For something so essential, our bodies are not always great at letting us know when it’s time to drink or when it’s time to stop drinking. Under- or over-hydrating can have a number of ramifications such as 1) increased hunger, 2) lethargy, 3) nausea, 4) bowel movement disruption, 5) muscle cramps, and even more seriously, 6) organ failure. Use these tips to find out your fluid and electrolyte needs and get in the right amount of fluids and electrolytes naturally. Beyond getting the appropriate volume of fluids per day, it is critical to focus on drinking the right types of beverages.
Calculating your fluid needs
There are a number of different ways to calculate your fluid needs. If you are not engaging in strenuous physical activity, one rule of thumb is to have 1 milliliter of water for every calorie you eat. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories, this means you would need to drink 2,000mL, or 2L, of fluids per day. Another rule of thumb is to multiply your weight in kilograms by 25 to figure out how many milliliters of fluids you need to drink daily. For those who prefer the English system of measurement, another option is to divide your weight in pounds by 2, which will reflect about how many ounces you need to drink in a day. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, you need about 50 oz of fluid (five to six 8oz servings), and if you weight 200 pounds, you need about 100 oz of fluid (10-12 8oz servings). This is assuming you are not sweating excessively or losing fluids in any other way.
You can also do a urine test: you want to aim for a pale yellow color of urine. A darker color reflects dehydration, and a more clear color reflects over hydration. Keep in mind that certain vitamins and medications can also alter the color of your urine.
For athletes and others engaging in strenuous activity
When you are exercising, you lose fluids not only through perspiration (sweating) but also through respiration (breathing). Needs will increase or decrease with length and intensity of activity, conditions in which you are exercising, and the amount you sweat. To be really precise, there are formulas to calculate exact water needs for athletes based on the weight changes before and after exercise. In general, however, The American College of Sports Medicine has the following guidelines:
- Drink 6-20 ounce fluids at least 4 hours before an activity and 8-12 ounce fluids 10-15 minutes before an activity.
- Drink 3 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes when exercising more than 60 minutes without exceeding 1 quart (32 ounces) per hour.
Sports drinks and electrolytes
Sports beverages are helpful and necessary during intense and prolonged activity (greater than 60 minutes of intense activity) both to replenish necessary fluids but also to replenish electrolytes. People who just replenish fluids without electrolytes can end up with serious electrolyte disruption.
Sports drinks also typically contain some carbohydrate – in addition to sodium and potassium – to help shuttle fluids into our cells and speed up digestion. Most sports drinks have 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28mg of potassium and 100mg of sodium per eight ounces.
However, you do not have to drink a sports drink for these combinations of nutrients.
Try the following natural alternatives:
- Juicing three stalks of celery, two carrots and one apple
- Drinking one cup of V8 juice
- Mixing half a cup of orange juice with half a cup of water and a quarter tsp salt
For people who need electrolyte replacement due to diarrhea or vomiting, you can also try the following combinations which contain fluids and electrolytes:
- Chicken broth with potatoes
- Cottage cheese with melon
- Banana sprinkled with sea salt and a glass of water
What counts as fluids:
- Herbal teas/decaffeinated beverages
- Ice pops
Many fruits and vegetables like:
- Iceberg lettuce
What does not count as fluids:
Typically, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are not counted towards fluid needs since they are dehydrating (notice how you have to urinate more frequently after drinking a cup of coffee. This does not mean you need to forego caffeinated or alcoholic beverages completely. It just means you should not be using caffeinated beverages as your sole source of fluids.
Check out my next blog that includes my favorite ways to make water a better tasting and more enticing drink.