Drink Up! Why is Water so Important and How Much Do I Need?
After a long, cold winter it is finally getting warmer out. While we are more than excited about this, we have to remember that with changing temperature comes changing needs of the body, including hydration. As the season progresses, we need to pay extra attention to the amount of fluid we are taking in. Adequate fluid consumptions is critical all year round, but as temps increase, so does the amount of water we lose through sweat. There has been a long- standing rule that we need to consume 8 cups of water a day. Fortunately, that guideline has been overridden with more accurate guidelines. However, more accurate guidelines aren’t quite as simple as “drink 8 cups of water a day.” As with essentially everything nutrition-related, hydration guidelines are unique to the individual. Every person needs a different amount daily depending on size, activity level, sweat rate, etc. So how the heck are you supposed to know how much water your body needs? We’ll get to that. But first, why is it so important to talk about hydration in the first place?
Water is critical in practically all bodily functions and processes. After all, our bodies are made up of mostly water! In regards to athletic performance and exercise, water is necessary to lubricate the joints, pump oxygen to the muscles and heart, therefore improving strength and stamina, allow mental clarity and focus, push toxins out of the body that could delay recovery or lead to injury, and of course, regulate body temperature. Due to these critical functions of water in the body, dehydration from inadequate fluid consumption can lead to fatigue, brain fog and blurred vision, post-run headaches, dizziness, fatigue, GI upset, nausea, and cramping. You have likely either experienced at least one of these symptoms before, and can imagine how much those symptoms can impair performance and overall health.
Now that you know the dangers of dehydration, and are hopefully motivated to prevent it, here are some tips for staying hydrated:
Basic Guidelines: A good goal is to aim to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.
Urine: A more individualized indication of hydration status is to look at the color of your urine. Try to maintain a clear to pale yellow color, like lemonade. If your urine is dark or low in volume, drink up. If it’s clear and plentiful, you’re plenty hydrated.
Pay attention to your sweat: Are you sweating during a warm run? Good. If not, that likely means your fluid levels are low.
Before exercise: Never go into a workout dehydrated. If you do morning workouts, make sure to drink at least 10 ounces before you head out. If you do afternoon workouts, adequately hydrate throughout the day leading up to the run.
During exercise: Replace fluids early and often during and after exercise. Don’t wait until you are thirsty or start to experience symptoms of dehydration. There is no golden number stating how much fluid you’ll need, as every individual requires different amounts.
After exercise: Drink 16 ounces of water per pound you lost during the run. During a run or race most individuals don’t drink nearly enough water during a run or race. This results in water weight loss, which is not ideal.
Better yet, consult with a dietitian to calculate your exact sweat rate and determine your daily and during-run fluid needs!
Electrolytes are another important component of hydration. We’ll save that for another time. But for now, remember that you also lose electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) in sweat and need to replace those during and after runs as well. Electrolytes are just as important as fluid when it comes to staying properly hydrated!