When it comes to fluids, striking the perfect balance is key. Have a bit too much, or more commonly, fail to drink enough– and the effects can be pretty harsh. Water accounts for roughly 50-60% of your body weight, and it’s fundamental for maintaining the salt-fluid balance that keeps your cells and tissues healthy and happy. Basically, keeping up with your hydration is one of the keys to wellness.
Even though you may have every intention of keeping hydrated (who else is sick of the 8 glasses-a-day rule?), guzzling down fluids can feel like a chore, and honestly sometimes it’s easier said than done. We feel you! And today, our goal is to make hydration SIMPLE.
While 8 glasses of water a day is a good starting point, there is a lot that affects how hydrated you are. This includes, the weather, if you exercised, what you ate for lunch, and so much more! So how can you tell when you’re overhydrated, or not hydrated enough? And how much conscious effort does it take to strike the perfect balance?
Step 1: Know when you’re at risk
How quickly does my body lose fluid?
In 24 hours, the body loses about 2.4 liters of fluid at a comfortable, cool temp of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, performing normal activities. Under these conditions, staying hydrated may not seem like much of a challenge.
But think back to the last time you sweat it out at the gym, sat on the beach, or fought off a fever-producing illness and you’ll quickly realize that life is not always lived at 68 degrees…
Exposure to climates that are hot and dry, strenuous activity, over-use of diuretics (medication, alcohol, caffeine), high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and you guessed it…not drinking enough water are all factors that can up your risk for dehydration: a term that, simply put, means you’re losing more fluid than you’re taking in.
Actually, I drink like a camel. Can this be harmful too?
Not likely. Overhydration is a result of the body taking in more water than it eliminates. But the chances of this occurring are pretty slim. As a healthy individual, you would have to drink more than two gallons of water a day to experience water intoxication. Risk of overhydration is greatest in those with malnutrition, chronic illness (ie kidney disease), infants, the elderly, and alcoholics.
Step 2: Be aware of signs and symptoms
Checking the color of your urine regularly may seem like an odd practice, but it’s actually just good habit. When you’re dehydrated, your urine will appear concentrated (darker yellow).
Other signs and symptoms to watch out for in dehydration can include low blood pressure, dry mucous membranes and skin, elevated body temperature, and of course, thirst! Serious dehydration requires medical attention.
If your urine is colorless, you can take it as a sign to cut back on drinking fluids for a bit, perhaps until the next time you experience thirst or urinate in pale yellow color. In the event of overhydration, sodium levels may become diluted, disturbing fluid-electrolyte balance. Digestive issues, changes in behavior, seizures, brain damage, or coma can occur as a result. So if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms, make sure you seek medical attention.
The ultimate goal is to have pale yellow-colored urine.
Step 3: Be prepared.
Know what to do if it happens to you!
For infants, children, and the elderly, the risk of overhydration and dehydration may be greater and treatment methods may be different. Don’t take any risks and always check with your physician.
Step 4: THE BIG ONE — Prevention
We saved the best for last. Here are a few key tips on preventing dehydration.
- Drink enough to prevent thirst.
- Make sure you have access to fluids wherever you go. Carry them with you. Sleep with them by your bedside. Easy access inspires adequate hydration.
- Out-of-reach of a cooler or kitchen a little too often? Invest in a new water bottle. Get excited, because there are tons of awesome new bottles on the market these days. Some even have a compartment for making your water fruit infused!
- Make sure you’re well hydrated before you exercise. Keep fluids handy and drink before, during, and after your sweat session.
- Eat at least 5 servings of fruit/vegetables each day. Much of our produce is water and potassium-containing.
- Spruce up your water with lemon, lime, cucumber, or a sprig of mint or basil.
- Love a fizzy drink? Purchase carbonated water.
- Enjoy tea as part of your hydration routine.
- Other beverages to love: kombucha, and naturally flavored sparkling water.
During your next nutrition appointment, tell your dietitian what types of beverages and fluid-rich foods you’re consuming each day, as well as when and how much you’re having them. Share any signs or symptoms you may be experiencing in order to get individualized recommendations that are tailored to your needs. To book an appointment today, Call 301-474-2499 or click here.
Contributions to this blog by Adrienne Inger, RDN.
Blog reviewed and updated December 2019.
Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients. Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.