By Katie Zampini
“Hydration.” The word itself has become a marketing tool, and while more and more products are available that claim to somehow improve upon the hydration benefits of old fashioned water, much confusion exists concerning how an accurate hydration goal is determined in regards to both the amount and the source. Are we aiming for adequacy? Is more always better? Is coconut water, for example, more beneficial than plain water? Do all liquids count equally in the daily tally?
What is Your Optimal Amount?
Many theories exist concerning what the appropriate amount of water intake per day actually is. You may have been told for most of your life that everyone should consume eight glasses of water per day, for example. But is there really something magical about eight glasses? That estimate is accurate, to a degree. It is based on the calculation that in normal circumstances, a person needs 1 milliliter of water per each calorie consumed. If you consume 2,000 calories per day, as the average American adult reportedly does, this equation would result in a recommended amount of 8.3 cups of water per day, hence, the common recommendation we’ve all grown up hearing. But this equation is sadly lacking in some major considerations. Surely, for example, the needs of a one hundred and twenty-pound woman who works in a climate-controlled office differs from that of a two hundred pound man who labors outdoors in the summertime heat.
It is interesting to note that because of great differences in climate, activity level and physical size between individuals, an official Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for water intake has not been set. Rather, an Adequate Intake (AI) reference is used, which only reflects the amount of a nutrient that is believed to be adequate for a healthy individual. The AI reference for the average man over the age of 19 is 3.0 liters of water per day from beverages (not including water that comes from food), and that for women is 2.2 liters. Because these numbers reflect the AI of the average individual, these needs also vary based on activity levels, the need to replenish water in the body after engaging in athletic or physical endeavors, and other factors.
So how should you calculate your individual need? The most individualized approach, if you care to go beyond relying on the recommended AI for your age and gender, is to calculate the average amount of calories you consume and divide that number by 240. This will give you the number of eight-ounce cups of water you should consume per day at an average energy expenditure level. You will then need to account for additional water loss from heat and physical exertion that is specific to you order to meet your goal.
If making this all less complicated (and less mathematical!) is more appealing to you, consider these overarching concepts in finding your hydration balance:
- View water as part of a holistic approach to wellness. Water has its place in a complete system of nutrition intake and the function of the body as a whole. Because water allows the body to remove toxins from itself, the more toxic your diet, the more water you need. If you eat a heavily plant-based diet, your body needs less drinking water, as fruits and vegetables are both non-toxic and are primarily made of water.
- Aim for balance. If you are not in the habit of drinking water throughout the day, you will find that drinking more water may temporarily beget more thirst. This is your body encouraging your increased hydration, so trust your body and consume more water.
- Know the signs of dehydration as well as the feeling of optimal physical functioning. Adjust your water intake accordingly. Are you feeling sluggish, lethargic, and/or dizzy? Drink another glass of water!
- Your need for water increases with time spent outside and with physical exertion. Make sure to accommodate for these factors.
- Lastly, err on the side of drinking more water than you may need.
Sources of Hydration
Not all sources of hydration are equally beneficial to your body. Avoid drinking too many beverages with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, or alcohol; Drinks with these ingredients should be treated as discretionary parts of your diet and account for no more than 10% of your daily beverage intake.
Apart from plain, filtered water, some examples of the next best sources of hydration to try this summer are listed below. These choices offer some variety and flavor without greatly increasing the amount of sugar or calories consumed, and none of them contain artificial ingredients.
- Unsweetened coconut water. Coconut water, even unsweetened, will contain sugar, but also benefits your body with electrolytes. Think of it as a natural sports drink. Look for brands that are not from concentrate, have less than 10grams of sugar per serving, and have no additives. If you have the time to be extra selective, look for a brand that does not employ high heat pasteurization, which can negate some of the heath benefits of the juice. (Note: You may need to order online to meet all of these qualifications! Harmless Harvest is a great brand to try.)
- Fruit waters. Fruit waters allow you to enjoy some additional flavor in your water with very little added calories from sugar.
- Sparkling fruit waters with no sugar or artificial flavors or sweeteners. La Croix is a great brand to try; it comes in many refreshing flavors and is available locally at area grocery stores. You can also make your own with club soda and fruit.
- Iced green tea. Green tea contains some caffeine, but also benefits your body with antioxidants, and is a refreshing choice for warm summer days.
- Fresh fruit and vegetable juices with no added sugar. Aim for blends that are composed mostly of vegetable juices or low-sugar fruits. (Think cucumber-based juice, rather than high-sugar juices like apple- or orange-based juices.)
Fitness, Hydration, and Southern Summer Heat
In addition to the goals you have throughout the year for hydration, summertime presents a new challenge in staying hydrated, particularly if you engage in physical activity outdoors. Here are a few tips to stay safe and feeling your best during the summer months.
- At least four hours before exercising, slowly consume between 13-20 ounces of fluid.
- Consume another 7-10 ounces in the twenty minutes immediately preceding exercise.
- Conduct a sweat trial to determine how much water you should consume during your average exercise session. To achieve a simple calculation, weigh yourself before and immediately following your next sweat session. Each pound lost equates to approximately 16-24 ounces of water. After calculating your water loss, make that amount your fluid intake goal during your next session to avoid dehydration and to enhance your performance. You can divide the number of ounces needed by hours of exercise to ensure that your hydration level stays consistent.
- Whenever possible, avoid exercising outdoors during the hottest times of the day. Try to schedule outdoor workouts or athletic practices for the morning hours before noon and the afternoon/evening hours after 3 pm. Southern summers are tough on the body, so if you must be outdoors and physically exerting energy in the heat of the day it is very important that you stay hydrated!
Enjoy this summer and the benefits of a well-hydrated body. Mathematical calculations aside, why not see what a little more water can do for you, and then keep up the habit? The goal is an optimally functioning body that feels great, and adequate hydration is just part of the larger equation.
Watermelon-Mint Agua Fresca
Try this delicious recipe for a light and refreshing, all-natural way to stay hydrated during the hottest Mississippi months without added sugar.
- 9 cups fresh watermelon, cubed
- 1.5 cups fresh, filtered water
- 2 limes, juiced (plus more for serving)
- ½ cup sliced strawberries
- Fresh mint leaves
Cube your watermelon into manageable sized cubes, and place into a blender with water and freshly squeezed lime juice. Blend on the highest setting for two whole minutes. Use a thinly spaced metal strainer to strain the juice mixture into your pitcher. Serve cold, over ice, with slices of lime and strawberry. Top with mint leaves.