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.

Hydration 101

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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.