How to stay hydrated
According to an old Slovakian proverb, pure water is the world's first and foremost medicine. That's because water protects our brain, nervous system and other internal organs, aids digestion, fuels our muscles, lubricates our joints and even helps avoid wrinkles and ageing.
Our bodies are made up of 60-65% water so staying hydrated is vital, particularly when exercising as you can lose up to a litre of water per hour. So here's a breakdown of the importance of staying hydrated and the small changes you can make to your lifestyle to ensure you're well hydrated.
Staying well hydrated improves brain performance
Water comprises 75% of our brain so it's no wonder staying hydrated gives our brain a boost. Research has shown that drinking water regularly improved the attention in school children (Booth et al Water supplementation improves visual attention and fine motor skills in children - Education and Health).
A 2015 study at Loughborough University found that dehydration affected driving accuracy and performance. The number of incidents, such as lane drifting and late braking, were similar to those that occur when driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Plus, when our cells are dehydrated, they're unable to absorb and use glucose as efficiently for energy. So remember: having a drink can help you think.
How much fluid is enough?
It's best not to wait until you feel thirsty to have a drink as you'll most likely already be dehydrated. The current recommendations for fluid intake typically suggest six to eight glasses per day, but if you’re regularly active, then it might be good to considering drink more to suit your body’s needs.
We tend to get around 20% of our daily water requirements through eating, particularly from fruit and vegetables which have high water content, but we need to drink the final 80%. As a rule of thumb, water should be enough to replace the fluid lost during an hour's moderate workout. For more strenuous exercise lasting more than an hour, an isotonic drink solution will help replace sodium and other electrolytes to keep you hydrated.
One of the most reliable ways to check if you're dehydrated is the colour of your urine. The goal is to maintain a nice pale yellow colour throughout the day. If it’s strong in colour or smell, your body is probably starting to get dehydrated so have a glass of water and within 20-30 minutes, you'll feel the physical and mental benefits.
Beware so-called healthy drinks
Some so-called diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners, which can drive our appetite for sugary and sweet foods. One study even found that a group of females given diet lemonade instead of full sugar lemonade ended up consuming more calories.
Also be cautious of relying on seemingly healthy choices, such as juices or smoothies as the high sugar content - albeit naturally occurring - can disrupt blood sugar levels and is high in calories. Also be aware that juices and smoothies often contain less fibre than the whole fruit, for example, one small glass of orange juice contains twice the sugar and only half the fibre of a whole orange.
One great healthy alternative - that will also save you money - is to make your own isotonic sports drink. Try this recipe recommended by many sport nutritionists: Mix 250ml of ordinary squash or 200ml high juice squash (not sugar-free or low calorie) with 750-800ml of cold water. Add 1/4 level tsp salt. Enjoy!
Does booze have any real benefits?
The benefits of alcohol, especially red wine have been over-stated over the years, but it's fair to say that cutting down on alcohol will help you stop feeling tired, give you better skin, help control weight management and leave you with more money.
The potential downsides of consuming alcohol are both immediate and long-term. As a potent diuretic, alcohol increases the production of urine which can lead to dehydration. Alcohol is also high in “empty” calories which can be fattening; high in carbohydrate which disrupts blood sugar levels; lowers willpower and can drive unhealthy food choices and snacking. Longer-term high alcohol intake can affect the heart muscle so that it no longer pumps effectively; cause high blood pressure; and increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.
And yet, we don’t want to put alcohol on the guilty pleasure list so here are some top tips for minimising the risks of drinking alcohol:
- Drink a couple of glasses of water to ensure you are well hydrated before starting on the alcohol.
- Stick to less than 14 units per week spread out over at least three days. This equates to 1.5 bottle of wine or 5 pints of 5% abv lager per week. This 14-unit threshold is the same for both sexes.
- Opt for a bottle of beer rather than a pint, a small rather than large glass of wine and single measures.
- Try mixing a glass of white wine with soda water to make a longer drink.
- Alternate one soft drink (ideally a glass of water which counteracts the dehydrating effects of alcohol and is calorie free) with each alcoholic drink.
Tea and coffee: The Caffeine Conundrum
For both tea and coffee, the main constituent is water and therefore they help to keep us hydrated. Caffeine can also be an effective performance enhancer and does have some health benefits...in moderation. Too much can have diuretic effects, leading to disrupted sleep, anxiety and feeling on edge, so ideally, have a glass of water at the same time.
If you're a high tea or coffee drinker and want to reduce your intake, don’t just stop as this can cause caffeine headaches. It's best to gradually reduce your intake over a two-week period and be aware of what you're ingesting. To help, here's a guide to the caffeine content of some popular drinks:
- one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- one mug of tea: 75mg
- one can of cola: 40mg
- one can of energy drink: up to 80mg
6 quick and easy tips for staying hydrated
Now you know why it's important to stay hydrated, here's how to ensure you never go thirsty.
- Don't wait until you feel thirsty to have a drink. Invest in a decent water bottle - which is better for the environment than disposable options- so you can keep water with you at all times.
- Add natural flavour by adding fresh fruit to tap water. Try frozen slices of lemon or lime, or take your pick from melon, berries, pineapple, cucumber, fresh mint, basil or fresh ginger.
- If you're someone who forgets to drink, set an hourly alarm on your phone to remind you, plus always take a few sips after you've been to the loo.
- Drinking a large glass of water before you eat won't just keep you hydrated, but help take the edge off your appetite and reduce the chance of over-eating.
- If you're exercising, drink plenty earlier in the day. Not only will you improve your performance but you'll be optimally hydrated for your workout.
Looking for more wellbeing tips?
Check out all our tips on how to eat and sleep better, and sneak more movement in your life here.
Working in partnership with Dr. Sarah Hattam MB ChB, MRCGP, DF SRH and Concilio Health.