Drink Up: The How, What and Why of Hydration

We place a lot of emphasis on how food fuels movement and recovery, and while that is still true, water is the cornerstone on which all nutrition, movement, and recovery depend.  

The human body is 72 percent water and every system within it requires adequate hydration to operate optimally.  

Water enables the body to absorb nutrients and transport them wherever they need to go. It aids in digestion, elimination of waste and toxins, regulates body temperature and metabolism, lubricates joints and muscles, and supports healthy brain function. 

What happens when you are dehydrated

When we feel very thirsty, the body has already lost as much as 10 percent of its water storage. That level of dehydration is often chronic due to the overconsumption of non-water beverages and foods that don’t support hydration. Chronic dehydration can lead to reduced energy, illness, overeating due to false hunger cues, which can lead to weight gain and related diseases. If we don’t stay hydrated, the body will experience the following: 

  • Temperature regulation suffers 
  • Heart function decreases, affecting oxygenation 
  • Ability to concentrate diminishes as the brain loses function 
  • Blood volume decreases 
  • Risk of injury increases 
  • Lethargy, dizziness, and irritability can occur with even mild dehydration 
  • Endurance for even the most basic movements decreases 

Dehydration and Exercise 

When we exercise our core body temperature rises and, in response, we sweat in an attempt to return to optimal temperatures. The sweat evaporates and cools the body and as a result, our body loses fluid. This fluid loss can be measured by weighing yourself before and after exercise. Research indicates that dehydration defined as an exercise weight loss greater than 2% body weight impairs performance.  

To avoid a decrease in performance follow these guidelines: 

  • Before exercise be sure to adequately hydrate, consider drinking 16 t0 18 oz four hours before exercise. 
  • During exercise drink according to thirst. In extreme weather conditions, additional fluid intake may be needed.  
  • After exercise, drink 16 to 24 oz for every pound lost.  

Basic hydration guidelines

Drinking ½-1 ounce of water per pound of body weight every day is an essential component of proper nutrition. Consuming about half your body weight in water every day provides 70-80 percent of the water your body needs, but the other 20-30 percent needs to come from your food. 

Foods that hydrate includes:

  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Carrots
  • Apples

These vegetables and fruits, among others, often contain 84-97 percent water, and including them into your daily nutrition plan can help keep the body hydrated while also providing vitamins and nutrients to fuel the body and support a healthy immune system. 

Avoid sodas, fruit drinks, alcohol, and excessive caffeine to maximize water intake and feel your best.

Quick strategies to drink more water

Drinking enough water can sometimes feel like a chore. Here are a few simple strategies to increase your daily water intake:

  • Keep a 1-liter bottle at your desk and refill it twice during the day, eliminating the need to count ounces.
  • Write notes or checkmarks on your water bottle with a dry-erase marker to count refills.
  • Set hydration break reminder alarms on your cell phone.
  • Use a water tracking app or reminder app to keep you mindful of water intake throughout the day.
  • Aim for 3 colors of fruits and vegetables on each meal plate, and you’ll get the 5+ daily servings you need to keep you hydrated.
  • Drink caffeine-free tea as part of a nightly bedtime routine.
  • Replace sugary sodas or juices with sparkling water.
  • Look for light yellow-colored urine throughout the day to verify that you’ve had enough water.

If these tips still seem a little overwhelming, one easy first step might be replacing one soda or cup of coffee with water or green tea each day. 

Keep things interesting by making homemade infused water. Combine tasty fruits and herbs like strawberry and basil in your water pitcher to flavor the water without added sugar or chemicals.

Stay mindful of your body’s need for water by paying attention to the way you feel and perform. Your body will let you know when it needs water, but the goal should be to provide enough water every day that excess thirst becomes a thing of the past. Your body—and brain—will thank you for it. Take it from registered dietician, Marsha Miller, of the Wellness Center, “I carry my water bottle with me everywhere I go! This is the only way to stay properly hydrated and I feel better. I choose a unique bottle with a straw. Research has shown that we drink more water if the bottle has a straw. Try it – it works!”


Anschutz Health and Wellness Center