Everything you need to know about water and dehydration

Your body comprises of around 2/3rds water, so you probably won’t be surprised to hear that consuming enough is essential for both improving and sustaining your health.

Along with eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking more seems to be one of the most regularly thrown around pieces of advice, yet the reality is research shows that only 1 in 4 people in the UK and 1 in 3 in the States are listening and drinking enough on a daily basis.

So why does it matter?

Well water plays a role in influencing everything from your energy levels to helping your heart pump blood more effectively, regulating body temperature, aiding with digestion, keeping you regular, nourishing your skin, as well as transporting nutrients and oxygen to your cells.

So as you can see, it’s pretty essential for almost every function throughout your body.

In fact, while you can survive for up to a month without food, you would only last a week without water.

Simply put, your body is unable to function optimally if it is not provided with what it needs.

What happens is the less water in your body, the thicker your blood becomes, which in turn means your heart has to work harder to pump oxygen to your brain, muscles, organs and other cells.

Every day you lose water through various processes, such as sweating, breathing, urination or excreting faeces, which is why you need to ensure you continuously supply your body with adequate amounts in order to top up what is lost and avoid dehydration.

Dehydration is simply what happens when the body loses more water than it takes in.

As this gets worse it can initially lead to feelings or thirst, being irritable or having a headache, but in time can quickly worsen to exhaustion, fatigue, being clumsy, uncoordinated and having poor motor functions.

With more extreme cases developing into vomiting, nausea, dizziness and eventually death.

Research has even found that a loss as small as 1% can have a noticeable effect on exercise performance, with 2% impairing mental performance and around 10% being potentially fatal.

So while drinking more water may not seem like much, failing to do so is having a profound impact in contributing to so many of the health epidemics we are currently facing, especially since so few people are reaching the amount required on a daily basis.

So how much do you need?

Most health authorities recommend that the average person has around 2 litres, or 8 glasses a day.

While these baseline recommendations for 2 litres a day are fine, they are very much general guidelines and therefore this amount can fluctuate heavily depending on factors such as activity levels, surrounding environmental conditions, body composition and lifestyles choices.

For instance, people involved in exercise or living in warmer climates require higher intakes, due to increased losses through sweating.

So as everyone is different, determining how much you need will very much be a case of listening to your body and seeing how it responds.

Where do you get water from?

Most people think water intake revolves purely around what they drink, but you also get a substantial amount from your diet as well, with fruits and vegetables both being excellent sources.

For instance, a medium banana contains 90ml of water!

Foods high in water can also aid in preventing overeating, making drinking enough one of the most overlooked tools in both losing and maintaining weight.

A perfect example of this is you will no doubt find you have no problem finishing a bag of cookies, where as you may struggle with the last few pieces of broccoli on your plate.

Now before you go thinking that is because cookies are delicious and broccoli is less enticing, the actual reason why is that broccoli is about 95% water, thereby filling up far more of your stomach than the crumbs of the cookies.

This in itself is a huge reason why from a health perspective you should be looking to adapt to a diet based primarily around whole foods as much as possible, all while trying to reduce your intake of highly processed or refined goods that tend to be high in calories as well.

What are the signs of dehydration?

If you’re feeling thirsty then it’s a pretty good indication that you’re already dehydrated, with another sign also being the colour of your urine.

A light yellow/straw colour indicates you’re sufficiently hydrated, whereas depending on how dark the shade is, is a sign that you need substantially more.

Any other problems?

Dehydration is an issue many people are facing on a daily basis and it has clearly been linked to overeating, weight gain and contributing to poor dietary choices.

This is because it’s easy to confuse the feelings of thirst and hunger, therefore meaning that failing to get sufficient water intake can have a huge impact on everything from your cravings, to what or how much you eat.

What can be done about it?

If you have problems with snacking or are trying to lose weight, one strategy you can use to see if you are truly hungry or just thirsty is to firstly drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes to see if the feelings have passed.

Doing so may save you a substantial amount of excess calories every day, as it may remove the desire to turn to that afternoon snack, which could have just been your body signalling it needed fluids.

It also gives you some time to fully decide if it’s what you truly want, as by removing acting on instinct or in the moment decisions aids in reducing choices made by temptation.

In fact, water is a much-underused tool in weight loss and another strategy to incorporate is to drink a glass of water about 15 minutes before every meal.

This is because your stomach measures fullness based on the volume of what you have consumed and not the calories.

Therefore, by having water beforehand you can not only partially fill your stomach, but also ensure that the hunger is genuine and not a result of dehydration.

It’s important to note that all beverages you consume count towards your daily requirements, but for health reasons it’s best to stick to plain water or teas wherever possible.

This helps to avoid the negative side effects of drinking large amounts of sugar filled beverages, such as juice or soda.

Other strategies for increasing intake

Personally, I’ve found the easiest way to keep track of water intake is to fill a water bottle in the morning, keep it with you at all times and ensure it is finished by the end of the day.

Also start your day by drinking 1-2 glasses first thing in the morning when you get up.

Not only will this help you wake up, but it will also kick start your body’s functions, as it will have become dehydrated during the night.

If you are prone to fizzy drinks or hot beverages, start small by swapping out every other drink.

If plain water is not your thing, then make it more interesting by drinking flavoured or green teas, adding some lemon, lime, orange or cucumber slices, or even some ginger, mint or a variety of other herbs and flavourings.

Whatever you do though, try to avoid cordials or anything with high amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners or any other empty calories.

Considerations for exercising

For every hour of exercise undertaken, you should be looking to add a further 1-1.5 litres of water depending on the intensity at which you performed.

With the journal Nutrition advising that for every 10 to 20 minutes of moderate exercise, an additional 200ml to 285ml should be consumed.

That’s why it’s a good idea to always keep a water bottle with you when engaging in activity so that it is on hand throughout.

Final thoughts

Drinking more water on a daily basis is a habit that pretty much everyone should be looking to get into, as it is often a highly overlooked aspect that massively contributes to your overall wellbeing.

Again this is another instance of a small action having a huge impact and is the exact reason why when trying to make positive changes it is the first place I get many people to start.

At least now you should have a better idea of how much water you should be drinking, along with some strategies you could use to increase consumption.

Do you think you’re drinking enough? Or are there any other ways you can think to help you drink more every day?

Share your thoughts and comments in the comments below.

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