I hear it’s still snowing in Maine, but here in Northern California, it’s getting pretty hot out there. Temperatures seem to have gone from the mid-60’s to mid-80’s almost overnight. It’s time to start thinking about carrying a water bottle when you go out for even a short walk or run. But how much should you drink? In other words, how much hydration do you need?
You may have heard of the 8 x 8 rule: everyone should drink eight 8 oz glasses of water a day. It turns out that while that may be easy to remember, it is an over generalization. This guidance was developed with the intent of being easy to remember and being suitable for people of “average height and weight”. And, of course, “average” is not an absolute.
According the Mayo Clinic, the following factors influence the amount of hydration your body needs:
If you do any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to cover the fluid loss. It’s important to drink water before, during and after a workout.
Hot or humid weather can make you sweat and requires additional fluid intake. Dehydration also can occur at high altitudes.
Your body loses fluids when you have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea. Bladder infections and urinary tract infections may also require you to increase hydration.
- Pregnancy or breast-feeding
Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need additional fluids to stay hydrated.
In short, all of thing being equal, exercising in a hot or humid environment will increase your hydration needs.
Hydration, however, does not only refer to what you drink. Many foods also provide hydration. For example, fruits and vegetables such as watermelon and spinach, are almost 100 percent water by weight. In addition, beverages such as milk, juice and herbal teas are composed mostly of water.
Should I be drinking sports drinks instead of water while exercising?
Another common rule you may be familiar with is that sports drinks should be used when you’re exercising intensely for more than an hour. These drinks help replace electrolytes lost through perspiration and sugar needed for energy during longer workouts. However, if you want to avoid processed sugar, you can replenish electrolytes with other products, such as Nuun. Nuun is one of many brands of electrolyte replacement tablets. I have not noticed significant differences among the different brands based on my personal experience. I tend to choose based on the flavors each brand has available. Each quickly dissolvable tablet can be added to a 16oz bottle of water and provides a flavored, sometimes fizzy taste. For those of you who don’t like drinking water because of the taste, Nuun not only increases the electrolytes you consume, it can make the water taste more interesting.
Each Nuun tablet contains the following active ingredients:
- Sodium (carbonates): 360.0 milligrams.
- Potassium (bicarbonate): 100.0 milligrams.
- Calcium (carbonate): 12.5 milligrams.
- Magnesium (sulfate): 25.0 milligrams.
- Vitamin C: 37.5 milligrams.
- Vitamin B2: 500 micrograms.
- Calories: 10.
- Sugar: 1 gram.
While the popular sports drink Gatorade does not provide the same level of detail on its label, compare the 10 calories and 1 gram of sugar per 16 oz serving of Nuun to 16 oz of Gatorade, which has 100 calories and 24 grams of sugar.
What about energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar?
Energy drinks are different from sports drinks. Energy drinks generally are not formulated to replace electrolytes. Energy drinks usually contain large amounts of caffeine or other stimulants, sugar, and other additives. Whether or not you choose to drink energy drinks in your daily life, they are not recommended for use during athletic activities including walking and running.
Is more of a good thing always a good thing, or can you drink too much water?
It is possible to drink too much water. While this is usually uncommon, it is more common in athletes (and yes, you are an athlete!) than in the general population since athletes are very concerned with replacing the fluids lost during exercise, especially in hot and humid environments. When your kidneys cannot excrete the excess water, the sodium content of your blood becomes diluted leading to a condition called hyponatremia, which can be life-threatening.
How do you know if you a hydrated, dehydrated (not enough fluids) or overhydrated (too much fluid)?
Your urine should be a pale, yellow color. Dark urine (like the color of apple juice) indicates that you may be dehydrated and should hydrate more. On the flip side, completely clear urine does not necessarily indicate they you have overhydrated. However, a good way to avoid hyponatremia is to make sure you are consuming sodium in addition to water when exercising, rather than just water alone. By including some sodium, you can ensure the sodium content of your blood does not get diluted to the point of hyponatremia. You can accomplish this by including oranges or watermelon slices in your hydration plan, if possible. Or you can carry salty snacks such as nuts, pretzels, and potato chips to consume with water while you exercise. While these are all awesome options for hiking, you may find it difficult to carry them on your long runs. The portability of sport drinks and electrolyte replacement tablets make them ideal for scenarios when you are not carrying a cooler or backpack.