Proper hydration helps avoid health woes

By Natalie Trudeau

Do you sometimes forget to drink water during the day? If so, you are not alone. Our busy days are filled with meetings and deadlines that make it easy to forget to drink enough. So how much water do we really need to stay hydrated?

The amount of fluid you need depends on your age, gender and how active you are. As a general rule, adult men require three litres (12 cups), and adult women require 2.2 L (nine cups) of fluids per day to stay hydrated. You will likely need to drink more in hot temperatures and with increased physical activity to replace fluids lost through sweating. When you are sick, have diarrhea or are vomiting, you will also need to increase your fluid intake to prevent dehydration.

The elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding women are more prone to dehydration. Constipation is common in pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women should aim for 2.3 L (9 1/2 cups) of fluids daily. If you are lactating, aim for 3.1 L (12 1/2 cups) of fluids daily to help maintain your milk supply.

This may seem like a large amount of fluid to drink in a day, but don’t forget water is found in beverages and foods such as vegetables and fruit, not just drinking water. Fluid choices include water, milk, juice, broths and soups, coffee and tea. So while you may need 12 cups of water, it does not mean you need to literally chug down a dozen glasses of pure water.

In the past, caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea were not counted as a fluid choice because we thought they dehydrated us. We now know this is not the case. For the general population, Health Canada recommends daily caffeine intake should be limited to 400 milligrams or less, the equivalent of about three eight-ounce cups of regular coffee. Limit specialty coffees and teas, as these are often loaded with sugar.

Since most of us aren’t keeping tabs on how many cups of fluids we are drinking in a day, another way to check our hydration status is by looking at our urine colour. The more fluids we drink, the more diluted the urine gets, the clearer it looks. Pale yellow and clear urine mean you are well-hydrated. Dark yellow and smelly urine could mean you are not getting enough to drink. However, some foods and medications can affect urine colour. Rhubarb, beets and blackberries have been known to turn urine colour to red or pink.

Why is water so important? Approximately 60 per cent of an adult body is made of water. Water is essential as it helps transport nutrients across the body and it removes waste. The benefits of keeping your body hydrated and eating a balanced diet far outweigh the short-lived benefits promised by any detox diet or “cleanse.” Trust your body; it knows what it’s doing.

Proper hydration is also important to help control your body temperature — it cushions your organs and your joints, and it helps with digestion. If you are increasing your fibre intake, make sure you are doing this gradually and are drinking plenty of water to prevent constipation.

Signs of dehydration include dizziness, dry lips and mouth, low blood pressure and increased heart rate. If you are feeling thirsty, chances are you are already dehydrated. Prolonged dehydration can also increase your chances of getting kidney stones. Have you ever suffered the effects of the midday slump such as headache, irritability and lack of energy? These are all signs of dehydration.

It is important to stay hydrated before, during and after exercise as it only takes two per cent dehydration to impair athletic performance. Avoid energy drinks during exercise as these are very high in caffeine and sugar and can cause stomach upset. Fruit juice and pop should also be avoided during exercise because the high sugar content actually pulls water into the digestive tract to dilute the sugar, which makes these beverages less effective for hydration.

Plain water is usually sufficient post-exercise. Sports drinks are only needed to replenish fluids and electrolytes if the activity is intense, lasts longer than an hour, if you have a high sweat rate (1L/h or more) or if the weather is hot and humid.
Here are some tips to stay hydrated:

  • Start your day with a calorie-free glass of water.
  • Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day and include a healthy beverage at every meal such as water, milk or alternative.
  • When water gets boring, add a slice of lemon, lime, cucumber or even frozen berries.

Don’t ignore your thirst! Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Natalie Trudeau is a registered dietitian with Centre de santé Saint-Boniface.
This article was first published in the Winnipeg Free Press in October 2015. Centre de santé Saint-Boniface gratefully acknowledges permission to publish it.

Back to top