Hydration and nutrition are both essential to life. But in many unappreciated ways, it is hydration that actually makes our bodies work. When we dig into this a bit, we can learn to appreciate water more.
The importance of water in our life
Remember The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the lines “Water, water everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink,” as the old sailor is becalmed at sea, surrounded by saltwater that he cannot drink.
Plain, potable water is essential for human life. This is why civilizations grew up around water sources, such as rivers. Think how important the river Nile has been throughout history.
And it’s essential for human life because it is also essential for the growth and development of the plant and animal life that are the sources of our food.
Water, hydration, and health
Water on its own is just a substance found in nature. But when it enters our bodies, it fuels a process called hydration.
Water, hydration and health is a big subject. But we capture its practical essence in this post.
For the average adult, water makes up around 60% of our body weight. For newborns, it is around 75% and for the elderly around 50%. Water is essential for every biochemical process in each cell of our bodies.
Water keeps us alive
Basically, water keeps us alive. Humans can only last about 4 days totally without water before death occurs. But the lesser condition of dehydration is a problem. And research indicates that around 75% of the US population is dehydrated to some degree.
Depending on several factors, we use and lose around 13 glasses of water per day.
Distribution of water in the body
Total body water is divided into intracellular fluid (40% of body weight) and extracellular fluid (20% of body weight), depending on whether the water is inside or outside our cells. Water that is outside the cell is contained in our blood and in the spaces between cells.
The water in our bodies contains electrolytes. These are chemicals that dissolve in water and produce charged ions. It is these ions that allow for the flow of electrical signals throughout our bodies.
For example, when sodium chloride (common table salt) is dissolved in water, it separates into positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions.
The positive ion electrolytes in our bodies are mainly sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The negative ion electrolytes are chloride, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulfate
All these chemicals are mineral micronutrients.
The body maintains a balance of water via the process of ingestion and elimination. And if it goes into a negative balance by only 2%, it will cause a fall-off in athletic performance. But if it drops to 4% there are physiological changes that can cause health issues, like increased body temperature and heart rate.
Ordinarily, about 80% of our water comes from drinking fluids. The remaining 20% comes from the water content in food.
We eliminate water via a combination of:
- Breathing (exhaling water vapor)
- Skin evaporation,
- Sweat glands
- Bowel movements.
You often see a recommended daily fluid intake that is around 9 glasses for women and 13 glasses for men. But actual amounts needed per day depends on such factors as exercise, stress, and weather More on this later
Ideal fluid intake is plain water but other fluid water sources include tea, coffee, and sodas, etc.
Water is essential to overall body health, brain and mood
Here are the many ways water is essential to the smooth operation of our bodies:
Our brains are 75% water. So staying hydrated keeps us alert. It helps us think, focus and concentrate.
Water is in our tears, mucus, saliva, and the other secretions that protect and lubricate passageways in and out of our bodies, such as in the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and genitals.
Saliva helps keep the mouth clean. Reduced saliva allows bacteria to grow in the mouth. And this causes bad breath.
Lubrication in body cavities
Water provides the lubrication in our chest and abdomen, where our internal organs touch and slide over one another.
Joints and muscles
The fluid that lubricates and cushions our joints and prevents our bones from rubbing against each other is made up largely of water. And water also keeps our muscles more elastic.
Water is in the saliva that moistens our food as we chew and swallow it. And it is in the intestinal juices that break down our meals into the nutrients that can be used by the body.
Insufficient hydration can cause body functions overall to slow down, leaving us lethargic and irritated.
Insufficient hydration can cause hunger pains because our bodies can sometimes confuse thirst with hunger.
The blood that moves oxygen and glucose around the body, is largely made up of water.
If you stay properly hydrated, the blood is easier to pump and your heart does not have to work so hard.
Water delivers nutrients to our cells.
Water is part of the urine and, to a lesser extent, feces that carry toxins and waste out of the body. These toxins are the byproduct of the many chemical reactions that take place in our bodies every day. Increased water intake is associated with less constipation.
Drinking more water is associated with reduced bladder infections.
high fluid intake decreases the risk of kidney stones.
More water leads to better skin hydration, health, suppleness, and appearance.
Maintenance of body temperature
When it is hot the sweat glands dilate and release the sweat that dissipates heat from the body. And when it is cold, our blood vessels constrict and retain heat.
Dehydration occurs when water losses exceed water intake. It can be caused by:
- Vigorous exercise
- Not drinking enough
- Excessive sweating
- Inability to swallow
- Diuretics (medications, such as blood pressure pills, that increase the amount of water and salt excreted as urine).
- Alcohol (alcohol is a diuretic)
Symptoms of dehydration include
- Dry mouth and lips
- Dark or decreased urine
- Loss of concentration
- Irritability, anxiety
- Headache, delirium, confusion
- Dark-colored urine
- Flushed skin
- Swollen feet and muscle cramps.
Enhanced risk of dehydration
Some people are at elevated risk for dehydration. These are especially children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly.
Very young children are insufficiently aware to know that they are dehydrated. And they are at risk for dehydration because of these factors:
- Lower stores of water because of lower body weight.
- Higher body surface area to body mass ratio, leading to proportionately more water loss through the skin.
- Thirst sensors are less developed leading to a lower inclination to drink water.
- Depend on other people to provide for their hydration needs.
- Tend to be physically hyperactive.
- Lack of hydration affects concentration and school performance.
- Young children are prone to vomiting and diarrhea, which is dehydrating.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
A woman who is pregnant will likely need additional fluids to stay hydrated. And, obviously, breastfeeding is a drain on the body’s hydration.
The elderly are at risk of dehydration because of these factors:
- Decreased thirst sensation.
- Taking medications that tend to dehydrate.
- Chronic diseases that affect kidney performance.
Exterior causes of dehydration
Environmental and physical factors can cause dehydration. These include:
- Air travel
- Hot or humid weather
- High altitudes
- Extended workouts
- Heavy physical labor
How to monitor your hydration levels
- Check urine color. A dark yellow indicates that there is insufficient water in the urine. You want your urine color to be pale yellow.
- Low volume urine is a sign of dehydration.
- Constipation can be a sign of dehydration.
- If you have dry or flaky skin, this can be a sign of dehydration. Water keeps skin clear, smooth, and soft.
- A dry mouth and bad breath are other signs of dehydration.
- Dry eyes are another sign of dehydration.
- Sickness: people who don’t drink enough water are more prone to sickness and staying sick.
- Lack of concentration can be a sign of dehydration
- Drink fluids before you are likely to be thirsty
- Once you feel thirsty, you are already on the way to dehydration.
How much water should you drink a day?
We often hear that you should drink 64 ounces or 8 glasses of plain water per day. But there is no scientifically based single recommended daily water intake.
This is not really surprising because there are so many variables in play. These include:
- Body mass
- Levels of activity
Our own (obviously unscientific) view is that 64 ounces of plain water are a sustainable minimum. And it is easy to monitor if you get a physical and visual aid like this 64-ounce motivational water bottle from Amazon.
And of course, this is supplemented by the water content in our food plus the coffee and tea we may be drinking throughout the day.
Tips on how to stay hydrated
Since there is no specific science in our proper water intake, we should just pay attention to our bodies and make sure we stay hydrated. Here are some tips:
- Keep a measured 64-oz water bottle nearby at all times. Make this a habit. If the bottle is in sight, it is in mind. Some of these water bottles display cute encouragement to keep your intake steady throughout the day.
- Use 64-oz as a guide only. Have in mind the need for additional hydration indicated by the circumstances outlined above.
- Try and avoid soda, energy, or sports drinks. These usually contain a lot of added sugars.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. They are mostly all water. And, just as a point of reference, 11 cucumbers = 8 glasses of water.
- There is plenty of water in smoothies but beware of added sugars. If you make your own smoothies, you can control this.
- Add a pinch of sea salt to your bottle of water. This will boost electrolytes. Sea salt has a better nutritional value than ordinary table salt.
- And you can jazz up your water by adding wedges of lemon or lime, or a splash of real fruit juice.
- Set reminders – use an alarm, smart device, or sticky note.
- Drink water with meals.
- Pay close attention to the color of your urine.
- Do all this and you will develop good hydration habits.
Hydration tips for athletes
Performance athletes need to pay special attention to their hydration.
- 24 hours before a sporting event, drink plenty of water and check your urine color.
- 2 hours before the event, drink 10- 16 ounces of water
- If you are an athlete and sweat during workouts, weigh yourself before and after exercising. The amount of weight you have lost is mainly attributable to lost water. Replace each lost pound with 16 – 24 ounces of water.
- In the case of athletes, it’s acceptable to drink carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drinks. For other people, there is too much sugar in them.
- According to WebMD, a good sports drink contains approximately 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per 8-ounce serving.
- A “fitness water” like Propel is somewhere between a sports drink and plain water. They contain fewer calories and electrolytes than sports drinks, but taste better than plain water.
Can you drink too much water?
So how much water is too much? For a healthy well-nourished person, drinking too much water is hardly ever a problem.,
However, athletes engaged in particularly long or intense exercise may overdo their hydration efforts, resulting in excessive water intake.
When this happens, the kidneys are unable to get rid of the excess water. As a result, the sodium level in the blood becomes over-diluted. And this can result in a condition called hyponatremia, which is life-threatening.
Can drinking water help you lose weight?
Yes. It does appear that drinking water helps with weight loss. There are several studies on this. It works in several ways:
Resting energy expenditure
Drinking water increases the number of calories you burn, especially when the water is cold. Your body is using energy just to process the water through it. And, when the water is cold, even more energy is used warming it up to body temperature.
Drinking water before, during, and after a meal
Drinking water at mealtimes reduces appetite. This in turn reduces calorie intake. And it appears that this is especially true in overweight middle-aged people.
There are no calories in water
o drink plain water during the day rather than calorie-laden sodas. Plus water can give you a feeling of fullness and reduce the urge to snack.
Drinking water increases your energy levels
And when your energy is up, your metabolism increases and you are burning more calories.
Increased hydration is associated with weight loss
And chronic dehydration is associated with obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
That said, for a serious weight loss effort, you will need to do a lot more than drink water. Nonetheless, weight loss is another very good reason to keep your hydration levels up.
Hydration without drinking water
If you just don’t like drinking water but know you need it, here are some non-water drinking ways to boost your water intake and combine hydration and nutrition in a twofer.
Milk is not only hydrating, but it’s nutritious too. It’s a source of protein, carbohydrates, and electrolytes.
We mentioned these earlier. Depending on what you put into the smoothie, this is a great and nutritious way to help stay hydrated.
Oatmeal for breakfast
Oatmeal absorbs a lot of liquid in its preparation. And add chia seeds, which absorb 10 times their weight in fluid. You can read about chia seeds here.
Water-heavy carb alternatives
Zucchini noodles, or zoodles, contain about 95% water. You can pair it with tomato sauce, which is 90% water.
Vegetables and fruits
Eat a lot of vegetables and fruit. They contain plenty of water, aside from their other nutrients.
This is where you literally combine hydration and nutrition. Here are some healthy hydrating foods that can help you on your way, together with their percentage of water content: watermelon (92%); strawberries (91%); cantaloupe melon (90%); peaches (89%); oranges (88%); skim milk (91%); cucumber (95%); lettuce (96%; broths & soups (92%); zucchini (94%); celery (95%); plain yogurt (88%); tomatoes (94%); bell peppers (92%); cauliflower (92%); cabbage (92%); grapefruit (88%); coconut water (95%); cottage cheese (80%); lettuce (96%).
Concluding hydration and nutrition
It might be surprising to learn that the mention of hydration and nutrition in the same sentence is a quite recent phenomenon. Nutrition has received far more attention than hydration.
But now, in the medical field, it seems that hydration is receiving proper recognition as part of a “total diet” approach. We lay-people should pay attention and treat proper hydration as an essential part of our diet.