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Thirst for knowledge? Best ways to stay hydrated

VCU Health dietitian shares how much water you need and what you should eat to stay hydrated.

Young woman drinking out of a water bottle on a hot day. Staying hydrated is a way to regulate your body temperature when it’s hot outside. (Getty Images)

By Mia Stephens

You’ve probably heard the advice to drink eight glasses of water a day to keep yourself hydrated. But with 75% of Americans chronically dehydrated and having less water the older they get; people are clearly not drinking enough.

With increasing temperatures on the horizon, making sure you are consuming enough water is more than just about quenching your thirst – it’s a way to prevent serious health problems due to extreme heat.

VCU Health dietician Mary-Jo Sawyer, R.D., says there’s no “one-size-fits-all" approach for how much water you should actually drink. As a clinical dietician counseling patients on nutrition as well as sharing healthy recipes with VCU Health News, Sawyer brings a unique perspective in ways we can incorporate hydration into daily routines.

“No matter if you drink water, down a sports drink or eat a juicy orange, staying hydrated during the summer months is key to keeping your health in check and avoiding a trip to the emergency room,” Sawyer said.

Why is it important to stay hydrated?

Studies have shown that adults who stay well-hydrated appear healthier, develop fewer chronic conditions and liver longer. Fluids do a fantastic job at keeping our bodies functioning properly, especially when it is hot outside.

Here are a few ways hydration keeps our body in check:

  • Aids digestion
  • Lubricates and protect organs, tissues, and joints
  • Maintains electrolyte (sodium) balance
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Helps with brain function

How much water should you drink a day?

We’ve all heard that we should drink eight glasses of water daily. Some experts recommend one cup for every 20 pounds of body weight. However, there’s no hard and fast way to calculate hydration.

To stay hydrated consistently, experts recommend that you drink fluids in short intervals throughout the day.

It can be hard for some people to drink enough fluids because of their daily activities or where they live. Older adults should be drinking larger amounts of water each day because of different medications and health conditions for this population.

Besides water, what are the best ways to stay adequately hydrated?

Water isn’t the only fluid you can drink. There are many ways that you can increase your fluid intake.

One way is experimenting with your water’s flavor appeal by adding a dash of lemon or lime juice, or a few pieces of cut up fruit. Another way is considering other beverage choices like milk, plant-based milks, juice and sugar free flavored waters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these types of beverages include important nutrients that are vital such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D. Even adding juicy fruits to your diet like watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, oranges, grapefruit, and tomatoes can help. And for cooler days, broth-based soups work like a charm.

Can too much water do more harm than good?

Drinking too much water is rarely a problem for healthy adults. Athletes occasionally drink too much water in an attempt to prevent dehydration during long or intense exercise. When you drink too much water, it makes it difficult for the kidneys to get rid of excess water. This causes hyponatremia, where the sodium content of your blood becomes diluted, which can be life-threatening.

Are electrolyte supplements good for you? And what part do they play in hydration?

Sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes have many purposes in the body, but they are responsible for regulating overall hydration. Most of the time, our bodies do a fairly good job of regulating it. On average, Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily. However, too much sodium or too little potassium consumed can increase your blood pressure.

If you’re a competitive athlete who sweats a lot or if you have a medical concern that requires extra sodium, electrolyte supplements could be helpful. Adding sodium to fluids can help improve fluid retention and restore electrolyte balance. greatly in the amounts of sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes.  Large amounts could be concerning, or dangerous for some. 

If you have high blood pressure, heart issues, kidney disease or other chronic health problems you should check with a doctor to see if these products are safe for you to use.

What is a good indicator of hydration?

The color of urine is good way to help remind us to drink more fluids. Pale-yellow colored urine or clear urine usually indicates that you are well-hydrated while amber colored urine symbolizes the beginning of dehydration. Additionally, using the restroom once every few hours is also a great indication that you are staying hydrated.

Symptoms to look for dehydration are dry mouth, headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramps. Usually, these symptoms resolve within the matter of 10 minutes of drinking fluids.

According to the CDC, you should drink before feeling thirsty
. Thirst might be helpful when determining dehydration, but you can’t always trust your thirst. However, being “thirsty” could also indicate some undiagnosed medical issues such as diabetes, related to medications, or how much you sweat. If you’re drinking plenty of water but are still thirsty contact your doctor.