How much water should I drink to stay hydrated?

Forget the sports drinks – it's all just "expensive pee" in the end

At first, Nick Creelman was all fired up about the hot yoga session a colleague suggested as a team-building activity. “That sounds like hell,” he thought. “Let’s do it!”

But as a bikram novice, the former NAIT registered dietician wasn’t prepared for the wrung-out feeling that might come with stretching at 35 to 40 C.

“I’ve never sweat so much in my life,” says Creelman. “Whenever you moved, you could see your body raining.” It left him limber, but it also got him thinking about how he might have better hydrated ahead of time.

None of us are likely to experience such a shower of sweat while we shuffle papers at desk jobs or even when we cram workouts into hectic schedules. Staying properly hydrated, however, is vital to both tasks and everything in between. We asked Creelman about how to do it effectively, effortlessly and inexpensively, just as summer cranks up the heat.

Why bother?

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld would hate this article.

“Here’s what’s annoying me: people telling me to hydrate,” he once complained during a bit. “According to the fitness people on TV, ‘If you feel thirsty, you’re too late!’ What do you mean I’m too late?”

According to Creelman, it’s probably not too late, but being thirsty means that the body is running a fluid deficit, and it’s time to catch up. “Water keeps everything in balance,” he says. It contributes to

  • better body temperature regulation
  • fewer headaches
  • smoother joint movement
  • higher energy levels
  • improved ability to move nutrients and compounds throughout the body
  • more efficient removal of wastes

How much to drink

sweating worker drinking water

Everyone is different, says Creelman, and knowing how much to drink is a matter of listening to your body. Nine to 12 cups of water a day is just a guideline. “Some people may not need that much.”

That requirement changes with exercise. If you expect to sweat, weigh yourself before and after your workout. Water makes up the difference, and will need to be replaced. Drink roughly a unit-and-a-half for every unit lost, says Creelman, to account for urination.

When to drink

Woman drinking a glass of water

Anytime, of course – just not all at once, especially after a good workout.

“It takes 10 to 15 minutes for water to be absorbed by the body,” says Creelman. Chugging a bottle to make up for what's missing is a sure way to add sick to tired.

Thinking about his own recent experiment in dehydration, Creelman wishes he’d drank a little extra before the session, particularly during the night previous. In that case, timing is important. Quit fluid consumption a couple of hours before bed to prevent your bladder making a wakeup call.

What to drink

sugary drinkFor those who aren’t partial to plain water, alternatives are limitless. Healthy ones, however, are in short supply.

There’s plenty of water in fruits and vegetables, but this can make for much chewing.

You’d have to eat three or four oranges, Creelman estimates, to make up a cup of water. He doesn’t dismiss popular alternatives such as almond milk and coconut water, and even gives coffee and tea passing grades among habitual drinkers, since they’ve been shown to retain more water from the drink than was once thought.

But Creelman warns of the extra calories introduced by cream and sugar, just as he advises against guzzling fruit juices, pops and nutrient-infused water.

“They can contribute to hydration,” he says, “but can contribute to the waistline, as well.”

The same goes for some sports drinks and most energy drinks, which can contain dozens of grams of sugar.

“More often than not, simple water is enough,” says Creelman. “It’s the best and the cheapest.”

Everything else, he adds, ultimately just ends up as “expensive pee.”

How to get more water in your diet

glass of water with lemons and mint

Staying hydrated is a matter of habit, says Creelman. Here’s how to pick it up:

  • Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning
  • Carry a water bottle throughout the day
  • Liven it up by adding fruit or mint
  • Have a glass of water with every meal
  • Not crazy about water? Add a few drops of sugar-free flavouring
  • Or, give carbonated water a shot. A home carbonation system can save on bottles and money
  • Pay attention to how you feel. “We all know our own bodies,” says Creelman. Give them what they want, preferably before they want it too badly.

Hungry or thirsty?

Feeling peckish? What your gut expresses as hunger might actually be thirst, says Creelman. “The body is saying, ‘Please just get some fluid in me!’”

Instead of reaching for that snack of a cookie or muffin, check your food cravings by pouring yourself a glass of water first.

Originally published July 25, 2018

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