Good hydration is one of the most important aspects of nutrition, health and performance!
Drinking enough to keep the fluid levels in the body topped up helps all bodily functions to work normally. This blog will take a look at how much we need to drink, what kind of drinks to choose and the signs of dehydration.
Why do we need good hydration?
Water is essential for many important bodily functions to take place. Therefore good hydration is important for both good health and athletic performance. Good hydration helps:
- Our blood carries essential glucose, oxygen and nutrients to cells
- Crucial for absorption of certain nutrients
- The kidneys get rid of waste products
- Lubricate our joints
- Our digestive system function
- Keep our skin healthy
Our bodies are uniquely designed to regulate our own body temperature, particularly in hot conditions, by losing more water through the skin (sweating). The more water we lose through sweat, the more we need to replace it. So competing in a hot climate or hot gym, you will need to drink more fluids, more regularly, to replace the fluids lost through sweat.
Why do we need to stay hydrated?
You may start to notice changes in function and performance even with a small drop in hydration. Low levels of fluid in the body can cause headaches, feelings of dizziness, lethargy, poor concentration and a dry mouth. For athletes, a drop in hydration can also impact muscle fatigue and the perceived rate of exertion, impacting performance. There are more significant consequences if dehydrated over a longer period of time. Dehydration can cause constipation and can be associated with urinary tract infections and the formation of kidney stones. Staying hydrated with adequate intakes of fluid can help to address these symptoms.
How much fluid do I need to stay hydrated?
Adults need to drink around 1.5–2 litres of fluid a day. This equates to 8-10 drinks a day from a 200ml container. Children need slightly less and should aim for around 6-8 drinks a day. However, teenager’s requirements are similar to adults.
Don’t forget that fluid needs can vary depending on various factors, including:
- Level of physical activity
It is best to remember to drink regularly to keep thirst at bay.
How do I know I am hydrated enough?
Waiting for the sensation of thirst is not a good enough sign of a need to hydrate. It is likely our body is already dehydrated by the time we feel thirsty. Equally, drinking to eliminate the feeling of thirst does not necessarily fully hydrate the body either.
The best and most simple indicator of good hydration is urine colour. Pale straw coloured urine being a reliable indicator of good hydration. Dark coloured urine is a sign that the body needs more fluid. Getting into the habit of drinking regularly is a great way of keeping hydrated.
Use the chart below to monitor your hydration levels.
What drinks help to promote hydration?
The simple answer… any drink will help to promote hydration. Well, any non-alcoholic drink is probably best. Water is the most readily available and it’s free (well…from the tap it is kind of free). Other drinks count towards our total fluid intake too; milk, fruit juice, tea, coffee and soft drinks are all over 85% water and can be included in total fluid intake.
A glass of fruit juice does contribute to fluid intakes and also provides one of the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables. Don’t forget though, that a portion is 150ml and only one glass of fruit juice counts each day.
There is often confusion about coffee and tea, coffee in particular. Many people think that coffee/tea do not hydrate the body as it contains caffeine. Although caffeine is a mild diuretic, the fluid provided by a cup of coffee or tea far outweighs the mild dehydrating effect of caffeine.
Whilst most of the fluid we consume comes from drinks, fluid intake can also come from food. Many fruit and vegetables such as courgettes, cucumber, tomatoes and melon are over 90% water and can contribute to our overall hydration levels.
Athletes and hydration
Staying hydrated is even more critical for athletes, mainly because of the increased losses of fluid through sweating during games/training. It is well known that both physical and mental performance in athletes can drop if fluid levels are not sufficient.
If you are a serious athlete/baller, regular drinking should be an important part of your training. As important as your nutrition, sleep and strength training. Athletes often choose sports drinks to replace both fluid and salts lost through sweat However, most of us who enjoy occasional training and games do not need the more expensive sports drinks. Water is the best choice for most of us to keep our levels of hydration up.
Remember to take a bottle of water with you when you go for a walk, to the gym, for a run, for training or a game of basketball. In fact, keeping a bottle to hand and drinking a little every now and then is best.
Common issues with athletes and hydration
Athletes and team players regularly perform dehydrated!
There is actually quite a bit of research that suggests this is the case. It also suggests that a large portion of athletes rely on their coaches for hydration information. But how many coaches are trained in this area?
Further to this, only a small amount of players use simple measures such as weighing in and out of sessions/games. Some research suggests that athlete’s knowledge about hydration and practices for monitoring hydration levels is limited! Concluding that athletes are not drinking at a rate that relates to their individual sweat rate.
It is worth noting that each individual will have different hydration needs. This means that there is the need for coaches and players alike to pay more attention to simple measurement techniques.
Simple hydration measurement technique for athletes
A simple ‘weigh in’ and ‘weigh out’ strategy can help to personalise hydration. This is where you weigh yourself before training or game and then again after. In general, a loss of 1kg bodyweight represents approximately 1 litre (2 pints) of fluid loss. Hydrating regularly during training or game will be useful, then consume roughly 1.25-1.5 litres for every kg of body weight lost after exercise. However, probably best not to drink it too quickly as you will be regularly visiting the toilet. Start by sipping cool water after the game and increase for the few hours following.
Remember that rehydrating is an important step in recovery too.
Hydrate Before Training/Games
- Drink about 500mls of fluid 2 hours before training/game to allow time for any excess to be lost in the urine
- Then drink a further 125-250mls immediately before exercise
- Weigh yourself – this is the ‘weigh in’
Hydrating During Training/Games
- Drink small amounts regularly, aiming for 125-250mls every 10-20 minutes. You can maintain optimal performance by replacing at least 80% of sweat loss during performance.
For coaches: it is worth noting that players will rely on the coach to cue drinks breaks. Breaking up training sessions into 20 minutes chunks with the cue for a drinks break could help to keep players switched on throughout your session.
Hydrating After Training/Games
- As above, you need to consume 150% of the amount of fluid lost during exercise. For example, if you have lost 1L of fluid, you need to drink 1.5L.
- Weigh yourself after training/games – this is the ‘weigh out’. 1kg of weight loss resulting from exercise, is roughly equivalent to 1L of fluid loss.
- Then, weight loss in kilos multiplied by 1.5 to calculate the amount of fluid to consume
- This does not need to be consumed all at once, immediately after exercise. Aim for 500ml immediately after training by sipping (not downing), then consume the remainder at intervals afterwards.
The final key message on hydration
Good hydration is critical to health and keeps our bodies performing at their best. If you want to keep your body working to its optimum level, it’s advisable to keep a check on your hydration levels!
Remember, these tips and resources are for general use and are not specific advice for individuals. Always check before you follow the guidance.