You probably know you need extra hydration when you’re working out. But staying hydrated is always important, whether you hit the gym regularly or not.
Proper hydration is key to avoiding potentially severe health problems. If your body loses more fluids than it takes in, the consequences can be deadly. Infants and the elderly are at the highest risk, but so are people who fail to hydrate properly before, during, and after exercise.
How much water should you drink? Are sports drinks the way to go? What is the best way to hydrate?
Here are a few tips to help you keep dehydration at bay.
1. In Order To Stay Hydrated, You Have To Drink
Whether you choose a sports drink, a protein shake, or plain water, you need to make sure your fluid intake matches your fluid loss. One rule of thumb is to drink 7-10 ounces of fluid for every 10-20 minutes you exercise.1
If you’re going through a particularly intense workout, such as running long distances or hitting the weights harder than usual, you should make sure you replace any electrolytes you lose.
Electrolytes are minerals that conduct electricity when they come into contact with water. And electricity is important to many of the bodily functions that are critical to survival. For example, electrolytes play a role in making your muscles work correctly and maintaining your blood pressure at a safe level. They also help your body rebuild tissue that may have been damaged.2
Sports drinks contain electrolytes, but water does not.3
2. Eat Some Fresh Fruit
But sports drinks aren’t the only way to replenish your supply of electrolytes. You can also eat fresh fruit.
Potassium, for example, is an electrolyte.4 And bananas are chock-full of this important mineral. Just 100 grams (about one small banana) contains 358 milligrams of potassium.5 It’s the combined fluid and electrolyte benefits that make fresh fruit one of the best ways to stay hydrated.
It’s also important to remember that you should take small sips of liquid during exercise, even if you’re not thirsty. In fact, feeling thirsty is the first sign that dehydration is occurring.6
But even if you don’t have an exercise routine, staying hydrated is always important. That’s the case whether you’re a workout warrior or just going about your regular day.
3. Listen to Your Body
The connection between your weight and your hydration is critical. If you lose too much body weight during a workout, you’re at serious risk of dehydration. Signs that you’ve dropped too many pounds include dizziness, fatigue, and muscle cramps.7 But research indicates there could also be a connection between dehydration and obesity, so if you’re carrying extra pounds, keep in mind you may be at a higher risk.8
Feeling dizzy is one of the biggest warning signs when it comes to hydration. It means you need to increase your fluid intake immediately.9 Your heart may be working too hard to supply your muscles with blood. This can cause a drop in blood pressure, which can make you feel lightheaded.
In addition to dizziness, other possible signs of dehydration include:
- Lack of urination
- Extreme thirst
- Listlessness, irritability, and a lack of tears when crying (primarily in infants and young children)
If you’re not sure your hydration level is where it needs to be, pinch the skin on the back of your hand, pulling it up a bit. If the skin doesn’t immediately snap back into place, you may be on the road to dehydration.12
Another way to know if you have a hydration problem is to check the color of your urine. If your hydration levels are normal, your urine will be a pale shade of yellow. If it’s dark yellow or amber, you could be dehydrated.13
Who’s at Risk?
You don’t have to be an athlete with a high sweat rate to be at risk of dehydration. If you live at a higher altitude or in an area that is particularly hot or humid, or if you have a chronic illness that affects your kidneys or blood sugar level, pay extra attention to your fluid intake. Infants and young children are also susceptible to hydration issues because of vomiting and diarrhea.14
If you have a young child, be alert to the signs of potential dehydration.
These include less frequent urination than normal, as well as playing less than normal. An infant or toddler with a hydration issue may have a sunken soft spot at the top of their head. In severe cases, the child might have wrinkled skin, discolored feet and hands, and may become much sleepier than normal.15 Give liquids, and get the child to the emergency room immediately if you have any reason to believe severe dehydration is occurring.
Elderly people are at risk of dehydration as well.
They may drink less water than their younger counterparts, and changes in their brains may make them feel less thirsty. In addition, many elderly people tend to urinate frequently, even when they don’t drink a lot of water. In many cases, this is due to medications such as diuretics. When this happens, they lose more fluid than they take in.16
There are several things you can do when caring for an elderly person to help them stay hydrated. For example, make sure they’re getting plenty of fluids, and eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and other foods with a high water content. If they have mobility problems, keep a bottle of water near their bed or favorite chair at all times.7
Wrapping it Up
If you don’t stay hydrated, serious health problems may result. Thankfully, though, dehydration is usually one of the easiest health problems to avoid. Use common sense when working out, and make sure infants and the elderly have plenty of fluids. And, if you have the slightest reason to believe you or someone else has a hydration problem, see a doctor.