No matter what the weather, it's important to drink water. During the scorching summer months, many of us fall short on our daily intake, resulting in dehydration and diminished physical performance. Taking careful steps to stay properly hydrated keeps sunny days smooth and enjoyable.
Is it hot enough for you? 2014 was the hottest year on record, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to chill out anytime soon. Increased temperatures mean summer heat waves that cause heat-related illnesses, but the good news is we can protect ourselves by making sure we are well hydrated.
How much water is enough?
Is the old adage of eight glasses a day still true? In fact, one size does not fit all. Many factors play a role, such as age, gender, activity level, state of health, or weather conditions.
Nutritionist and coach Sarah Cuff suggests you calculate the amount of liquid you need by dividing your body weight (in pounds) by two and consuming that amount in ounces. So, a 130 lb (59 kg) person would need 65 oz (about 2 L) of liquid. And in hot weather, or if you’re working out (sweating) or carb-loading, she advises adding up to 50 percent more.
Don’t forget that food can contribute to your fluid intake as well—on average between 20 and 30 percent of fluid comes from what we eat. Choosing foods with high water content can add to your daily fluid intake. Strawberries, watermelon, lettuce, and celery are just a few examples of foods that contain more than 90 percent water.
Shake it up
If plain water doesn’t appeal, you can add fruit or cucumber to water for variety or opt for coconut water or low-sugar kombucha.
No need to banish coffee and alcohol
Espresso lovers don’t need to stress about the dehydrating effects of caffeine. Studies show that for regular drinkers, caffeine intake doesn’t have a large dehydrating effect when consumed in moderation (four cups per day). It seems that the body gets used to the caffeine and adjusts.
And for those who love to cool down with a “cold one,” research suggests that while alcohol is indeed a diuretic, not all drinks are equally dehydrating. Beverages with a higher water-to-alcohol ratio are better choices. So, for summer patio chilling, choose a beer or wine over a whisky or other highball.
The body’s tolerance for caffeine may be lost if a person stops drinking coffee for even as little as four days.
Younger and older people are more susceptible
While no one is immune to dehydration in hot weather, young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.
Before sending kids out to play in the sun, it’s important to make sure they are fully hydrated, even if they say they’re not thirsty. And they should take a water break every 20 minutes or so, especially if they are playing hard. Avoid drinks that contain excess sugar and/or caffeine.
As we age, we may tend to take in less food, which also affects our fluid intake. It’s recommended that elderly people drink water regularly and not depend on feeling thirsty before drinking. Snacking during the day can contribute to older adults’ energy level and fluid intake.
Children don’t have the same sensitivity to thirst that adults do, so they may not realize they need water.
Did you know?
Elderly people already have low water reserves compared to other populations and may not drink as much as they need, because they also have a reduced sensitivity to thirst.
Hydrate to perform at your best
According to Lewis Morrison, director of sports science at Peak Centre for Human Performance, “Hydration is hugely important to performance at any level. If the body isn’t able to maintain equilibrium, it can’t perform at its optimum level.”
Morrison adds, “Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration status.” He suggests weighing yourself before and after exercise (without hydrating during exercise) to find out exactly how much fluid your body needs. The weight lost equals the amount of fluid lost through sweat (1 kg = 1 L of fluid).
Sweat it out
A drop of only 1 to 2 percent body mass from sweating can reduce performance by up to 44 percent!
Hydrate according to the weather
A change in the weather can impact how much fluid your body needs during exercise. Long-distance cyclist Glen Montgomery says the amount of fluid he consumes during races depends mostly on the temperature. For example, during a six-hour, 100 mile (160 km) race in 107 F (42 C) heat last summer, he consumed about 5 L of water. One week later, riding the same distance but this time in 59 F (15 C) weather, he needed to consume only 1 L.
Monitoring your body’s needs as well as outside conditions should keep you in balance and functioning at your best.
Time to cut back
When exercising in cool weather it’s important not to drink too much water, which can dilute the body’s electrolytes.
Remind yourself to stay hydrated
Carrying a water bottle with you makes it easy to keep sipping throughout the day. But for those who need an extra reminder, technology can help keep track of water intake—you guessed it, there’s an app for that!
You can program these apps with your personal data such as weight, activity level, and weather conditions to get a custom daily requirement. They can be set to gently nudge you throughout the day or just count up all the millilitres of water you’re drinking and give you a virtual pat on the back when you reach your daily goal.
Signs of dehydration
Heat-related illnesses are serious and can be life-threatening if not treated. It’s important to recognize the signs of dehydration and take action quickly. If dehydration becomes severe, emergency care may be required.
Signs of mild to moderate dehydration include
- decreased urine output or amber-coloured urine
Signs of severe dehydration include
- little or no urination