Why do I need to stay hydrated? And how?

We hear a lot in the media from health and fitness experts about the importance of staying hydrated, but not much about the ‘why’. It’s actually quite interesting stuff, and it certainly makes me keep the water intake up. So here’s a rundown on ‘why’ and some tips on staying hydrated. 

60-70% of our bodies are water. Indeed. And water is the environment in which every single chemical reaction in every single cell of our body takes place. Water also regulates our temperature, and it moves everything, from nutrients to oxygen to waste to where it’s needed. So water is critical to the efficient function of EVERYTHING the body does. And that can really impact how you feel.

The rate at which the body churns through water to do all this is about 2 litres a day at REST. Yes, while doing nowt at all. So it’s easy to see that being dehydrated means everything slows down and is less efficient - think what you feel like with a hangover. And it also explains why we’re told to drink 6-8 glasses a day. Not drinking enough means a slowing of metabolism and less energy generation, leaving muscles feeling tired. Blood pressure will drop, there’ll potentially be a lack of blood flow to the brain which equals poor concentration, tiredness and headaches. Not nice. This feeling can often make us head for the snack machine or a nap when a couple of glasses of water would sort the issue. It also keeps your digestive system working effectively, so if dehydrated, you might end up feeling a little ‘bunged up’ too.

So if we lose 2 litres while not doing much, it goes without saying that even gentle exercise will impact your hydration. Depending on intensity, an hour’s class, jog or gym session could mean 1-2 litres or more is lost.

So how do you hydrate effectively?

  1. By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. So don’t let yourself get thirsty. Have a bottle of water on your desk or in your bag, and sip during the day.
  2. If you find the idea of water alone too dull, try adding a slice of lemon or lime to jazz it up, sparkling water, some dilute squash or very dilute fruit juice.
  3. Try substituting one of your cups of tea or coffee each day with hot water and a slice of lemon, or fruit / mint teas.  
  4. Keep an eye on the colour of your wee. Pale straw is ideal. Any darker and you need to drink more.
  5. If you’re not used to drinking much and are worried about more regular trips to the loo, increase intake gradually. Just add half a litre extra per week and you’ll be there in no time. Your body adapts to the increases very quickly.
  6. Coffee, tea and some fizzy drinks are diuretics (dehydrating), and pure fruit juices are very concentrated so while nutritious, not hydrating. Smoothies are also too sugary to help you hydrate efficiently.
  7.  When you’re exercising aim to drink about 2 glasses, or 500mls of water in the couple of hours pre session. During the session take a couple of gulps only every 15 minutes.
  8. If you want to be really specific, weigh yourself before exercise, complete a session without hydration (just once!), and then weigh immediately afterwards. The loss in kilograms is equivalent to the amount of water you’ve lost, and need to replace. So 1kg weight loss = 1 litre water, and so on.

So get onto the H20 drinking people!