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Am I Dehydrated? Adequate Water Intake can Boost Mood, Performance, and Energy

One moment we were on the dance floor stepping it out with a brisk cha-cha dance, and then all of a sudden, things became a blur (and no, I hadn’t had even one alcoholic beverage). Instantly, I was keenly supersensitive to the colors around me, the music and the laughter. Though I’m used to being twirled around, I had lost my sense of direction and, instantaneously, my energy was completely zapped and I was having a hard time moving.

After John helped me to a seat, I ran through the list of possibilities to my sudden and uncomfortable energy deficit. Yup, that’s me…analytical – especially about energy. During the writing of my book, REBOOT: how to power up your energy, focus, and productivity, I reviewed more than 1000 medical research articles related to human energy and performance so I began running through the list of possibilities.

What’s Happening?

Sleep-deprived? No, I’d been sleeping well so that wasn’t an issue.

Low blood glucose? I’d just eaten a moderately-sized, well-balanced meal before heading out to dance, so my blood sugar wasn’t low.

Fatigue from overexertion? The weather had been perfect for the outdoors so we’d gone kayaking and surfing in the days previously. But I don’t think I overdid it.

Dehydrated? Hmmm, possibly…

Dehydration: Signs & Symptoms

After downing two 16oz bottles of water, I started to feel myself once again. Yup, I was definitely dehydrated. I clearly didn’t balance my weekend outdoor activities with my fluid ingestion.

What about YOU? Do you heed the signs and symptoms of dehydration? It’s not just a drop in your energy level. Dehydration can adversely affect your mood and performance, too. It can bring on headaches.

And, it’s not overt dehydration that makes us feel bad. Even a slight (1%) dehydration can cause confusion and loss of concentration…that might be making your workload more difficult right now!

Sports nutritionists have been advising athletes to monitor their fluid requirements since a 2-3% reduction in body fluids can noticeably decrease their sports performance (speed and strength).

Other published articles found that even a mild state of dehydration (>1% of body weight…that’s just 3 cups for a 150-pound person) can adversely affect our energy level, mood, and performance in non-athletes, too. That includes increasing anger, depression, and confusion. Dehydration can also negatively affect your memory, increase headaches, contribute to weight gain, and even lead to rough, dry skin. 

BTW dehydration is a problem with kids, too. Harvard University researchers looked at data from more than 4,000 children and teens, aged 6 to 19. About half of the children and teens weren’t getting enough hydration. Nearly one-quarter of the study participants said they drank no plain water at all. They noted that, ” even mild dehydration can cause issues, including headaches, irritability, poorer physical performance, and reduced cognitive functioning.”

What's 1-2% Dehydration?

Write down your weight (in pounds) with a decimal point after the number. Such as “150." Now, move the decimal point to the left two spaces. For this example, 1% of 150 would be, “1.50 pounds”. That means, if you lose 1.5 pounds on the scale, you would be 1% dehydrated. And, of course, if you lost 3 pounds, that would represent 2% dehydration.

What does that look like? To translate that into water, remember that two cups of fluid (16oz) weighs a pound. So, if you’ve lost 3 pounds, you’d need 6 cups of fluid to re-hydrate completely. 

Dehydration: Not Just in Warm Weather

Dehydration can happen anytime of the year – whenever you’re not drinking fluids to match your bodily losses.

In other words, it doesn’t just happen when the temperature is hot – or when you’re working out. Water is being evaporated from your skin constantly – even when you’re working at your desk and when you’re sleeping. Even when you don’t notice – like when you’re in a cool pool or ocean. Or when you’re shoveling snow, and outdoors skiing.

One of my clients learned about dehydration the hard way. He was wondering why his energy (and performance at work) was dropping. He had a cup of coffee for breakfast and a can of soda at lunch – and then, no other beverages until he came home from work in the evening. That’s simply not enough fluid for this nearly 20 hour period of time. 

Another client was having a tough time losing weight. She realized that being dehydrated was tricking her into thinking she was hungry.

How Much Fluid Should I Be Drinking?

This miraculous body of ours is about 60% water (babies are more like 70% water). While we can live weeks or maybe months without food, but we’ll die in about 3 days without water.

That’s because water plays a role in nearly every bodily function. It’s critical to maintain body temperature, lubricate joints, carry nutrients throughout our body, and help in eliminating wastes.

A very rough estimate to avoid dehydration is to take your weight (in pounds) divide by two…then convert that number into ounces.

For example, let’s take an example of someone who weighs 160 pounds. 160/2 = 80 ounces of fluid. Since there are eight ounces in a cup, their daily intake is around 10 cups of fluid.

This formula isn’t exact for everyone, of course. Some of us sweat more than others. Some of us get more water from the foods we eat. There’s lots of water in soup, but also in our fruits and vegetables. Most people probably need 8-12 cups a day.

Does Coffee Count as Fluid?

Water, milk, and juice does, of course. But, what about coffee and tea? Yes, they count, too. Wait, I thought caffeine was dehydrating and didn’t count? Nope!

While in the short-term, caffeine can be dehydrating, in the long term it is not. So, right after drinking coffee – or a caffeinated soda, you might run to the bathroom more often. But, in the long run, the body naturally adjusts so you don’t experience dehydration.

While this fluid/caffeine research is relatively new, I innately knew that caffeine wasn’t dehydrating because my dad, who lived well into his 80’s, never touched water. Other than the occasional glass of oj, he drank only coffee (and not the decaf variety). From sun up until right before bedtime. And, he didn’t look like a shriveled-up prune. He was getting most of his fluids from coffee. 

Now does that mean I'm suggesting that it's ok to drink only coffee, tea, or soda all day long? No. Especially if it contains caffeine. Check out this brief video to learn how even morning coffee can affect your next night’s sleep.

Also, drinking coffee, tea, and sodas are also not recommended as your only beverages because they’re often a source of a lot of other added calories – sugar and cream. Some drinks contain hundreds of calories – without any real nutritional value.

And, if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight, realize that liquid calories don’t fill you up in the same way that solid food does. That means that you’ll likely take in more calories than your body needs.

Drinking coffee, tea, and soda isn’t healthy either. Besides taking in empty calories from sugar and cream, you’re not getting the calories from healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains…with their multitude of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

How Do I Know If I’m Dehydrated?

At any time of the day, check the color of your urine. It should be clear of slightly pale in color. If it’s darker – you’re likely experiencing dehydration. If it looks like the color of apple juice, you might be seriously dehydrated. Keep in mind that certain medications and supplements (like vitamin C) can affect the color of your urine, too. Ask your medical professional or pharmacist if you’re concerned.

Attention Exercisers

If you exercise strenuously – or in very warm weather, try this fun experiment. Before exercising, weigh yourself naked. (Put your clothes back on before you leave the house, please). Then, after you finish your exercise, remove those sweaty clothes and weigh yourself again.  

For each pound you lose, drink 16-20 ounces of water to return your hydration level to pre-exercise levels. BTW you don’t need to buy yourself any fancy waters like pH-balanced or alkaline water.

I Don’t Like the Taste of Water

You’re not alone. I hear that all the time. There are a number of hacks to help you avoid dehydration:

  • Sip it. No one says you have to down a whole glass at a time. Just keep water by your side and just sip it throughout the day
  • Buy bottled water. While city waters are safe to drink, you just might like the taste from another water source.
  • Flavor it. People tend to drink more when the water is flavored and cold. What about adding a splash of fruit juice and some ice? Or a twist of lime?
  • Dilute it. I used to be “addicted” to diet Coke. Drank nothing but it. To wean myself off, I started adding a splash of club soda, then more and more.
  • Make it bubbly. What about drinking a bubbly, carbonated water such as Perrier, San Pelligrino, LaCroix, or Bubly?

Sweet Begets More Sweet

Sure, you can add pieces of fresh fruit or herbs. But, if you like something even sweeter…read on. If the beverage is sugar-sweetened, those calories can really add up. If it’s artificially-sweetened, I’m less concerned about the (potential) health risks than I am with the fact that you’re changing your taste buds. When you drink sweet things all day long, apples don’t seem sweet…you crave apple pie instead.

Give It a Couple of Weeks

Whenever I’ve suggested to clients about giving themselves time to get used to the taste of water, and they’ve taken me up on the offer, they report it only takes about two weeks until they actually start to enjoy (and maybe even crave) the taste of water. Try it yourself and let me know!

Think about some of the other habits you have (cigarettes? alcohol? diet soda? coffee?). Did you like any of them the first time you tried them? Probably not…but you got used to them so much that you love them now, right? So, give water a chance!

Remember, the human body is 60% water. Water is needed for every function of this miraculous body of ours. So, don’t forget to drink water and other liquids throughout the day – whether you’re sitting at your desk – or exercising. You’ll benefit with more energy, a better mood, and high productivity.

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