Water is crucial to your health. It makes up, on average, 60 percent of your body weight and every part of you—from your muscles and organs, to your digestive tract, to the part of the body that regulates temperature—depends on water to function properly. Lack of water can lead to dehydration, and even mild dehydration can leave you feeling drained, and unable to perform effectively.
Whether it is noticeable or not, every day you lose water by sweating, exhaling, and urinating. Since our body is not designed to store water, if it does not have enough, it conserves and recycles what it does have. This ultimately circulates waste back into your system.
Thirst is the first sign of dehydration, which occurs at just one percent of your fluid loss. At one percent fluid loss, your heart has to beat 3-5 additional beats per minute to pump your blood as efficiently as if you were hydrated. At two percent water loss, you are clinically dehydrated. At 3 percent fluid loss you will suffer impaired aerobic performance.
Countless studies have been conducted about how much water should be consumed daily and unfortunately these studies have produced varying results. Everyone’s needs are different based on several factors including how much you exercise and how active you are, the environment you live in, and whether you have illnesses or other health conditions. The most widely recognized and known guidelines for hydration is the recommendation for eight 8-ounce glasses per day (about 1.9 liters). The Institute of Medicine recommends men consume 3 liters (about 12.5 cups) and women consume 2.2 liters (about 9.3 cups).
Signs of Dehydration
Thirst This may be the most common symptom, but we often ignore our thirst. If you are thirsty you have already lost one percent of your body’s water.
Headache While dehydration is not the only cause of headaches, it is a common cause. A dull aching headache is often one of the first signs of dehydration.
Lack of Focus The brain is made up primarily of water, so staying hydrated helps it function at its peak. If you begin to feel fuzzy-headed or can’t concentrate, whether on or off the court, you may be dehydrated.
Dry Skin Water helps replenish skin tissue, increases elasticity in your skin, and keeps you moisturized. Dehydration isn’t the only cause of dry skin, but staying hydrated will aid in keeping your skin looking healthy.
Carb Cravings and the Munchies Thirst often disguises itself as hunger, so when we are dehydrated we often reach for carbohydrate-rich snacks. While carbs are an essential part of our diet, any extra snacking can lead to excess calorie consumption. The next time you reach for chips or candy, think back to the last time you had a glass of water.
Fatigue When our bodies are dehydrated, our systems need to work harder to rid themselves of waste, and when our systems are exhausted, so are we. General fatigue and sluggishness are early symptoms of dehydration.
In addition to these signs, if you rarely feel thirsty, urinate about every three hours, and produce colorless or near colorless urine, your fluid intake is probably adequate. It is important to remember that not all of your fluid intake is necessarily from water. Approximately 20 percent of your fluids are taken in through the food you eat. Also, other fluids, such as milk or juice, contain water as well. Incorporating fruits and veggies as part of your meal plan will help you get adequate vitamins and minerals as well as water from your foods.
How to Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day
Hydrating Around your Workout
Originally published in September/October 2011