Important of Hydration During Exercise
How many times have you heard (or said) “I'm dying of thirst!” While (hopefully!) we know aren’t actually dying, our body is sending out an SOS, making us uncomfortable, so we pay attention and drink some water quickly! It is hard to ignore the feeling of being thirsty, and that is for a very good reason - our bodies do not function well when they are not hydrated. And, by the time we feel thirsty, we have already lost two percent of our body weight in water. So, when our bodies send out these distress signal of thirst, we need to pay attention.
Let’s break this down. Our bodies are made up of 55-60% water. Our brains are 75% water, our blood is 83% water, and our heart is 79% water. What do you think is happening when we are depriving these things of one of their essential components? Nothing good! And, because our brains, blood and heart (three really important parts of our bodies) are impacted by dehydration, so is every other system in our bodies.
By the time we feel thirsty, we are already mildly dehydrated and this mild hydration has begun to impact our brain. As the water levels in our brain diminishes, we begin to have problems with memory, concentration and reaction time. And, as you have probably experienced, being thirsty also impacts our mood. Dehydration is connected with irritability and anxiety. This is, in part, because water helps with the transmission of hormones and neurotransmitters throughout our bodies and they are directly connected with mood. In the brain, water also helps to keep the hypothalamus running smoothly. The hypothalamus is basically the balancer in our brains - it regulates things like hunger, body temperature, thirst, emotions, and sleep. Clearly, if this is dysregulated in any way, things can get out of whack quickly.
Now, think about what happens when our blood does not have enough water in the mix - it thickens up! When things are thicker, they flow more slowly, right? So, if our blood is the carrier of oxygen and nutrients to all parts of our bodies and it is moving more slowly, it is pretty easy to see how this will impact every system we have! Our hearts need to pump harder to move the thickened blood around, our muscles are not getting the oxygen they need to work well, and our brains and organs are not getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function optimally. As a result, we feel sluggish, weak, lethargic, and overall not quite right.
Another super important job of water in our bodies is temperature regulation. We have an amazing built-in temperature regulation system that, when functioning correctly, keeps our bodies pretty comfortable. A core component of this is perspiration. When we are overheated, we sweat. This sweat cools our bodies. If we don’t have enough water in our systems to sweat, we can pretty quickly get overheated. This, in turn, can lead to nausea, headaches, confusion, and irritability. Again, not pleasant symptoms.
In addition to the brain, blood and heart, hydration plays a key role in keeping our digestion moving along, maintaining a cushion in our joints, stabilizing our weight, clearing toxins from our systems, and optimizing the health of our skin. There are so many good reasons to stay on top of our water intake!
So, how much water is enough? The rule of thumb that works for me and most of my clients is drinking half your body weight in ounces per day. And, if you exercise, and add 20-50 ounces during the day. This seems like a lot of water, and every body’s needs are different, but it’s a good place to start and the negative effects of dehydration are enough to keep me drinking!
Actually, I start my day with 12-16 ounces of water as soon as I get up. I often add a pinch of Himalayan salt which helps my body absorb the water. Drinking water first thing, before we put anything else in your system, is super important because it helps to flush out waste from our body and brain. When we sleep, our bodies are working hard to repair damaged cells and form new cells. This leads to a lot of cellular waste that needs to get flushed out of our bodies and drinking water as soon as we get up in the morning is a great way to jump start that process. Additionally, drinking water before we eat anything ensures that the water is quickly absorbed into our system and works to clear out our colons, hydrate our skin and energize our muscles and brain - because, remember, our cells need oxygen and nutrients to function optimally and water is the thing that carries those to our cells.
It is also helpful to get in the habit of drinking water before each snack and meal. Not only will this help us increase the amount of water we drink, but it will also decrease the amount of food we eat. So often we mistake thirst for hunger and reach for a snack when we are actually thirsty. And, if you are wanting to lose weight, drinking water before a meal has been shown to decrease the number of calories consumed at that meal.
Lastly, I find it helpful to have a bottle of water with me at all times. When it is right in front of my face, I am more likely to remember to drink! Creating these small habits can have a huge impact on how you feel.
While I have focused solely on water throughout this article because it is the ideal hydrater, other liquids work as well. However, if you are going to drink a lot of other liquids, be aware of the larger impact they can have on you systems. While sodas and juices can hydrate, they can also spike blood sugar which can lead to energy crashes later. While coffee and tea can hydrate, the caffeine in them can also increase anxiety and make us feel jittery. The beauty of water is that it is free, abundant, and has none of these added impacts!