Part 3: Dehydration
How do you know if you are dehydrated?
The easiest method to know if you're dehydrated is measuring body weight fluctuation. Our bodies can fluctuate an average of 5lbs in a single day with how much food we eat, water we drink, sweat we produce, and how many times we use the bathroom.
To calculate your most stable body weight, take a single measurement just after waking up in the morning and using the restroom. Over the course of several morning measurements, you will see a pattern of your "normal" weight. (Although the Journal of ACSM suggests you also do a urine concentration calculation to find the most accurate weight). As long as your daily weight fluctuations are less than 2% of that stable body weight, you are adequately hydrated. Anything beyond 2% is an indicator of abnormal body weight fluctuation and you should probably get that checked out by a medical professional.
My personal suggestions are:
1) watch your urine color, although there are other factors that could attribute to darker urine. Unless you eat a lot of beets or take certain medications, urine color is a very easy way to assess your hydration status. Pale yellow means you're hydrating well and dark yellow or orange means you should go take a few sips.
2) know your body's signals. I can feel my blood turn thick and I can feel the blood coursing through my veins. I get a specific type of headache that is reserved for only dehydration. Thick saliva, dry lips, the inability to focus, and hot flashes are also messages that my body sends me when I need to drink more water.
Is drinking water the only way to rehydrate?
There is a myth that drinking caffeine negates any water that has been drunk with it, but that's not necessarily true. Yes, caffeine does speed up body processes and acts as a diuretic (makes us urinate more), which is probably where the myth started. Normal daily drinks with normal amounts of caffeine do not magically cause dehydration, though. Enjoy your morning tea or coffee and remember that the fluid you drink in that morning Cup of Joe does, in fact, count toward your daily fluid intake!
Do I need to drink more electrolytes?
It depends on what physical activity you choose, really. Exercise-associated hyponatremia is the imbalance of sodium in the bloodstream that can cause some pretty serious health problems. Usually endurance activities (like running marathons) has a higher risk of hyponatremia, but you can be sure of your body's needs by calculating sweat rate.
To put it simply, you don't need to replace electrolytes in a typical day. The water we drink and the food we eat tend to balance each other well and our bodies function appropriately. If you are planning a long bike ride, a marathon run, or going into labor (yes, really!) you should probably plan an elecrolyte drink ahead of time.
How does dehydration relate to food intake?
In the previous blog article, I wrote about reading our cravings. When we start to crave certain foods, we are actually seeking the water content of those foods because we are thirsty. Certain fruits provide a high water content, for example; I typically crave oranges! If you can take a step back and take an introspective look at what you crave and why you crave it, you might be able to see a pattern. Some diet plans suggest drinking a glass of water to curb the appetite, and research has shown that it can promote weight loss. It makes sense that giving your body what it craves without added calories would help shed a few pounds.
What are your dehydration cues? What foods to you usually crave when you're thirsty? If you don't know, take a few days to get to know yourself more intimately. Pay attention to what your body is telling you!
My personal advice to you:
Grab a water bottle that you will carry around with you everywhere. It should be like your wallet, cell phone, and car keys and it should go wherever you go. When you think about the water bottle, take a sip. You might actually be thirsty without consciously thinking about it. All this talk about dehydration is making me thirsty... I'm going to go take a few sips, too.