Five of the Best Ways to Hydrate

Approximately 75 percent of people in the United States experience chronic dehydration, which is characterized by taking in less fluid than you lose over an extended period of time. There are many reasons why dehydration can occur, but in addition to not drinking enough fluids, electrolyte imbalances are another common cause. Although dehydration might not seem like a huge problem, it can cause serious health consequences over time, including permanent damage, and it can even be severe. The best way to avoid these consequences is to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration in the first place. Five of the best ways to hydrate include naturally occurring beverages, water-rich foods, and electrolyte supplements.  

Signs of Dehydration

Staying hydrated is critical to feeling your best, maintaining healthy body function, and avoiding dehydration. Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the body lacks sufficient fluids to perform essential functions and tasks, and there are many reasons why dehydration can occur. Some people experience dehydration as a result of an electrolyte imbalance, while others do not ingest enough fluid through foods and drinks throughout the day to counteract the fluids they lose. The body loses fluid through sweat, urine, vomit, and diarrhea, and when people take in less fluid than they lose, dehydration occurs. Another common cause of dehydration is electrolyte imbalance. The body requires electrolytes, which are positively or negatively charged mineral ions, to maintain the balance of fluids in the body. The seven electrolytes found in the human body include sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, bicarbonate, and calcium. Electrolytes perform hundreds of essential functions in the body, but they play the biggest role in maintaining the proper balance of fluids in the body in order to prevent dehydration. The groups of people most commonly affected by dehydration include senior citizens and very young children, who are less likely to receive adequate amounts of fluids and electrolytes and often lose more fluids than they take in. Still, dehydration can happen to people of any age, particularly athletes and those who work outdoors in hot or humid conditions. Although many people think they know the signs of dehydration, thirst - one of the most common signs - is the time at which most people decide to start drinking. In fact, by the time you feel thirsty, you have already become dehydrated. Other common signs of dehydration include:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diminished urine input

Five of the Best Ways to Hydrate

The first step to hydrating is preventing dehydration in the first place, but if you happen to become dehydrated, it’s important to rehydrate quickly. When left unchecked, dehydration can cause serious consequences and health issues. Fortunately, there are plenty of effective ways to hydrate and keep you feeling and performing your best. Five of the best ways to hydrate include the following:

  • Water: Nature’s oldest way to hydrate is water, which is a substance our bodies naturally crave. The body is made up of 60 percent water, and the muscles and brain are composed of an even higher percentage of water. Often, people think they are hungry when they are actually dehydrated, so water is a great way to rehydrate and stay healthy. Water has zero calories and contains no carbohydrates or sugars, so it’s one of the healthiest options. It’s important to hydrate by drinking water throughout the day in small amounts, rather than gulping down a huge quantity of water at once. Drinking large amounts of water at one time triggers the kidneys to begin excreting more fluid through the urine. Therefore, drinking too much water too quickly can actually cause the body’s fluids levels to become even more imbalanced. Instead, experts recommend drinking two to three ounces of water at a time at regular intervals throughout the day.  People who do not sweat much may be able to hydrate using water alone, as well as those who don’t work outdoors in the heat, who perform short workouts of moderate or easy duration, and do not lose a large amount of electrolytes through their sweat. However, other people may need to supplement their water consumption with electrolytes as well. 
  • Electrolyte supplements: Although water is the first choice for preventing dehydration and rehydrating under normal circumstances, it isn’t always enough to prevent dehydration. While natural spring water once provided all of the electrolytes people needed, water today, particularly bottled water, is consistently overpurified, which causes all of the natural electrolytes and other minerals to be removed. As a result, water isn’t as hydrating as it once was. People need to replenish electrolytes following a long or difficult workout, when sick, or hungover for a big night out, as the body expels electrolytes through sweat and urine.  In order to restore balance to electrolyte stores in the body, you’ll need to use an electrolyte supplement to properly rehydrate.  Although some people only need to replenish electrolytes after a particularly challenging workout, people who sweat excessively or are salty sweaters might need to use electrolyte supplements after most or all workouts, even if the effort level was easy or moderate. When more sodium is lost through the sweat, people are more likely to experience dehydration, which is why commercial sports drinks are so popular.  Unfortunately, these beverages are often full of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar.  People who want to avoid ingesting extra calories, carbs, or sugar can find other electrolyte supplements on the market that don’t contain any unnecessary junk and still are an effective and expedient way to hydrate. 
      • Skim and low-fat milk: Milk can be thought of as nature’s electrolyte drink thanks to the large amounts of electrolytes that the beverage naturally contains. In addition to packing a ton of electrolytes, milk also contains large amounts of protein, making it a great choice for hydrating after a workout, when you want to build muscle and speed up recovery. People who are looking for a calorie-free hydration option won’t choose milk, but choosing low-fat or skim milk makes milk a healthy option nonetheless. Some people may experience stomach upset when drinking milk to rehydrate, especially those who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy. To avoid stomach upset, choose milk with lower fat percentages, particularly when drinking it after a tough workout.  
  • Coffee and tea: Drinking coffee and tea can be a good way to hydrate as long as you keep the quantity small or choose a decaffeinated option. Caffeine has a diuretic, or dehydrating, effect when 250 to 300 mg are consumed, which is the equivalent of approximately two to three 8-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee or five to eight 8-ounce cups of caffeinated tea. Caffeinated coffee and tea do provide an energy boost from the caffeine, so if you want to add some extra energy to your day, they can be a good option. However, coffee and tea should not be used to rehydrate if you are suffering from severe dehydration. 
  • Fruits and vegetables: Beverages are important for hydration, but they aren’t the only way to hydrate. Foods like fruits and vegetables that are high in water content are up to 99 percent water and provide an excellent (and delicious) way to hydrate. The fruits and vegetables that have the highest amount of water include melons, grapes, lettuce, oranges, carrots, cabbage, berries, and spinach. 

  • When to Seek Treatment for Dehydration

    Given that about three out of every four people in the United States experience chronic dehydration, the majority of people are familiar with the effects and symptoms of mild dehydration. Although mild dehydration can be treated relatively quickly and easily, more severe levels of dehydration are dangerous and can even be fatal.  If you experience severe dehydration, you must seek medical attention immediately. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following signs of severe dehydration:

    • Have had a seizure
    • Have not urinated in eight hours
    • Feel very tired
    • Have a weak or rapid pulse
    • Are disoriented or confused
    • Feel dizzy when you stand
    • Are too sick from nausea or vomiting to take in fluids

    Complications caused by severe dehydration are very serious and can result in permanent damage or even death, which is why the prevention of dehydration is of the utmost importance. Complications of severe dehydration include:

    • Quickening heart rate
    • Shock
    • Confusion
    • Drop in blood pressure
    • Seizure
    • Sunken eyes
    • Reduced elasticity of the skin
    • Fever
    • Lethargy
    • Coma

    Rehydrating from severe dehydration is a delicate process that should be managed by medical professionals. Unlike with mild or moderate dehydration, patients experiencing severe dehydration can go into shock if they try to rehydrate too quickly, using the wrong fluids, or with an insufficient quantity of electrolytes. Recovering from severe dehydration is challenging, so the best way to stay safe is to avoid severe dehydration by replenishing your fluids throughout the day and regularly supplementing your electrolytes to prevent an imbalance.