Don’t rely on your thirst to tell you when you need water.
You’ve just completed your morning workout, your workout clothes are drenched as if you’d just jumped into the neighbor’s pool fully clothed (you were tempted, but ...). You hop in the shower, get dressed, and head off for work, where you grab a bagel and coffee.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The first thing you should have done — well, maybe the second thing, after peeling off your workout clothes — is drink a glass of water. Whether you were thirsty or not, you certainly needed it. Thirst isn’t the only way to tell whether or not you need water.
There are plenty of other clues: sweaty clothes, high humidity, even fatigue. Water is one of the most important nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, vibrant and energetic, especially in the heat of the summer. It regulates body temperature, transports nutrients and oxygen, and helps cushion your body from injury, among other things.
Every day you lose an average of 10 to 12 cups of water — you need to make sure to replace it to maintain your body’s fluid balance. If you don’t, you could develop symptoms of mild dehydration, such as loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness and fatigue.
Why do we need pure water?
Your body is made up mostly of water. In fact, water makes up 75 to 85 percent of your cells. And the reason you thirst for water on a regular, perhaps even hourly basis is due to three main benefits your body receives from water:
Cohesion/Flexibility: Water creates internal cohesion for your body, giving your cells and organs the flexibility to be stretched and even strained within certain limits without rupturing or tearing. Every time you move, reach for something or stand up, water is helping to protect your organs from being torn in the process.
Temperature/Comfort: Water helps your body stabilize temperature and acclimate to temperature changes. Without sufficient water, the human body can undergo fatal overheating or cooling very quickly.
Solvency/Nutrition and Detoxification: Water also provides natural solvent properties, supporting the body in the great task of breaking down substances for use or disposal.
Think of all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients flowing through your organs and into your extremities that allow you to function normally, as well as the detoxification your body carries out through the release of sweat, urine and other means. Without water, these processes would cease to function.
Though the body can live for long periods — even a month or more — without food, it will die within a few days without water. It doesn’t take a nutrition specialist to see that the quality of the water we drink is vital to our well-being.
How the Body Uses Water
Digestion — Component of gastric juices, pancreatic fluids and saliva; transport of nutrients through digestive tract; dissolving nutrients Transport of nutrients and waste products in the blood and lymphatic fluids.
Absorption — Transport of nutrients into cells for utilization.
Elimination — Dissolving waste products of cells; transport of waste out of the body through kidneys, intestines.
Temperature — Component of sweat to help the body maintain a constant temperature.
As crucial as water is to good health and well-being, most people don’t drink enough. Which leads us to these tips for stepping up your consumption, from IDEA, an organization of more than 23,000 health and fitness professionals.
- Eight isn’t always enough. Eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily is the standard recommendation. But for a more precise estimate of how much water you need daily, divide your weight in half. That number in ounces is your recommended daily water intake.
- Drink more if you exercise. In addition to your recommended water intake, replace water at a faster rate if you work out. According to the American Dietetic Association, you need two cups of fluids two hours before exercise, followed by another two cups approximately 15 to 20 minutes before endurance exercise. During exercise, drink every 15 to 20 minutes. You may want to switch to a sports drink if your exercise session lasts one hour or more.
- Drink before you get the signal. Many experts believe that thirst indicates you’re already slightly dehydrated.
- Have a plan. Try setting your own quota — drinking one glass when you wake up in the morning and another just before you go to bed, for instance — to ensure you get the minimum. Keep water bottles and pitchers near you as a reminder, and take frequent water breaks during the day.
- Enlist help. Water is the best way to stay hydrated, but other beverages such as milk and juices can also help you meet your hydration needs. If you’re truly concerned about your fluid intake, avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverage; they increase fluid loss.
Notice I didn’t say drink sugary sports drinks — opt instead for pure water to hydrate the body. If you need a little something to make your water more exciting drop a few slices of lemon or lime or even a handful of frozen berries and fruit into your next glass of water and let me know how refreshing it was.
Julie A. Wilczynski is a traditional naturopath, counselor of natural health, certified nutritional consultant, certified personal trainer and yoga and pilates instructor from Butler, Pa. For more information or for help in creating your own personalized healthy lifestyle program contact Julie at JulieAW@zoominternet.net.