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Hydration: It's More Than Just Drinking Water

"Drink your water". We've all heard it once or perhaps a thousand times. My mom used it as a reason for everything (and still does): a bad hair day, headache, breakouts, and fatigue.

Whatever the problem, she had the same answer for everything. I simply did not drink enough water. Do you know somebody who is always giving you the same solution to what seems to be every problem? Funnily enough, they probably weren't too far off with their hydration advice.

The Importance of Staying Hydrated

Considering that the adult body contains nearly 60% water, staying hydrated is more than important. It's essential to life. But since our bodies don't feel like water balloons, where exactly does all this water go? Water is found in these parts of the body, according to studies:

• Brain, 73%

• Kidneys, 79%

• Heart, 73%

• Lung, 83%

• Muscles, 79%

• Liver, 70%

• Skin, 64%

• Blood, 90%

• Bones, 31%

Suddenly, when explained this way, that glass of water really does seem like an essential nutrient vital to life—because it is. When we don't stay hydrated, we do more to our bodies than just get thirsty. We rob it of being able to perform its necessary functions.

How Water Helps the Body

Apart from facilitating organ function and other critical activities, water assists your body in regulating its temperature, protecting your spinal cord and other delicate tissues, lubricating joints, and eliminating wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements. Water also helps transport nutrients and oxygen to cells and break down minerals and nutrients to make them available to the body.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Even in mild situations, dehydration can induce a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, dry mouth and lips, dark urine, fatigue, and sleeping difficulties. These symptoms are your body's way of communicating that it may be dehydrated, and you must take action to rehydrate. If these warning signs are ignored, and dehydration progresses, the effects become increasingly severe. Dizziness, confusion, fainting, muscle cramps, and a rapid heartbeat may develop in more severe conditions. Dehydration, if left untreated, can result in death.

Each day, you lose water through breathing, perspiring, and elimination. To maintain appropriate body function, you must replace your body's water supply by consuming beverages and fluid-rich foods containing water. Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in water and are some of the most hydrating foods on the planet—yet another incentive to increase the number of plants in your diet.

How Much Water a Day?

The good rule of thumb (and repeated advice) has been to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, comparable to half a gallon. Perhaps the 8x8 a day rule is easy to remember, and it's a good goal for most people.

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is approximately 125 ounces of fluids a day for men and about 91 ounces of fluids a day for women.

Did you spot the difference there?

There isn't a recommendation for glasses of water per day. They recommend a daily total fluid intake that meets the anticipated needs of healthy, sedentary people in temperate climates. And it's a lot more than the 8x8 (64 ounces) suggestion.

Just as each body is unique, so are each person's hydration needs. Apart from drinking water, hydration requirements can be met by a variety of other sources (remember those fruits and vegetables). And the vast majority of healthy people adequately achieve their daily hydration requirements simply by paying attention to their thirst.

How To Calculate Your Intake Based on Level of Activity

The U.S. National Academies recommended a daily total fluid intake for healthy, sedentary people in temperate climates but advised that these recommendations may fluctuate based on various conditions. Several reasons, such as hotter weather, increased physical activity, or experiencing fever, diarrhea, or vomiting, may require you to adjust your overall fluid consumption.

The hydration goal during exercise is to replace any lost fluids. However, it's challenging to know what this means in volume since there is no single recommendation.

Hydration guidance varies significantly depending on physical activity, intensity, and temperature. Given that no single guideline will work for every person and every workout, we'll need to consider some basic details. From there, you can determine the best hydration plan for you.

So What's the Baseline?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) suggests following a hydration protocol when exercising. This protocol considers intensity, duration, breaks, and sweat rates to maintain adequate hydration.

ACE recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of fluid two to three hours before exercising and consuming an additional 8 ounces of fluid 20 to 30 minutes before starting your workout. That brings us to 25 to 28 ounces of water before exercising.

To keep the math simple, let's say we're working out for one hour.

The next recommendation is to drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise. That means the range is anywhere from 21 to 60 ounces during your one-hour workout.

Finally, you should consume an additional 8 ounces of fluid 30 minutes after exercise. ACE also recommends drinking 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise. The only way to figure that out is to weigh yourself before and after a workout.

Overall, even without knowing the exact weight lost during activity, it appears clear that optimal hydration may require greater volume than previously thought. Without considering weight loss, we can estimate that our baseline is between 54 and 96 ounces of water before, during, and after exercise.

How Water Interacts With the Body

You need water to survive. Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body depends on water. However, all the credit cannot go to water alone. The body assists in the process, and other minerals, such as electrolytes, help maintain balance.

Electrolytes (sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium) are electrically charged minerals consumed through food and drink. They are present in the blood, urine, tissues, and other bodily fluids. Electrolytes help balance your body's water and pH levels, move nutrients into and waste out of your cells, and keep your nerves, muscles, heart, and brain functioning properly.

We've all heard that it's essential to stay hydrated for good health. However, it is not only the amount of water you drink that is important. It's also the balance of electrolytes in your body. When it comes to hydration, electrolytes are essential in balancing the amount of water inside and outside of your body's cells.

After You Drink Water, What Happens?

Much like everything in the body, hydration has a process. Water and other fluids follow the same journey as solid foods, but the process involves absorption rather than digestion.

After drinking water, it enters your stomach and begins to interact with the other stomach contents. This mixing helps break down the food so that your body can absorb the nutrients more efficiently. Water also helps lubricate the food to move more easily through the digestive system.

Once the food reaches the small intestine, most water is absorbed into the bloodstream and all cells of the body. The remaining water is excreted through urine, stool, saliva, perspiration, tears, and other bodily fluids.

The Hydration Takeaway

Hydration is essential and is key to optimal health. In order to stay healthy and productive, it's important to drink enough water each day. Although not medically reviewed, a survey found that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Dehydration can cause several adverse side effects, including decreased cognitive function, lower energy levels, and problems with concentration and focus. Could up to 75% of us have a lack of focus and energy due to inadequate hydration?

With that said, do you believe you're one of the 75% or 25%? How do you make sure you're drinking enough water every day, especially if you're on the road or working long hours? What are your body's warning signs that it's not adequately hydrated?


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