Hydration, while always important, will become even more crucial as our body temperatures rise and sweat glands kick into high drive.  The most common cause of dehydration is excessive sweating, so I implore you to pay extra attention to getting enough fluids in these hotter months.

“Why is dehydration a big deal?”

Dehydration can range from mild to severe, as can the symptoms.  Even mild hydration can be pretty miserable, causing things like sleepiness, dry mouth, dry skin, constipation, dizziness and headache.  During the summer, mild dehydration can quickly turn more severe, causing blood pressure to drop and heart rate to elevate.  Untreated dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heatstroke, low blood volume, and even kidney failure and coma.

“That sounds pretty awful, and I’d like to prevent those things from happening.  So, what should I be drinking?”

Mostly WATER.

“How much should I drink?”

At least 80 fluid ounces daily, more if you are working out or sweating.

“How much more?”

That will depend on how much you are sweating.  If you only sweat for the hour you spend at the gym, an extra 8-16 ounces should be enough.  However, if you work outside, will be spending a day at the beach, or will be consuming alcohol (very dehydrating), your needs will be higher.

“What about tea, coffee, sodas, etc.?”

Caffeinated and sugary beverages actually further dehydrate you, and therefore should be limited. Unsweetened, decaffeinated beverages that are primarily water may be counted towards your total.

“What about sports drinks (like Gatorade)?  I’ve heard those are good for keeping you hydrated.”

Sports drinks are often promoted as being better than water for hydration because they contain electrolytes that water does not have.  While this is true, these drinks also contain a ton of sugar (or artificial sweeteners) and artificial colors that your body doesn’t need.  Instead, toss an electrolyte tab or concentrate (like this one) into your water and sip before/during/after your sweat session.  Or, for a natural source of electrolytes, try coconut water – just be aware that it too contains sugars and therefore shouldn’t be consumed all day long.

“Electrolytes???  What are those and why should I care about them?”

Electrolytes, namely sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc are essential for proper cell function (the little guys that keep you alive and feeling well).  When levels drop too low, you can suffer from headaches, muscle weakness or cramps, irregular or fast heartbeat, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and in severe cases, even coma, seizures and cardiac arrest.

“Why would my electrolytes levels drop too low?”

Electrolytes are present in bodily fluids, so you are most at risk of low electrolytes when you are losing a significant amount of bodily fluids in a short amount of time (prolonged vomiting, diarrhea or sweating).  In our case, rigorous exercise combined with stifling heat can cause an immense amount of sweating – and thus, electrolyte loss.

“So, tell me again what I need to do to stay hydrated?”

Drink no less than 80 ounces of water every single day.  On days when you sweat or consume alcohol, drink more and add in a (non-sugary) source of electrolytes.

Tips to help you drink more water:

  • Get a special cup or bottle
  • Carry your bottle everywhere – especially in the car
  • Start your day off with a cup of water (while your coffee is brewing, perhaps)
  • Drink through a straw
  • Set hourly reminders on your phone to drink a cup
  • Log your intake – There are tons of apps for this; if you use MyFitnessPal, there is a water tracker built in
  • Add flavor by infusing with herbs and/or fruit such as mint, cucumber, strawberries, lemons or oranges (just don’t toss in the rinds)