Want to know how to hydrate for optimal health? We’re explaining everything you need to know about fluids and electrolytes here!
As soon as temps start to rise, everyone is all about learning how to hydrate. But fitting enough fluid into your diet is critical all year round. The body relies on water to maintain body temperature (hi, sweat), keep joints moving smoothly, deliver nutrients and oxygen to cells, fend off infections, and keep organs working. Energy levels, focus, and mood all benefit from sufficient hydration, too. And since the brain is about 75% water, it also requires H2O to produce hormones and neurotransmitters.
Ok, so clearly water is kind of a big deal. But exactly how much fluid do you need to consume daily? And are there more interesting ways to do it than by drinking plain old H2O? Below, we break down everything you need to know about how to hydrate like a pro.
How Much Fluid Do I Need Daily?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women require about 11.5 cups (or 2.7 L) of water per day, while men require about 15.5 (or 3.7 L) cups. If you can’t remember the last time you had a glass of water, don’t freak out (but also, go pour yourself one stat): these estimates include water from drinks as well as food. We’ll explain more about that in a minute.
Additionally, fluid needs vary from person to person. For example, older adults tend to require fewer fluids than younger adults. On the flip side, pregnant and breastfeeding women, athletes, and anyone hanging out in a hot climate will need to drink more than the average adult. Certain medications, like diuretics, may also mess with fluid balance in the body. Diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, and not eating or drinking enough can also raise one’s fluid needs.
Blanket recommendations for fluids are tough to come by, since needs vary from person to person. That said, here are two simple ways to assess your hydration status:
- You’re likely well hydrated if the color of your urine is a very pale yellow or colorless
- If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated
How Can I Meet My Fluid Needs?
We know, we know. Water is boring. Fortunately fluids don’t come solely from plain old H2O. In fact, we tend to meet about 20% of our fluid needs through food.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with water, so eating a salad for lunch or adding some fruit to your a.m. yogurt bowl (yogurt also contains about 70-89% water) can contribute to your daily fluid intake.
Want to know how to hydrate with food? Some of the fruits and veggies with the highest water content include:
Also nice: though they act as diuretics, coffee and tea actually can contribute to your daily fluid intake. Just don’t lean on them as your sole sources of fluids. We recommend keeping coffee and tea to one to three cups per day, and shutting down caffeine after noon.
That said, there’s really no replacement for drinking straight up water, so try to have a reusable bottle on you as often as possible. If you’re someone who needs a nudge to meet your goals, buy a bottle with marks that track how much you’ve sipped so far or download an app like Daily Water Tracker Reminder that will ping you to drink up.
Can’t stand standard water? Mix things up with an unsweetened sparkling water or jazz up your cup by throwing in a few mint leaves, cucumber slices, or pineapple chunks for a spa-worthy sip.
What About Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that become electrically charged when dissolved in body fluids. Examples include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphate. Why do lytes matter? They’re responsible for things like muscle contraction, fluid balance, nutrient metabolism, heart function, and waste removal. Lytes also help keep the body’s pH level in a normal range.
Electrolyte balance can shift for the same reasons as fluid status (think: sweating, diarrhea, diuretic usage). For example, if you drink a ton of water, body fluids can become dilute, resulting in low sodium in the blood, or hyponatremia. Mild hyponatremia may cause a headache, while severe hyponatremia can be fatal. Conversely, if you’re super dehydrated, blood levels of sodium will creep up, resulting in hypernatremia, a condition that can lead to brain damage in extreme cases.
Potassium is another lyte that’s intimately connected to fluid balance in the body. That’s because when cells are overloaded with water, sodium-potassium pumps that sit at cell membranes spring into action, allowing sodium into the cell to restore balance and shuttling potassium out of the cell. Basically, sodium and potassium work in opposition to each other to maintain fluid balance in the body.
How Can I Get More Electrolytes in My Diet?
Good news: electrolytes occur in foods you’re probably already eating. Sodium naturally occurs in foods like beef and yogurt, but it’s also added to pretty much every processed food. The majority of Americans are already eating way more than the daily recommended amount (2,300 milligrams/day), so there’s no reason to seek out more salt. Potassium, magnesium, and calcium, on the other hand, are key nutrients you’ll want in your diet.
Some of the healthiest sources of potassium include:
- Dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese)
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
- Brussels sprouts
Some of the healthiest sources of magnesium include:
- Black beans
- Dark chocolate
- Whole grains (oats, farro, barley)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews)
Some of the healthiest sources of calcium include:
- Dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese)
- Fortified tofu
- Fortified plant-based milks
- Bok choy
- Fish with bones (canned salmon, sardines)
Following a well balanced diet that prioritizes whole (i.e. non-processed) foods will help you meet your electrolyte goals. However, you may need a little extra help if you know you’re prone to hyponatremia, are super athletic, tend to sweat a lot during workouts, or are simply hanging out in hot temps.
So, what to do?
- Supplement ‘em! You may want to replenish electrolytes after an intense workout since we lose sodium, potassium, and chloride when we sweat. (You might also want some extra lytes after a nasty bout of the flu or a stomach bug.) We love popping a dissolvable Nuun tablet into our water bottle for optimal hydration post-workout. The brand has tablets for Sport, Endurance, Rest, Immunity, and Vitamins, so you can pick the fuel that best fits your needs. We’re also big fans of Ultima Replenisher, which makes electrolyte powders that are free from gluten, GMOs, and added sugar. They’re sweetened with fruit extracts and come in flavors you’ll actually want to drink, like cherry pomegranate and watermelon.
- Drink ‘em! No, we don’t mean grab a Gatorade. Most sports drinks are loaded with added sugar. One 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade serves up 34 grams of added sugar. That’s more than your entire recommended intake for the day. Instead, choose a no-sugar-added bev that’s naturally loaded with lytes, like coconut water. Coconut water naturally contains potassium and sodium, plus some carbs to help you fuel your workout (or refuel afterwards). Our fave brand of coconut water is Harmless Harvest.
How do you hydrate like a pro? We’d love to hear! P.S. Follow us @CulinaHealth on Insta for more tips and tricks on how to hydrate.