You already know that water is vital for your health, but you likely have less clarity about how it actually works. How much water should you drink every day? When should you drink it? Is there such a thing as too much water? To get to the bottom of staying hydrated and safe this summer, we asked health experts around Atlanta to answer these questions and to give us their best tips.
It may seem like a no-brainer that hydration means drinking water, but there’s more to it than that. Meagan Patterson, a clinical dietitian at Northside Hospital, emphasizes that hydration isn’t just about drinking for thirst on a hot, summer day. In fact, proper hydration — or lack thereof — can impact your overall health. “Staying hydrated helps you think, move, defend against illness, and prevent kidney stones, blood clots, and gallstones,” she said. ”Dehydration contributes to heart, kidney, and GI [gastro-intestinal] problems, and many other conditions,” Patterson added.
What’s really going on when you neglect your hydration is a depletion of valuable fluids and electrolytes. And those electrolytes (magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, etc.) can help your body perform valuable functions from muscle contractions to the transmission of nerve impulses. In layman’s terms: You can damage your health and feel lousy if you don’t stay on top of your fluid intake.
Know the Warning Signs
By the time you’re feeling thirsty, you’re probably already in the throes of dehydration. This can be especially dangerous for children who are busy playing outside or participating in sports. Dr. Scott Batchelor, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says “Heat illness is a continuum, you go from dehydration to heat exhaustion to heat stroke, which is the most severe. At the point a child comes to you complaining that they’re thirsty, they’re already dehydrated.”
To better understand the warning signs, we asked Patterson what to look for. “Dehydration feels like increased thirst, dry mouth or tongue furrows, feeling tired or sleepy, decreased urine frequency and volume, urine that is more yellow than normal, headache, dry skin, feeling dizzy, having few or no tears, sunken and dry eyes, and decreased weight,” she said. Patterson also warns that nausea and vomiting can be triggered by dehydration or dehydration-related electrolyte imbalances.
Older kids participating in sports camps like soccer, football, and tennis need to regu- larly consume fluids. Batchelor recommends that children nine to 12 need to drink 4 to 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes during activ- ity. He also says that the emergency room sees a spike in kids suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion, particularly in August when heat and sport camps spike. This is especially true for football players, who are require to wear heavy equipment and pads.
Children’s Batchelor also warns that when a child suffers from heat exhaustion, they’re likely suffering from dizziness, lightheaded- ness, fainting episodes, and vomiting and should be immediately removed from the field of play and/or taken indoors and given fluids. Remember that even cooler summer days and an an afternoon of swimming can result in dehydration from over-activity and poor fluid intake, he says.
The Dangers of Overhydration
Believe it or not, there is a downside of diligently hydrating and getting extreme with your fluid intake. When you drink too much water or other fluids, you can actually overhydrate by taking in more than your body really needs or can possibly eliminate. While overhydration is not terribly common, excessively drinking water can rapidly deplete the sodium levels in your bloodstream and put you in the danger zone.
“Symptoms of overhydration may include swelling of lower legs or lungs, rapid unintentional weight gain, shortness of breath/ difficulty breathing, lung crackles, heart and kidney failure, confusion, seizures, or coma,” warns Northside’s Patterson. She advises that normal functioning kidneys can easily tolerate 24 ounces per hour, but more than that, and you’re potentially putting your health at risk.
What Should We Drink?
You probably guessed that water is generally the best choice to keep hydrated. Batchelor recommends choosing water over sports drinks, especially for younger kids and toddlers. But older kids participating in sports camps in the heat of summer may need something more. Water is still ideal if they are participating in an hour or less of activity, but for prolonged activity or in extreme heat, sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade can help keep electrolytes in check.
Generally, consuming alcoholic beverages, sweetened drinks, and caffeine often can make your dehydration worse. But what if you’re sick? In this case, choose high-potassium drinks and foods with high water content. For example, those suffering from diarrhea should consider coconut water to help stay hydrated. And if you are nauseated and need more fluids, try consuming foods with high water content in small, frequent servings like melons, soups, frozen grapes, frozen yogurt, and shakes that can cool you down. Keep in mind that sodas, sweetened teas, fruit juices, and alcohol can ultimately make diarrhea worse and aggravate dehydration.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
Whether you’re planning to hit the beach all summer, joining an outdoor bootcamp, or have kids in sports camp; staying hydrated is mandatory for your health this summer. WellStar registered dietician Kristen Smith recommends drinking water or other fluids on a schedule, such as choosing a drink every 30 minutes to an hour, and beginning and finishing your day with water. Drinking water through a straw also can help increase your fluid intake. Smith also encourages everyone to drink plenty of fluids between meals when you feel hungry, as thirst often can be mistaken for hunger.
Registered Dietician Page Love of Nutrifit Sport Therapy also recommends pre-hydrat- ing before sports training with 2 to 3 cups of fluid within two hours before activity, and keeping a water bottle with you at all times. Freeze it overnight so it stays cool throughout a hot summer day. Incorporating more water- based foods like fruits and vegetables also can contribute to staying hydrated.
Remember that staying hydrated is a habit; you may need some encouraging along the way. Make it fun by adding some cucumber slices or fresh fruits to your ice- cold water and turn hydration into an event to look forward to.
How Much Fluids Do We Really Need?
If you suffer from kidney disease, heart failure, or other health complications, check with your doctor before getting on a hydration regimen. Otherwise, healthy people can follow along with the advice provided by Northside Hospital.
Boys ages 9-13 need 2.4 liters or 10 cups daily
Boys ages 14-18 need 3.3 liters or 14 cups daily
Men ages 19-70+ need 3.7 liters or 16 cups daily
Girls ages 9-13 need 2.1 liters or 9 cups daily
Girls ages 14-18 need 2.3 liters or 10 cups daily
Women ages 19-70+ need 2.7 liters or 11 cups daily
Pregnant women need at least 3 liters or 13 cups daily
Lactating women need at least 3.8 liters or 16 cups daily
Keep in mind that the above is a general rule of thumb and your own individual fluid needs could differ depending on your height, weight, and health conditions. For example, you likely need more fluids when you’re going to participate in increased activity or outside in hot weather. Your best bet is to connect with your doctor or dietician for personalized recommendations tailored to your needs and lifestyle.
Registered dietician Page Love of Nutrifit Sport, Therapy, Inc., says you can estimate body weight-specific fluid guidelines by multiplying your weight in pounds by .7 in order to calculate the ounces you need. She also encourages her clients involved in sports to never miss an opportunity to drink fluids during a changeover or break.