Kelly Anne Hyndman, a kidney function researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will tell you that staying hydrated is definitely important, but the idea that the simple act of drinking more water will make people healthier isn’t true. Nor is it correct that most people are walking around chronically dehydrated or that we should be drinking water all day long.
We’ve probably all heard that eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day is the magic number for everyone, but that notion is a myth according to Tamara Hew-Butler, an exercise and sports scientist at Wayne State University. If you are reading this on my website, then you’ve undoubtedly heard me say that there is never “one size fits all” for anything. Water consumption is no different. Unique factors like body size, outdoor temperature and how hard you’re breathing, and sweating will determine how much water you need.
A 200-pound person who just ran 6 miles of trails in the heat (like I did as part of a Ragnar relay race this past weekend), will obviously need to drink more water than a 120-pound person who spent the day in a temperature-controlled building.
The amount of water you need in a day will also depend on your health. Someone with a medical condition like heart failure or kidney stones may require a different amount. Or you may need to alter your intake if you’ve been ill, with vomiting or diarrhea.
For most people, the best way to stay hydrated is simply to drink when you’re thirsty. This goes for anyone that is healthy. This method should be used at all times. While exercising and while sitting at a desk. The term “Drink to Thirst” is one that I heard over 10 years ago from Tim Noakes and is a motto I repeat to myself often. A study in 2018 confirmed that “it would appear that conditions exist where ad libitum/drink to thirst fluid intake will be sufficient to meet needs.”
And despite popular belief, don’t rely on urine color to accurately indicate your hydration status. While it’s possible that dark yellow or amber urine could mean that you’re dehydrated, there’s no solid science to suggest that the color, alone, should prompt a drink.
While most people have never tried to rely on listening to their body when it comes to thirst, it’s a good idea to start. The notion that staying hydrated requires complex calculations and instantaneous adjusting to avoid dire health consequences is just bunk, the experts said. And one of the best things you can do is to stop overthinking it. Getting in tune with your body has many benefits and paying attention to how thirsty you are is a good way to start this practice.
What about electrolytes?
Gatorade and Powerade might have you thinking you need to constantly be replenishing electrolytes to keep their levels in check, but there’s no scientific reason for most healthy people to drink beverages with electrolytes according to Dr. Hew-Butler.
Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium are electrically charged minerals that are present in the body’s fluids (like the blood and urine) and are important for balancing the water in your body. They’re also essential for proper functioning of the nerves, muscles, brain and heart.
Most people get enough electrolytes to sustain bodily functions from food. So unless you are exercising and sweating excessively, don’t even worry about electrolytes.
If you are exercising and are losing electrolytes, look for non-sports drink options. Sports drinks do contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium which are lost through sweat, but they are often higher in sugar and calories than soda! Healthier alternatives like infused water combinations, watermelon juice, and coconut water are options that I have successfully used before. Just look for added sugars on the label.
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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,