Water is essential for life and it is very important to get the right amount of fluid to be healthy. With it cold outside, it can sometimes be confusing to know how much you need and to get it in with the absence of excessive thirst. However, there are lots of mixed messages about how much, and what to drink, causing confusion. Do I really need to drink 8 glasses of water on top of all my other drinks? Is it true that tea and coffee do not count towards my fluid intake? The answer to both these questions is no!
Why do you need water?
Your body is nearly two-thirds water and so it is really important that you consume enough fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. This is one of the most important nutrients that we can “feed” our body with, and the one that is the most forgotten. Water plays a key role in all of our body’s biochemical reactions. Fluid helps you stay healthy and energized. It also controls your body temperature, aids digestion, carries nutrients around your body, cushions organs and joints, gets rid of waste, and keeps your bowels regular. Your body loses water by sweating, breathing and getting rid of waste. If you lose more fluid than you take in you can get dehydrated. If you don’t get enough fluid you may feel tired, get headaches and not perform at your best.
How much do you need?
The amount of fluid you need depends on many things including the weather, how much physical activity you do and your age, but general recommendations for healthy, active individuals is 1L per 50lbs of bodyweight.
How can I tell if I am getting enough water?
Your body has special mechanisms to make sure you stay hydrated. Feeling thirsty is your body’s way of telling you that you need to drink more. However, the easiest way to spot that you might not be getting enough water is if your urine is a dark yellow colour during the day. If you are getting enough water your urine should be a pale straw colour. So if it is darker than this or if you are urinating infrequently or passing very small amounts of urine, then you probably need to drink some more fluid. You also need to drink more if it is hot, or if your temperature is high due to physical activity or illness.
Does it matter which drinks you choose?
When you choose your drinks it is important to be aware that although they all provide water and some also contain essential vitamins and minerals, they may also provide energy (calories). These calories contribute to your daily calorie intake in the same way as those from the foods you eat.
Fluids to Choose From:
- Water: Water is calorie free and a great way to quench your thirst, try adding a slice of lemon or lime to make it more refreshing. Carbonated water is a great option too!
- Fruit or Vegetable Juice: Limit your intake of fruit juices since they are high in calories and low in fibre, eat the fruit instead. Make sure you choose 100% real fruit juice. Avoid fruit ‘drinks’, ‘cocktails’, ‘punches’ or ‘beverages’ as they have sugar added and less nutrients.
- Milk/Fortified Soy or Rice Beverages: Aim for 250-500 mL (1-2 cups) of low fat milk or alternatives (less than 2% M.F.) as part of your fluid intake for the day.
- Soft Drinks: Try to limit choosing soft drinks. Regular soft drinks are high in calories and sugar and low in nutrients. Diet soft drinks are calorie and sugar free but may still have caffeine which is a diuretic.
- Sport Drinks: Sport drinks are usually not needed to keep hydrated when you exercise. Water and a healthy diet will replace water and minerals lost during exercise. If you exercise very hard, in extreme weather, for a long time or wear a lot of sports equipment you may benefit from a sports drink.
- Tea and Coffee: (e.g. herbal tea, regular and decaffeinated coffee/tea ) Coffees and black teas can be a bit of a diuretic due to the caffeine content. Having decaf coffee and herbal tea can help water intake though!
What about electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals found in your blood that help regulate and control the balance of fluids in the body. These minerals play a role in regulating blood pressure, muscle contraction and keep your system functioning properly. The big three electrolytes are: sodium, potassium, and magnesium. The right amount of electrolytes in your body is needed for optimal health and physical performance.
If you lose a significant amount of these minerals (either by intense exercise, sweating, vomiting or diarrhea), you’re going to experience dehydration and feel pretty lousy. You might also experience muscle cramping and spasms. The primary electrolyte we lose through sweat is sodium. Sodium sometimes gets a bad rep, but it helps us retain fluids. When you’re sweating from exercise or sweating from a fever, you’re losing fluid, and overtime it will cause dehydration. Adding salt to your food around exercise, when ill, or when it’s hotter outside can help balance things out.
Electrolyte drinks come in a variety of forms – from tablets that you drop into water, to powders that you mix up, to liquid that comes in a regular water bottle. Not all electrolyte drinks are created equal. If you’re working out for an hour or less, regular H20 and maybe add a sugar-free electrolyte like NUUN. But if you’re exercising upwards of 75 minutes or more (of if it’s very hot out), then an electrolyte drink like Gatorade is a good idea during or after your work out.
Tips to increase water intake
- Add flavours to it
- Mix it up with herbal tea and carbonated water
- Get a larger bottle
- Bring a full bottle every where
- Keep it in plain sight
- Tie it to a routine in the day
- Set reminders
- Track it on a water app
- Drink a glass of water with meals
- Alternate coffee/ tea with twice as much water
- Used a marked water bottle with time of day
- Try a fun straw