How to Stay Hydrated

Nearly three out of every four people in the United States are considered chronically dehydrated, which means that most of us are not taking in enough fluids and may not be receiving adequate levels of electrolytes. Dehydration might seem like it’s not a big deal, but over time, it can cause permanent damage or even be fatal in severe cases. Dehydration also causes unpleasant symptoms, like headaches and dizziness, even in its most mild form. To avoid these symptoms, you need to take in enough fluid and possibly some electrolytes, but not everyone is clearly on exactly how to stay hydrated.  

What are the signs of dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the body does not have enough of the fluids it needs to sufficiently perform essential functions and tasks. The body excretes fluid through sweat, urine, vomit, and diarrhea, and when it loses more fluid than it takes in, dehydration can occur. However, dehydration also can occur as the result of an electrolyte imbalance in the body, which can occur when people do not replace the electrolytes that they lose throughout the day. Electrolytes are positively or negatively charged minerals that the body requires in order to carry out hundreds of important functions, including maintaining the proper balance of fluids in the body. The groups of people most commonly affected by dehydration include very young children and senior citizens, who may struggle to take in adequate amounts of fluids and electrolytes. However, dehydration can happen to people of all age groups. Many people think they know the signs of dehydration, but one of the most common signs - thirst - is when most people think about drinking water to begin with. In fact, by the time you feel thirsty, you have already become dehydrated. Other common signs of dehydration include:

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

How can dehydration be prevented?

It is possible to rehydrate after becoming dehydrated, but the best course of action is to prevent dehydration from occurring in the first place. Preventing dehydration isn’t complicated. The first step in preventing dehydration is to be aware of the amount of fluid you are losing through daily activities, particularly the amount you sweat during the day. If you are sick and experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, this is also important to note. People who are sick, working out intensely or for extended periods of time, trying to recover from a big night out, or spending significant amounts of time in the sun all have an increased need for fluids and electrolytes in order to prevent dehydration. Rather than chugging water or liquids to meet your body’s needs, sip water throughout the day, taking in two to three ounces at a time. This will prevent your body from signaling the kidneys to excrete extra fluid through the urine, which can occur if you drink too much water at once. To ensure that you keep your electrolytes balanced, incorporate the use of electrolyte drops or capsules into your daily routine in order to keep your electrolyte levels balanced and prevent changes to electrolyte levels that can cause dehydration. 

What are the best ways to stay hydrated?

If you’ve tried your best to prevent dehydration but still find yourself dehydrated anyway, you’ll need to rehydrate yourself quickly in order to prevent the condition from becoming more severe. Fortunately, there are plenty of beverages and certain foods that contain what you need to start feeling better quickly. The best ways to recover from dehydration include the following:

  • Water: Water is the natural go-to when it comes time to rehydrate, and it’s often the thing we crave the most. Water is an excellent choice for rehydrating because it has no calories, added sugars, carbohydrates, or chemicals that add junk to your diet. Although many people attempt to rehydrate by gulping down a large amount of water at once, this action triggers the kidneys to begin excreting more fluid through the urine. As a result, chugging water can actually lead to your body losing more fluid than it would otherwise. Therefore, it is most effective to rehydrate by consuming water a little bit at a time, in servings of about two to three ounces, regularly throughout the day. Water is adequate for rehydrating people who don’t sweat much, perform short workouts of moderate or easy duration, don’t work outdoors in the heat, 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: Water might be the number one choice for preventing dehydration and rehydrating as needed, but water alone isn’t sufficient in every situation. People once got everything they needed from water, as it naturally contains electrolytes when found outdoors. However, water today is over-purified to the point that most electrolytes are removed, which diminishes its ability to help you rehydrate. After a tough or lengthy workout, working in a hot environment, when you are feeling under the weather, or when you are trying to recover from a big night out, you’ll need to replenish the electrolytes that your body has lost through sweat and urine. Electrolyte supplements restore balance to electrolyte levels in the body, which helps prevent dehydration and allows you to balance your fluid levels properly.  Individuals who are salty or profuse sweaters may require electrolyte supplements after most or all workouts, even if the effort level was easy or moderate, as they lose more sodium through their sweat than other people, which can cause dehydration. Although many commercial sports drinks are full of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, there are electrolyte supplements on the market that don’t contain any unnecessary junk and still help you recover from dehydration quickly and effectively. 
      • Skim and low-fat milk: Milk might just be nature’s version of a sports drink. Milk naturally contains large amounts of electrolytes and is also high in protein, which helps build muscle and aids in recovery after a workout. Milk does contain calories, but skim and low-fat versions are low fat or fat free, and the calories are considered healthy. Milk is an excellent choice for rehydration, but it can cause stomach upset in people who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy, and it is more likely to cause digestive upset at higher fat percentages. Therefore, skim and low-fat milk are recommended as your best choices for rehydrating after a difficult workout.
  • Coffee and tea: It’s true that caffeine has a diuretic effect, but that shouldn’t stop you from choosing small quantities of coffee and tea to rehydrate with. Caffeine begins to have a diuretic effect when 250 - 300 mg are consumed, which equates to about two to three 8-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee or five to eight 8-ounce cups of caffeinated tea. Many people enjoy rehydrating with coffee and tea because they appreciate the energizing boost of caffeine. If choosing tea or coffee to rehydrate, try using decaf varieties or sticking to small quantities. Coffee and tea should not be used to rehydrate if you are suffering from severe dehydration. 
  • Fruits and vegetables: Who says only beverages can help you rehydrate? Fruits and vegetables are packed with water, with an estimated 80 to 99 percent of the content being water. The fruits and vegetables that have the highest amount of water include oranges, carrots, cabbage, berries, melons, grapes, lettuce, and spinach. 

  • When should you seek treatment for dehydration?

    With approximately three out of every four Americans experiencing chronic dehydration, most of us regularly experience mild dehydration. Mild dehydration can be easily treated, but as dehydration becomes more severe, it becomes increasingly dangerous and can even be fatal. People who are suffering from severe dehydration require immediate medical attention. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following signs of severe dehydration:

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

    Complications arising from severe dehydration are very serious and can cause permanent damage or even death, which is why it is so important to prevent dehydration. Complications of severe dehydration include:

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

    Severe dehydration should be treated by a medical professional in order to ensure that the patient is properly rehydrated. Trying to rehydrate too quickly, or with the wrong fluids or without sufficient electrolytes, can cause the body to go into shock. The best way to avoid severe dehydration is to replenish your fluids throughout the day and regularly supplement your electrolytes to prevent an imbalance.