Staying topped up can help you perform at your optimum, but how much is enough, and what are the drinking habits that will leave you feeling washed out instead of fresh and ready for the day?
It’s pretty much a given that we could all drink more, right? Sure, you might drink coffee like nobody’s business while you’re at your desk, but what about good old H2O? Are you really getting enough of the wet stuff? And how much actually is enough? That eight glasses your mum touted when you were a kid? Maybe. But what does actual science say? Let’s take a look…
“When we talk about hydration in terms of nutrition it's consuming enough water to meet our body's needs,” explains registered nutritionist, Daniel Clarke. Every cell in our bodies requires water to work and you might have heard that human beings – both women and men – are 60 percent water. In fact, according to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, our brain and heart are 73 percent water, our lungs are about 83 percent water, our skin 64 percent, muscles and kidneys both 79 percent and our bones 31 percent. Skip a few glasses, then, and it’s easy to see that your entire body will suffer.
“Hydration is essential in all aspects of the body such as moderating your body temperature, and keeping your joints lubricated which is important for your workouts,” explains trainer and nutritionist Farren Morgan of The Tactical Athlete.
So, how can we tell if we haven’t drank enough water, then? “When you're dehydrated the sugars, salts and water in your body diminish. Due to the lack of balance in your body fluids you'll start to experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or headaches,” explains Morgan. “Extreme dehydration can lead to a decline in your cognitive abilities due to the lack of fluids in your brain cells.”
Dehydration doesn’t sound like a party, and as Freeletics PT and nutritionist David Wiener explains, even a slight drop in fluids can cause dehydration and cognitive impairments like headaches and lack of concentration – as anyone who forgot to pace their gin and tonics with glasses of water will know the following morning. It gets worse. “Long term dehydration can lead to constipation, kidney stones, urinary tract infections and high blood pressure,” he explains.
It isn’t just a heavy night that leads to dehydration. Physiotherapist and rehabilitation specialist James Vickers explains that exercise can relieve you of up to one litre of water, so plan ahead.
Think every drink should be an isotonic and cups of tea will leave you shrivelled like a raisin? Think again.
“There’s no magic number of glasses of water everyone should drink each day,” says nutritionist Kirsten Oddy. “Eight glasses is totally arbitrary; there are a number of factors that play a role in each individual's needs: body size, exercise intensity, and age, as well as humidity and air temperature.”
Not so, says Clarke. “Although caffeine is a diuretic, it’s only mild and is far outweighed by the liquid in tea and coffee. Plenty of studies have shown that tea and coffee does not lead to excess fluid loss, including this one in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.”
“It in fact does the opposite,” explains Morgan. “Other myths are that plastic bottled water doesn't contain micro-plastics, when 93 percent in fact do. And, tap water doesn't contain any pesticides which unfortunately isn't the case even if contaminant levels are low.”
“Lemon water can be refreshing but there are plenty of unsupported health claims,” says Oddy. “Due to the acid in the lemons, it can damage tooth enamel over time. If you’re going to drink lemon water, try drinking through a straw and avoid brushing your teeth straight away afterwards.”
“There's little evidence/effect for this,” says Clarke.
“These drinks are great for endurance sports, but there's no need to have them day-to-day, particularly because they can often be high in sugar,” warns Clarke.
OK, got to grips with the ins and outs of water? Then grab that glass and let’s get hecking hydrated. Here are our expert’s top tips for a better balanced you.
“We're all different but a couple of good rules of thumb are drink regularly throughout the day and use your urine as an indicator for how hydrated you are,” advises Clarke. “You want it to be a pale straw colour.”
“An easy way to personalise your hydration needs is to drink half your weight in ounces,” advises nutritionist Kelly Conway. Take your weight in pounds then (i.e. 182 pounds) and just halve it into ounces (91 ounces = 2.7 litres of water a day).
“Find a friend with a similar hydration goal. Drop a drink off at their desk each time you think to get yourself one. Soon you’ll both be reinforcing your good hydration behaviours!” advises Owen Burton, founder of Fount Drinks.
“Water is needed to flush out our waste products, and since most of this detoxing happens overnight, we don’t want to go to bed dehydrated, as then the immune system doesn’t have enough water to carry out this vital process,” says Conway. A glass before bed might make you need a pee at 6am, but at least you won’t be suffering from sluggish bowel movements.
No one wants to use that janky old mug in the back of the work kitchen cupboard. Switch up your gear to encourage your gulps. “Get a reusable drink bottle that you love (ideally an insulated one),” says Burton. “I have one with a Sydney beach motif that is beautiful and that I take everywhere.”
“Building muscle mass is another way to stay hydrated,” says Conway. “Muscle holds on to water better than fat tissue, and so muscle can keep a store of water in reserve for when we might need it.” In other words, strength training could protect against dehydration.
Water might be best, but as long as you’re getting some pure H2O in there you do have leeway to mix it up – your tastebuds might thank you. “Coconut water has high amounts of antioxidants, nutrients, and electrolyte while chocolate milk is a go-to alternative that can provide you with fluids, electrolytes, and carbs,” advises our new best friend, Morgan. “Tea is another notable alternative for reducing muscle soreness, regaining muscle strength, and fat oxidation.”
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