How to Hydrate Like a Pro

July 14, 2023


Valerie Agyeman, RDN

You’ve heard it countless times: “Stay hydrated and drink more water!” The importance of increasing fluid intake and staying hydrated is always a hot topic. However, proper hydration isn’t just reserved for sunny days and beach trips—it’s a year-round essential for your overall well-being. Drinking water is important for a multitude of essential functions in the body. Drinking water aids in regulating body temperature through perspiration, lubricates joints, transports nutrients to our cells, strengthens the immune system, and supports the optimal functioning of organs. Notably, adequate hydration also has a significant impact on energy levels, focus, and mood. Next time you’re wondering how to improve energy levels , simply start with a tall glass of water.

Water, our body’s mainstay, constitutes a whopping 70% of our being. But how much hydration is enough? And are there any alternatives to plain old H2O? Let’s unravel the secrets to mastering the art of hydration, presenting you with simple tips to quench your thirst or hydrate like a pro.

How Much Water Should You Drink Daily?

According to the Institute of Medicine, the daily water intake for women is about 9 cups (or 2.7 L) of water per day, while men require about 13 (or 3.7 L) cups per day. If you can’t remember the last time you had a glass of water, don’t worry: these estimates include water from drinks as well as food. Fluid needs vary from person to person. For example, older adults tend to require fewer fluids than younger adults due to decreased thirst sensation and changes in kidney function. But for athletes or those with certain medical conditions like UTI’s (urinary tract infections), water intake requirements are much higher. And, pregnant and breastfeeding women need extra water intake too.

In fact, one cross-sectional study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth found that pregnant and lactating women are at higher risk for insufficient water intake. ( 1 ) In addition, certain medications like diuretics may also affect fluid balance in the body. And when it comes to diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, and not eating or drinking enough that can also raise one’s fluid needs.

Preventing dehydration is vital. Signs of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, dark-colored urine, infrequent urination, fatigue, dizziness, dry skin, headaches, muscle cramps, and lightheadedness. ( 2 ) It’s important to promptly address dehydration by drinking more water.

Blanket recommendations for fluids are tough to come by, since hydration level needs vary from person to person. That said, here are two simple ways to assess your hydration (or dehydration) status:

  1. You’re likely well hydrated if your urine color is a very pale yellow or colorless.
  2. If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated.

How Can You Meet Your Hydration Needs?

We understand that water can be hard to drink for some people. Luckily, our fluid needs can be met by eating some foods! In fact, approximately 20% of our fluid requirements can be fulfilled by eating certain foods. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of water. By including a refreshing salad for lunch or adding fruits to yogurt you can contribute to your daily fluid intake. Curious about hydrating foods? Here are some fruits and vegetables known for their high water content:

  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Cucumber
  • Cantaloupe
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage

And for the caffeine lovers, while coffee and tea are considered diuretics they can still contribute to your daily fluid intake. Just remember not to rely solely on them for hydration. 

Nothing quite replaces the benefits of drinking plain water for good hydration. If you need some motivation to reach your hydration goals, consider using a water bottle with marked measurements to track your intake as you drink, or try using a reminder app, which will prompt you to drink water throughout the day. 

Staying hydrated is easy with plenty of options besides drinking water: if you find plain water or tap water unappealing, drink coconut water. You can also mix things up by opting for unsweetened sparkling water or adding some flavor to your water. Just add mint, cucumber slices or pineapple chunks for a refreshing sip. As well, try to avoid relying on soft drinks, sugary drinks, or processed fruit juice for regular hydration as they contain added sugar.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are essential minerals in our body that have an electric charge. They include minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. These electrolytes play important roles in various bodily functions including maintaining proper fluid balance, supporting nerve and muscle function, and regulating pH levels. Electrolytes are extremely crucial for hydration, nerve impulses and muscle contractions. 

Electrolyte balance can change due to factors like dehydration, fluid loss, sweat loss, diarrhea, or the use of diuretics. When you drink excessive amounts of water, it can dilute body fluids, leading to low sodium levels in the blood known as hyponatremia. Mild hyponatremia may cause headaches, while severe cases can be life-threatening. On the other hand, if you suffer from severe dehydration, sodium levels in the blood can increase, resulting in hypernatremia. In severe cases, hypernatremia can cause brain damage.

Potassium is also important for fluid balance in the body. When cells have excess water, sodium-potassium pumps activate at cell membranes. They let sodium in and push potassium out, restoring balance. Sodium and potassium work opposite each other to maintain fluid balance.

How To Get More Electrolytes In Your Diet

Great news! Electrolytes are present in foods that are likely already a part of your diet. While sodium is naturally found in many common foods such as cheese and yogurt, it is also added to a majority of processed foods. However, most Americans already consume more sodium than the recommended daily amount of 2,300 milligrams, so there’s no need to actively seek out additional salt. ( 4 ) On the other hand, it’s important to focus on including potassium, magnesium, and calcium in your diet as they are essential nutrients. 

The healthiest sources of potassium include:

  • Bananas
  • Dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese)
  • Dates
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • Oranges
  • Brussels sprouts

The healthiest sources of magnesium include:

  • Black beans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Spinach
  • Whole grains (oats, farro, barley)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews)

The healthiest sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese)
  • Fortified tofu
  • Fortified plant-based milks
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds
  • Fish with bones (canned salmon, sardines)

If you want to hit your electrolyte targets, we recommend a balanced diet that emphasizes and prioritizes whole foods. However, there are certain situations where additional assistance might be beneficial. For example, if you are prone to hyponatremia, engage in intense physical activity, perspire heavily during workouts, or are exposed to hot temperatures, you may require some extra support. This is why some beverages like sports drinks have added electrolytes to help the body replenish lost minerals.

The Bottom Line On How To Hydrate Well

Prioritize staying hydrated throughout the day and pay attention to your body’s thirst signals. Include electrolyte-rich foods in your diet and consider replenishing electrolytes with dietitian- or doctor-approved supplements or specialized hydration products, especially after intense workouts or illness. Drink fluids based on your activity level and the environment. Drink fluids before, during, and after workouts, and consider individual factors like health conditions. By following these guidelines, you can maintain proper hydration for overall well-being. All right, now go get yourself a glass of water.

Ready to work on your health and nutrition goals? Work with a Culina Health Dietitian.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or application is intended for reference and educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately qualified and licensed medical services provider.

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