As warmer weather comes (albeit too slowly, one might argue!) now’s the time for fitness fans to rethink their water intake. Guest contributor, nutritionist Naomi Mead has created a guide on this very topic for creators of the fruit infusing water bottle, Infruition.
We all know that we should be drinking more water. It’s up there with eating more vegetables, and doing more exercise; simple life changes that undoubtedly will make us feel better and be hugely beneficial to our health. In fact, ‘2 litres a day’ has become something of a health mantra- a tangible goal to which we can aim for. We feel smug if we achieve it; we berate ourselves if we don’t.
But can there really be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the amount of water we, as individuals, drink a day? And do we fully understand why water is so important, and what the impacts are on our body if we don’t get enough? Lets get the facts on hydration….
How much water do we actually need?
A recent UK study showed that a staggering 89% of the population is not drinking enough water to maintain healthy hydration levels. In fact, 13% of women, and 20% of men admitted that they drink no water at all.
For most of us, it may seem logical to wait until we are thirsty before we reach for the bottle of water. However, evidence suggests that our thirst sensation doesn’t actually occur until we are 1- 2% dehydrated, and by this time it is certain to be already having a negative impact on how our body and mind perform.It’s also known that as we age our thirst sensations start to diminish, and consequentially we may not register thirst until having reached a certain level of dehydration. Confusing the symptoms of thirst for hunger is another commonly made mistake, leading us to eat rather than rehydrate.
The best way we can monitor our hydration status is by checking the colour of our urine, which should be a pale straw colour. This can be maintained by sipping water regularly over the course of the day, and being mindful of the fact that we need to drink more when exercising, or in hot and humid conditions to compensate for additional fluid loss. We should try not to fixate on the “2 litres a day” figure, as this takes no account of individuality or activity levels. Instead, we should be using our own body as a guide.
Why is hydration so important?
Some of the most apparent and well-recognised signals of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth, mild headaches and dark-coloured urine. However, the impact in the body of not drinking enough water goes far beyond these telltale signs…
Energy & Mood
Our brains are composed of 85% water, and studies have shown that even mild dehydration can have a significant impact on mood, energy levels and mental performance. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that mild dehydration in study participants led to alterations in mood, headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. These findings, published in The Journal of Nutrition, were found to be more pronounced in women than in men (ladies take note!); and occurred both at rest and during exercise.
Reduced Endurance & Muscle Fatigue
Dehydration can significantly impact on athletic performance. Under relatively mild levels of dehydration, individuals participating in rigorous physical activity were shown
to display reduced endurance, increased fatigue and reduced motivation. This highlights the importance of being well hydrated before exercise, and not just to replenish lost fluids post exertion. Muscle soreness, cramping, and longer recovery times, can also occur as a result of not drinking enough water before and throughout exercising.
Water is absolutely vital for the efficient functioning of all our body systems including our cardiovascular, nervous and digestive systems. If water intake is insufficient, the body will compensate by holding onto fluid in its cells, resulting in the bloating and discomfort associated with water retention. Paradoxically, drinking more water, not less, can eliminate fluid retention.
Water is essential for keeping things flowing through the gastrointestinal tract. When we don’t get enough fluid, the body will compensate by pulling water from stools to maintain hydration, causing hard stools that are difficult to pass and resulting constipation. We also need water to produce the digestive juices that break down our food. Without these, a variety of digestive problems can result including gas, bloating, discomfort and nausea.
So how can you increase your water intake?
If you find it difficult to drink enough water, here are a few tips:
- Keep a bottle of water in front of you on your desk at work. If it’s in your line of vision, you are less likely to forget. You could even set a few alerts on your phone throughout the day to remind yourself; in fact, there is even an app for this very purpose!
- Switching your tea or coffee for herbal teas is a fantastic way to up your fluid intake, especially during the winter months. Peppermint, fennel and ginger are all good options, but most importantly choose one you enjoy and will want to drink more of!
- Eat your water.Cucumber, lettuce, celery, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, spinach and watermelon are all at least 90% water, so pack your diet with these juicy foods.
- Fruit-infused water- by infusing your water with fresh fruits and herbs you can add flavour to your water, and get the added boost of vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients at the same time.With this in mind, here are 4 health-boosting fruit-infusion combinations:1. Strawberry, lime & cucumber- for a refreshing and delicious antioxidant hit with skin-boosting properties.
2. Grapefruit & rosemary- this combination features grapefruit, which is packed with vitamin C, together with rosemary, which contains compounds that may enhance memory and concentration.
3. Pineapple, fennel & mint – these ingredients all support a healthy digestive system, making this a perfect post-meal combination.
4. Lemon & ginger – a fantastic immune boosting water, that is also great for an unsettled stomach as ginger has wonderful anti-nausea properties.
Cheers to happy hydration & good health!
About Naomi Mead BSc (Hons) DipION FdSc
Naomi Mead is a Nutritional Therapist trained and accredited at the renowned Institute of Optimum Nutrition. She is also an established health and nutrition writer and provides regular content for publications and websites, including Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, and Cotswold Life Magazine. Naomi offers one-on-one consultations, group talks and cookery workshops, and has a particular interest in the areas of weight management, female health, and sports nutrition. Her approach is both supportive and very practical, and she will provide you with nutritional advice tailored to your individual goals and lifestyle.