In the heat of summer – especially in New York City – people tend to feel parched on a regular basis. Many question if they need to up their liquid intakes, and even whether they are in danger of true dehydration.
Every cell in your body needs water to function. When you are mildly dehydrated, your cells feel it first and may recover quickly, but prolonged dehydration over time means a less efficient metabolism. That means your body will be slower at everything it does.
When it comes to hydration, drink liquids, mostly water, not too much.
I stole that from Michael Pollan, because the phrase makes a lot of sense here, too. While it may seem easy enough, on second look the questions come barreling in. Six cups or eight? Do I need electrolytes? Does the water in soda, seltzer or beer count? What about the water in a plum?
Drink to thirst, not ahead of it.
Studies show that thirst indicates your optimal drinking rate, so drink based on how thirsty you feel. Rather than chugging a quart of water before you actually need it, take sips from a water bottle throughout the day.
6×8 or 8×8?
According to The Institute of Medicine (IOM), we should be consuming about 9-13 cups of hydrating liquids every day. If you come from a colder climate, or a dryer one, you may need to adjust that amount. And of course, your size matters, too. According to the IOM, intake should amount to about ½-1 ounce of water for every pound you weigh. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 3-8 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes for workouts longer than an hour, with added electrolytes to make up for what you’re probably sweating out.
How do I know if I’ve had enough?
The large intestine absorbs fluid at a rate of about 20 ounces per hour and the kidneys can excrete about 27. So if you are drinking more fluid than your body can use or release, you could be retaining water and disrupting your natural electrolyte balance. Drink enough so that you are rarely thirsty, and so your urine is light yellow, and you should be on track.
What else counts?
What you eat contributes up to 20% of your fluid needs, but some foods are more “watery” than others – think watermelon versus avocado. Getting hydration from any beverage made with water can also add to your daily intake, but water is by far the best choice for a no-calorie, no-additive option. And coffee lovers everywhere can rejoice, as studies have dispelled the caffeine-diuretic myth. Your cup(s) of joe can contribute as much hydration as any other fluid without causing excessive fluid loss.
What about drinking while I’m eating?
Dispersing volatile flavor compounds across our palate makes food literally taste better as we detect more of its flavors. In practical terms, it’s beneficial to sip a little with every other bite to soften the foods in your mouth for easier swallowing and easier digestion from top to bottom. Some research shows that drinking a full glass of water before a meal means you feel fuller faster and maybe eat less; it may be just a little less consumption, but may add up to a lot over 365 days of the year.
Can I overdo it?
While it’s not likely to throw your electrolyte balance off by having an extra glass or two, drinking excessively can dangerously alter sodium concentrations in your body, diluting them in too much fluid. This serious condition known as hyponatremia mainly affects athletes who over hydrate without increasing their sodium intake. For the rest of us, the extra price (and unnecessary additives) of sports drinks is a waste of money where a pinch of salt will easily do the trick instead.
Here are a few tips to keep your hydration on track:
- Try keeping a glass of water at your bedside to start off your day
- Drink a glass of water before or while you are eating each meal during the day
- Keep a glass of water at your desk while you work