If adequate fluid isn’t taken in, dehydration can happen and will happen. These are the dehydration symptoms to look out for:
- General discomfort and complaints
- Flushed skin
- Decreased performance
Why stopping dehydration is so important:
Water is the essential solvent for your bodies biochemical reactions, and with less of this, your body simply will not function as well. It makes up a huge 63% of our whole body mass (we are basically a big mess of water balloons!) and more importantly at least 80% of our muscles , kidneys and lungs are made up of water – So water is a big part of us. And we don’t just lose water through sweating either; our body is always losing water through our skin, lungs and kidneys, through sweating, urinating and respiration mainly – so this shows that it isn’t only when we are exercising that we need to optimize hydration. So not only do we lose water throughout the day but when we are exercising, doing physical work or it is a really hot day, we need to be drinking 2-6 times more water to maintain good hydration and keep our cells happy.(4,5)
It’s not just how much we are drinking – it’s how we are drinking.
Staying hydrated doesn’t mean drinking a couple of liters at the end of the day or after exercise all in one go. The water ideally needs to be consumed in parts – like breaking two liters into four 500ml drinks half and hour apart.
How to monitor dehydration
Even a loss of 2% of body mass can decrease exercise performance, brain function and alertness (1,2), so it is in your best interest to monitor your bodies hydration levels and learn to know how much water intake is right for you.
There are quite a few ways to monitor your hydration but it is important that we can do ones that are easy and inexpensive (unless you are a professional athlete – then you can put some more time and money into it). The two most practical ways to monitor hydration are as follows:
1. Measure your weight loss over an exercise session
Whether this be a sport, running or a busy period of work. Measuring body mass change is a commonly used and safe way to keep an eye on your hydration but is only really useful over a period of 1-4 hours with or without exercise. Weigh yourself before and after your session and calculate the difference – you should aim to keep the change less than 1% loss of body weight.
2. Check your urine color
This is a very easy way to determine how well hydrated you are. All you need to do is check the color of your urine when you go to the bathroom and aim to keep it a very pale yellow (#1 in the chart). If you keep your urine at number 1, then you will generally be within 1% of your baseline body-mass (well hydrated).
This is something that is great to be checked first thing in the morning to know where your hydration is at and start getting it on track.
Combining these two measures is a great one to become more in tune with your bodies hydration needs, which will ultimately mean you perform better and feel better.
So how much should you drink:
Over a normal day, where you aren’t exerting yourself physically (sweating a lot) then this is roughly how much you should aim for:
Women: 2.3 Liters per day
Men: 3 Liters per day
Note: This is not all at once!
If you are exercising then you need to drink quite a lot more:
Before exercise: To make sure you are well hydrated when it comes to exercise, you need to prepare by drinking 500-600ml 2-3 hours before exercise and then 200-300ml 10-20 minutes before exercise.
During exercise: Regularly drinking water or sports drink is key. Ideally, you need to be drinking 200ml every 15-20 minutes (this doesn’t need to be all at once!).
Following exercise: After activity you should aim to re-hydrate within two hours of finishing. Re-hydration should include water for hydration, carbohydrates for your glycogen stores and electrolytes for salt loss when sweating (this also speeds up re-hydration). The amount you need to replenish following exercise varies but you should aim to take in 150% of body weight that you have lost. For example if you have lost 1 kg then you should drink 1.5L of fluid – ideally this should be spaced over two hours.6
Note: Specific individual recommendations are calculated based on sweat rates, sport dynamics, and personal tolerance. It is important to listen to your body as everyone is different and has slightly different needs. Try keeping an eye on the measures talked about here (urine color and body weight loss) and learn what your body needs. It is also very important to not drink too much, too fast.
Lastly, the National Athletics Trainers’ Association has this to say notes that dehydration can compromise athletic performance and increase the risk of exertional heat injury and that in general athletes do not voluntarily drink enough water to prevent dehydration during physical activity.
You need to take it upon yourself to get this right – it makes a big difference to your body.