Disclaimer: this article is written from personal experience, research, and knowledge acquired through trial and error. Your experience may vary when it comes to your own hydration. If you have an idea or different view on the subject, please feel free to comment below. We love a good discussion that we can learn from! Make sure you consult your health-care professional before embarking on any workout or diet modifications based on what you read in this article or anywhere else.
Water. It's essential to cell function, daily life and optimal athletic performance. In this day of society flooding us with soda, fruit drinks and sugar filled athletic drinks, it can be very hard to make the right decision when it comes to your own hydration. In this article, I'll attempt to put you on the right path to proper hydration.
So how much water do you drink every day? Do you subscribe to the old 8 glasses of water a day? According to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Physiology, the old 8 glasses of water a day is in fact, an 'old-school' thing. According to the researcher, Heinz Valtin, there is no reason a healthy adult living in a temperate climate not engaged in physical activity should consume a large amount of water. However, as someone who engages in large amounts of rigorous physical activity, not to mention my job which results in sweating buckets in my bunker-gear for even the simplest of calls, there are individuals that indeed indeed require more hydration than the average human.
High-intensity athletes should indeed subscribe to the old 8 glasses a day – and then some!
The truth is that many of us walk around around every day in a dehydrated state and we do not even know it. The adult body is made up of about 60% water, and the brain can have as much as 70%. There are three ways your body loses water: urine, feces, and insensible loses. Insensible water loss occurs in two ways: through exhalation of water vapor in the lungs and through perspiration (sweat). Consequently, we are losing water all the time. When we workout intensely or fight a fire, the loss is even greater. The body can lose 1-2 liters of fluid per hour when working intensely. Some early signs of dehydration can include:
– Dry, sticky mouth
– Feeling lethargic
– Dizziness / lightheadedness
When not addressed early on, you can reach moderate to sever dehydration. This can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life threatening condition that must be corrected immediately. Your best bet is to simply avoid this problem by staying hydrated! When at work, I go out of my way to drink a large glass of water through-out the day. If you get called out to a fire when you are already thirsty (as a firefighter I can attest to this first-hand!), This can be particularly dangerous and even work it's way into being a life-threatening mistake.
There are various ways you can calculate the amount of water you need to drink to stay hydrated if you are into high-intensity and challenging workouts. The formula I subscribe to is to drink half your body weight in ounce of water. I weigh 170lb, therefore I need to drink 85oz of water a day just to stay hydrated. Now you may be thinking "wow, that is a lot of water !!" and you're right, it is! It can be a challenge to drink this much water every day. You have to be diligent and have a plan in place. When I started seriously paying attention to my water intake, I would use a 1 liter Nalgene water bottle. 1 liter of fluid is equivalent to 33.8 ounces of water which is less than half of my required daily intake of water. A challenge I had to face was the realization that my daily water consumption worked out to roughly 2.5 of those bottles a day! This may sound trivial, but that idea alone really bothered me! To solve the issue, I found myself a 16 ounce Nalgene bottle. I find it much easier to drink the required amount of water using a smaller container. It was a mental thing for me, but that's what worked!
It's important to remember that not all the water your body requires on a daily basis has to be taken from a bottle or glass – you also get water from the food you eat. It could be easy to overdo it so pay attention to the food you eat as well through-out the day. Nearly 20% of the average adult's water intake comes from their food. For an idea of how much water you consume from your food, keep a food log (which will also help you pinpoint what your diet is like in the first place) and calculate it for a rough idea (just Google 'Food water content' for a multitude of websites that offer charts with this information).
Although I am advocating you drink more water, you need to be careful in this endeavor. I would start off slowly and monitor your progress. Just because you are peeing clear (as the old pee-myth goes) does not mean it's a good thing. Depending on your diet and your level of intense physical activity, you could be peeing out a large portion of your electrolytes. If you eat a paleo style diet, which is low in salt, you could be putting yourself in trouble (ie Hyponatremia). You may need to supplement with electrolytes or salt tablets. These will also help you retain water instead of running to the bathroom every five minutes to pee. I like to supplement with Nuun tablets as they offer the benefits of Gatorade without the excess sugar or carbs.
Whatever you decide best suites your needs, I encourage you to stay hydrated!