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Drink It In: The Importance of Hydration

Periodically returning to basics is prudent, and reviewing the importance of hydration is among the basics of working out that’s worth focusing on time and again. With summer just around the corner, now’s an especially good time to get on top of your hydration game.

What Does Hydration Do For Me?

When you properly hydrate, your cells are able to function optimally, carrying out all the complex and critical functions that cells are responsible for. Proper hydration also results in optimal blood volume, which has a direct impact on your cardiovascular system—your heart and lungs. When your system is deprived of this necessary lubrication, malfunction ensues, and it can set in rather quickly.

Aside from thirst, a key piece of feedback you’ll begin to feel when dehydration sets in is fatigue; you’ll start to lose the pep in your step. If dehydration worsens, you may also experience lightheadedness, brain fogginess and an inability to concentrate well, moodiness and irritability, as well as headaches. Another sign of dehydration is infrequent urination.

For athletes, dehydration can slow you down in more ways than just causing fatigue. Because hydration also plays a key role in electrolyte regulation, dehydration can contribute to poor muscle performance and cramping. And hydration plays a key role in digestion; for endurance athletes especially, the ability or inability to consume calories well will play a big part in training and performance.

Something you may notice about many of the signs and symptoms above that they could be caused by any number of issues; it’s not obvious, for instance, that your inability to concentrate is because of dehydration or a result of a poor night’s sleep or stress, or even a result of multiple factors. Whatever the case, tending to good hydration will, in the very least, knock this out as a reason for what ails you.

A skill that comes in handy with potentially unclear situations like this is the ability to listen to your body. Part of that is paying attention to how you feel under various circumstances. For instance, if you’re someone who rarely experiences headaches and you’ve just been out hiking in the heat for a few hours with perhaps not enough water on hand, chances are that the headache that just came on is due to dehydration.

How to Stay Properly Hydrated

The body is continually in flux, and hydration is one of the more dynamic factors in maintaining immediate and ongoing wellness: it’s an ongoing task to address. An easy first step to staying hydrated is to drink enough water. Also, refrain from or adjust to circumstances that contribute to dehydration. For healthy, active adults, a key factor that contributes to dehydration is exercise and sweating. The latter of course is a key part of temperature regulation so becomes all that much more critical when the temperatures rise.

A general rule of thumb for adults is to consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. And it’s a good enough general guideline. But like so many recommendations, there’s no single answer for everyone. For instance, if you are working out a lot and consequently sweating a lot, your intake of water as well as electrolytes should increase to compensate.

Another age-old guideline that remains true is to drink before you’re thirty. In fact, waiting for thirst is an indicator that you’re already behind: “Essentially, thirst is a symptom of dehydration,” writes Brianna Steinhilber in the article “What You Should Know About Drinking Water (But Probably Don’t).” Steinhilber goes on to quote scientist and researcher Lawrence E. Armstrong, who says: “Our thirst sensation doesn’t really appear until we are 1 [percent] or 2 percent dehydrated. By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform.”

Sipping water frequently throughout the day and during long bouts of activity can be a great strategy for staying on top of hydration. This is especially the case on days when you’re putting high demands on your body.

What About Electrolytes?

We’ve all heard about the importance of electrolytes: they’re minerals that help your system absorb the fluids you’re consuming. That is, if your electrolyte levels are too low, your body is unable to utilize the water you’re consuming. While there are several minerals involved in this process, sodium is the one that gets depleted the quickest.

But how do you know if you need an electrolyte replacement and not just water alone to remain hydrated? Key ways that you lose electrolytes are through sweating, as well as diarrhea and vomiting. If you’ll be working out for long periods of time–roughly more than 45 minutes–especially where it’s warm and humid, incorporating an electrolyte replacement into your regime is important.

The type and amount of electrolyte replacement you need is dependent on a wide variety of personal circumstances–general state of health, body chemistry, temperature sensitivity, among others–as well as a variety of external circumstances–weather being key among them, as well as duration and intensity of your activity. And, every product is different. As such, exact recommendations vary from person to person, day to day, workout to workout, product to product.

While there are guidelines, thoughtfully testing products yourself is a good place to start. Try a variety of options to find what works best for you. Start by following the product recommendations and adjust as needed. Some people have more sensitive systems or they just don’t respond well to products that may work for others. A bit of self-testing will help you figure out what works for you.

Notice How You Feel

The everyday reality of hydration is that there’s no perfect answer to how much and how often to hydrate. It’s a part of healthcare to stay mindful of and address on an ongoing basis.

Stay in the habit of tending to water and electrolyte intake and take note of how you feel. You are always your own best judge of the wellness regime that works best for you.

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