Considering that we literally cannot live without it, and the fact that we are 60% made of it, it is surprising that we are still assuming the “eight glasses a day” rule when it comes to drinking water. You would imagine that studies would have come out to contest this, or breakthroughs suggesting we need to do something differently, but nothing stands out. We are all aware that dehydration is extremely detrimental to our health, so is the eight glass rule per day 100% accurate and valid for all sizes and shapes of humans? How big are these glasses anyway? Do other liquids or juices count towards our quota? I went on the hunt for some more in-depth information about how much of this essential life source we actually should be consuming every day and why.
As well as being one of the main ingredients of humankind’s existence, water helps us regulate our internal temperature, transports nutrients throughout our bodies, flushes waste, forms saliva, lubricates joints and even serves as a protective shock absorber for vital organs and growing foetuses, so I would say it is pretty important to have the correct amount in our systems!
The following three international organisations have published studies that show the recommended eight glasses (if they were 8oz) is actually an insufficient daily intake for an average adult: The Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science, USA; the European Food Safety Authority (28 member countries); and the National Health & Medical Research Council of Australia published the following results when studying water intake:
These are recommended guidelines for water intake, however they do not take into account exercise, environmental factors and other external influences over our hydration. If you went for a four mile run you would need to replace the water, salts and minerals lost, if you have a salty meal you would need to replenish more so than usual, if you live in a hot, dry country you would need to up your water levels more so than someone living in cooler climes, if you happen to be at high altitude you would also need a higher daily intake. Also, we absorb water by other means such as raw fruits and vegetables, and other water-based beverages, so how can we tell if we are properly hydrated?
A general and obvious check would be to gauge your thirst! Sometimes we don’t even realise we are thirsty until we drink a glass of water, then you notice the thirst kick in. If you do start to feel it, you’re already 1-2% dehydrated. So a good idea would be to prevent thirst from being an issue and regularly drink water and fluids throughout the day.
If you find thirst hard to gauge, or forget to notice (as I do), checking the colour of your urine helps to determine your hydration level. Your body releases water when it is sufficiently hydrated and so if your urine is lacking in dilution it will be a strong, dark yellow – this is NOT a healthy colour. From clear to pale yellow (straw colour) depicts a healthy hydration. Completely clear urine on a regular basis probably indicates you drink too much water. If you’re really unsure or want to investigate further there are charts you can utilise to compare colour.
A third way to measure your hydration is by body weight; if you take your baseline body weight and following this weigh yourself each morning, if your weight changes – when nothing else has – this could be due to lack of water. One litre is approximately one kilogram. So if you are noticeably one kilo lighter you may need to stock up on some H2O!
Be careful not to overdo the water drinking as over-hydrating is a thing and can be serious. Basically, if you over-dilute yourself you cause an imbalance in the delicate balance within the body.
We can identify dehydration by thirst, urine colour and weight loss but if we have gone over the 2% mark it becomes evident in negative physical reactions; recent research indicates that men and women experience negative effects on cognitive performance during mild dehydration, in areas like problem-solving, vigilance, mood, headache, and increased task difficulty. Exercise performance is reduced, beginning at approximately 1.5% dehydration, and degrades with increasing dehydration up to a 4% loss of body weight and beyond. This includes muscular endurance, strength, and power. There are also studies regarding long-term dehydration which point towards an increased risk of developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Other published studies have demonstrated that low daily water consumption is a risk factor for urinary tract infection, kidney stones and chronic kidney disease.
So we know we need to hydrate, but does it always have to be with plain old water? Interestingly, following a study made in the UK, results showed that milk and orange juice were superior for rehydration than water due to their high macronutrient and electrolyte content. Also, lager (beer), coffee, hot tea, cold tea, cola, and diet cola were of equivalent effectiveness to water.
However, for general daily hydration purposes (not post-exercise or heat induced rehydration) these are not always considered the healthier option and water prevails as the ultimate source. That is, don’t always replace water with diet coke, but having a soda when you’re thirsty now and again will work to hydrate you.
The bottom line when it comes to adequate hydration is once again to tune in and listen to your own body’s needs. It is a requirement strongly affected by many variables (age, weight, environment, heat, exercise) so consider your own unique balance and respect your body’s needs by paying close attention to them. Drink when you’re thirsty, drink more when you sweat; hear yourself and don’t over-dilute!
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