H2O - tips and tricks for staying hydrated (with added benefits!)
You don't need me to tell you that keeping your fluids up is a pretty big deal, water is undisputedly the single most important nutrient required by the human body. We can endure around 3 weeks without eating (though I think most of us would prefer not to test that theory!) yet more than 3 days without some form of water and even Mad Max himself would be breathing his last raspy breath...
Thankfully the human body is very good at reminding us when we're getting dehydrated, thirst is a difficult sensation to ignore, and as good as a tasty beverage is... a glass of cool, refreshing water is one of the best rewards there is after a taxing workout.
However it turns out there's more to drinking water than just, well, drinking water! If you really want to maximise the benefits of keeping hydrated, plus the cleansing properties and metabolic aid that water can provide, you've got to be clever about your H2O consumption. Luckily we've done the research for you, so read on for some helpful tips;
One of the best things you can do after you wake up and before consuming any food is to have a sizeable drink (around 16oz - or two glasses - of water is recommended). During the night is the longest period your body goes without ingesting any fluids, and as a result you are slowly dehydrating as you sleep. Having a glass of water when you wake up is just as important as a well-rested sleep when it comes to giving yourself the best possible start to the day. Water first thing in the morning fires up your metabolism (studies have shown a whopping 24% increase in metabolic rate over the following hour and a half!), hydrates you, helps your body flush out unwanted toxins, gives your brain fuel and also reduces the appetite - helping you avoid accidentally scoffing down any excess food that your body might not really need during breakfast (...we all have those days).
Tip: Place a fresh glass of water by your bedside every night so when you wake up you'll be reminded to start the day off with a drink. Keep this routine up every day and you'll be a two steps ahead before your feet are even on the ground (now that's impressive!).
Usually when people talk about fueling the brain, they're referring to the energy and nutrients we require from food, however water is just as vital - in fact more so - when it comes to keeping us thinking straight. Your most complex organ (the brain) is made up of 75% water. Water provides the electrical energy for all brain's functions, including thought and memory processes. So if you're not adequately hydrated, your brain cells aren't able to function properly which will leave you feeling slow, sluggish, moody and tired. Scientific studies have found that dehydration induced by heat, stress or exercise can have detrimental effects on short-term memory, working memory and visuo-motor abilities (Good old 'Hand to eye co-ordination' if you want to be a little less technical about it). Perhaps more surprisingly though, studies have also shown that the effects of even mild dehydration are just as adverse during sedentary periods as they are when you're exercising. Even as little as a 1.5% loss of normal water volume in the body causes headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, lowered vigilance and greatly reduced working memory, which definitely puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to remembering that tricky combo in class, or powering through a draining gym sesh. So whilst you might be tempted to reach straight for the lolly jar when you're mid-way through exam study or working through the night due to a deadline for work, at least make sure you've topped up on water first. There's a lot less chance of your essay sounding like jibberish the next morning if you've been water-smart and kept your brain cells happy and hydrated with regular water intake. What's significant is that the brain is unable to store any water (unlike our muscles), which is why it's so important that you keep topping up when you're counting on brain power. You'll think faster, be more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.
Tip: Pay extra attention to your fluid levels when you're counting on having a clear head at work or school. Most people become much less attentive of fluid levels when they're not exercising - and especially during times of stress - so try getting in the habbit of prompting yourself to drink a glass of water (or herbal tea for a hot alternative) whenever you take a toilet break, or setting an hourly reminder on your phone if, like me, you can be especially forgetful at times.
Along with the brain, water composes around 75% of our muscle tissue, and a shortage of water will have an immediate impact on the muscles and how well you recover from a workout. Chances are if you're cramping up in class or after a run then you could be running low on fluid and it's affecting the electrolyte balance in your system (which in turn influences muscle contractions).
The adverse effects that dehydration has on exercise performance include:
- Reduction in blood volume
- Decreased skin blood flow
- Decreased sweat rate
- Decreased heat dissipation
- Increased core temperature
- Increased rate of muscle glycogen use
So as you can see it's essential that in order to perform in peak condition you are ensuring the body stays properly hydrated all the time, rather than waiting until you start feeling parched to replenish your fluid levels.
Tip: Drink a glass or two of water any time you leave for the gym or studio to prevent dehydrating during that initial exercising period before you start feeling the need to reach for your water bottle.
Take. Water. With. You.
Seems pretty standard right? And yet a study in the US found that up to 75% of the population was chronically dehydrated (...that's a lot of dazed and sluggish people on the loose!). So it seems we're still falling a little short of the mark, which isn't too much of a surprise given the hustle and bustle of daily life (we all get busy and forget to prioritise ourselves some days) but this is not something you want to skimp on because dehydration will affect every aspect of your daily life, from your memory, to your mood, to your reflexes and your performance in class. So it's time to get your bum in gear and make sure you're taking a water bottle with you to work, school, dance and the gym.
Tip: Make sure you're always carrying water on you whenever you're heading out, this way you won't get stuck if you can't find a fountain or shop before you start feeling parched. Keep a water bottle in your bag and get into the routine of topping it up at the end of the day. Even better, keep a spare bottle in your car in case you have a forgetful moment and leave your other bottle at home.
And finally, if you're not at all thirsty but you haven't had a drink in a while, then pinch yourself (No, I don't mean that as some sort of strange self-disciplinary action!). The 'pinch test' is a great way for most people to gauge the level of hydration in the body by assessing their skin turgor (the skin's ability to change shape and return to normal - it's elasticity), specificaly the turgor of the hand or abdomen for best results. The faster that your skin is able to 'spring back' to it's normal shape and colour, the better. If after firmly but gently pinching the skin on top of the hand for several seconds your skin is slow to respond (i.e. it takes more than a second or two for the colour to seep back in) then it's a strong indicator that you're moderately to severely dehydrated, and it's time to get another dose of H2O.
Hopefully we've given you the motivation you need to start working regular water breaks into your routine if (like the majority) it hasn't been a major priority in the past. The effects of dehydration whilst initially subtle, are extensive and incredibly enervativng, and re-hydrating your body will improve every area from your skin health, to digestion, memory, mood, concentration and performance ability, and the best part is, it's such a simple and easy adjustment to make, and with just a few small changes to your routine you'll be feeling like a whole new person!
who else feels like a glass of water right now?
References, statistics, studies and further reading: http://www.myfit.ca/foods_that_speed_metabolism.asp
By Elly Ford for Energetiks