Story by Rachel Hughes
Sweet summertime is finally here which means warmer temperatures and more outdoor activities, lake weekends, and pool days. Many summer activities involve water, but it is also important to remember to drink enough water to stay hydrated.
Water makes up about 50-70 percent of body weight, and every cell, tissue and organ needs it to function properly. Water plays many vital roles in overall health such as regulating body temperature, aiding in digestion and flushing out toxins. Water also keeps the muscles and brain hydrated for physical and mental performance.
While we need to drink water to stay hydrated, fluid from other beverages or even foods can help you meet your fluid needs.
How much fluid you should consume in a day varies from person to person. Age, gender, activity and certain health conditions can all affect your fluid needs.
Recommendations for fluid are based on the general, healthful population. Women need about 11.5 cups of fluid per day and men need about 15.5 cups. While beverages make up the majority of fluid intake, you also get about 20 percent of your fluid from food. Therefore, women should shoot for drinking 9 cups of fluid per day and men need about 12.5 cups.
Other factors may affect how much water you need.
Exercise or activity – Exercise, sports, working in the garden, or even swimming can cause you to work up a sweat. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after these activities to make up for the fluid loss.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding – Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may have higher fluid needs to stay hydrated.
Environment – Humidity, hot temperatures, extreme cold temperatures, and high altitude can increase your fluid needs.
Carry a water bottle with you. Consider investing in a reusable water bottle or a sturdy cup with a straw that you can keep with you at all times. It is much easier to drink when you have a healthy beverage readily available.
Drink throughout the day and with your meals. Similar to spreading meals out consistently through the day, try to space your beverage intake out as well. Consider setting periodic reminders on your phone or computer to help you remember to take a sip.
Listen to your body. If you are feeling thirsty, have a drink of water. Keeping a beverage handy can make it more convenient for you to drink when thirst arises.
Add flavor. If you are not a fan of the plain water taste, consider adding calorie free flavor. Seltzer waters have gained popularity and are a great way to add flavor and fizz to your water. Try citrus slices, cucumber slices, crushed berries or fresh mint in plain or carbonated water to boost flavor.
While beverages make up the majority of our fluid intake, foods contain fluid and can help you stay hydrated as well. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of water and various nutrients. Try incorporating more strawberries, melon, lettuce, cabbage, celery, spinach, bananas, grapes, oranges, pears, pineapples and others into your diet.
Water is typically the best choice for quenching our thirst and meeting our body’s fluid needs, it has no calories, and is relatively easy to find. While other beverages contribute to fluid intake, they are not all created equal.
Sugary beverages – Try to limit the sugary drinks you consume like regular soda, fruit punch, energy drinks, sweet tea, and flavored coffee drinks. They will contribute a lot of simple sugar and empty calories and raise your blood sugar rapidly if you have diabetes. One 12-ounce regular soda has about 150 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrate. This is the equivalent to 10 teaspoons of sugar!
Milk – Milk or milk alternatives can be a healthy addition to your beverage choices, in moderation. They are a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Stick to skim or 1 percent or unsweetened milk alternatives if you are watching your calories.
Fruit juices – 100 percent fruit juices that do not contain added sugar can also be a healthy option, but in moderation. A 4-ounce glass or ½ cup is considered a serving.
Sports drinks – Sports drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates to help with rehydration, but they are often high in simple sugars and calories. Water is typically sufficient for rehydrating most individuals.
Caffeine – Coffee and tea without added sugars can contribute to your fluid intake. The general caffeine recommendation is 400 mg or less per day. That’s about 3-5 cups of brewed coffee. Energy drinks typically contain a lot of caffeine, and sugar. Too much caffeine can raise your blood pressure or cause jitters.
Alcohol – While it may be tempting to reach for an adult beverage on a hot day at the pool, try to do so in moderation, if at all. Alcohol is a diuretic which increases urine output and can lead to dehydration. Start your day with water and drink moderately by limiting intake to one drink in a day for women or two drinks in a day for men.
Listen to your body and drink when you feel thirsty. If you are exercising or outside in the heat, increase your intake to make up for fluid lost through sweat.
The color of your urine is a quick, easy way to tell if you are hydrated. Urine should be colorless or a light/pale yellow.
If you aren’t taking in enough fluid, you may become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration may include dark yellow or amber colored urine, headaches, dizziness, dry mouth or digestion problems such as constipation. Mild dehydration can also affect your mood, memory and focus. Signs of severe dehydration may include extreme thirst, lack of sweat, rapid heartbeat, weakness or confusion.
Over hydration is possible but not typically common. Athletes participating in intense or long endurance activities may need to replace fluid and sodium losses to maintain hydration. People with certain medical conditions may have lower fluid needs and be at higher risk for overhydrating.
Water is vital for overall health. Stay healthy, hydrated, and have a great summer!
Rachel Hughes, RD, serves as a clinical dietitian at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. To learn more about outpatient nutrition counseling services, call 573-681-3181.