as little as 3-4%. Just a 2% decrease in hydration can affect athletic performance.
A commonly asked question: “What counts as hydration? Tea, coffee, soda?” “There is no truth to the idea that coffee makes you dehydrated. That is a pervasive myth,” says Kenney, who is a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). “The diuretic effect of the caffeine of soda and coffee is mild compared to the amount of fluid they contain.” You can also acquire some hydration through foods such as soups, fruits, and vegetables. While all of these things provide some sort of hydration though, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be hydrating with water also.
Time for the big question: How much water should you be drinking to maintain an appropriate level of hydration for your body’s daily functions and athletic activities? It used to commonly be said to drink eight, 8oz glasses of water per day. However, a highly active person may need more than this. The general rule of guideline as become to drink enough water to ensure you’re urinating every two hours and that the urine is lighter in color.
Athletes will need more than this. The length of the activity is a deciding factor on whether athletes should be hydrating with only water or something that contains more electrolytes such as Gatorade or Powerade. Typically water is fine, unless the activity is longer than an hour. Then an athlete might want to consider some sort of sports drink to replace lost electrolytes. Athletes should also be hydrating even if they don’t feel thirsty. Not drinking an adequate amount can lead to headaches, dizziness or nausea during physical activity.
The following chart lists recommendations from the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine’s Fluid Replacement Guidelines (1):
Is there such a thing as too much water? According to the American College of Sports Medicine; “hyponatremia is a rare occurrence, it is a dangerous condition that may arise when athletes drink too much water, diluting the body’s sodium levels. It is most often seen in prolonged endurance athletes, such as those participating in marathons and triathlons.”
Summer months are here and many of you are outside in the sun or sweating more in general from the heat. Make sure you’re staying hydrated enough to urinate a light color every two hours, especially during physical activities. Also remember, sometimes you need to “disobey” your thirst and hydrate even if you aren’t necessarily thirsty.