Staying Hydrated

Summer is a great time of year! We spend more time outside and participate in more physical activities, whether it’s work (like mowing the lawn) or play (like hiking or sports). Along with outdoor activities comes the risk of dehydration, especially with the extreme heat Colorado has experienced so far this summer.

Dehydration occurs when the body doesn’t have sufficient water. Water accounts for over 60% of our body weight and is essential for proper body function. With heat and activity, it can be easy to lose enough water that you become dehydrated.

Warning Signs of Dehydration

Woman taking a water break while exercising.

Some warning signs of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Flushed skin
  • Heat intolerance
  • Dark-colored or decreased urine
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

The best way to tell if you are dehydrated is to check the color of your urine. It should be clear or pale yellow. If it’s any darker than that, you need to drink more fluids.

Preventing Dehydration

By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. To prevent dehydration, you should drink fluids before you become thirsty. A good strategy is to drink on a schedule. Adults generally need about 8 ounces of water for every 10-20 minutes of activity, depending on the intensity. You should also drink about 24 ounces of fluids over the two hour period following the end of your activity

What to Drink

Fluids aren’t created equal when it comes to hydration. Water is generally the best option. If your activities are strenuous, will last longer than about an hour, or you’ll be in the sun for several hours, sports drinks may be a better option. Along with replacing water, they also replace electrolytes such as potassium and sodium that are lost through sweat.

You should avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages when active or in the sun. They don’t help you hydrate and can actually make dehydration worse because they pull water from your body tissues. Sugary drinks such as many juices and sodas should also be avoided. They don’t have any benefits over water and may cause an upset stomach.

Drinks with added vitamins should not be used in place of sports drinks. They may help with recovery, but not with hydration.

Young Athletes

Young athletes are at a higher risk for dehydration than adults. Children produce more heat than adults and their bodies don’t cool themselves as well as adults. It’s very important to ensure that your young athlete drinks plenty of fluids when active or in the sun.

You should not rely on your child to tell you when he or she needs fluids. A good starting point for your child (school age or teenager) is to drink 8 ounces of water or sports drinks for every 20 minutes of activity. Children should also drink about 24 ounces of fluids over a two hour period after stopping their activity. As with adults, water is often sufficient. However, during high-intensity or endurance (more than an hour) activities, sports drinks may be better.

Too Much Water

Drinking too much water can cause a dangerous sodium imbalance in both adults and children. It’s important to strike a balance with hydration. During intense or prolonged activities, it may be beneficial to include sports drinks or salty snacks in your hydration strategy.

Additional Tips for Avoiding Dehydration

  • Wear light colored, loose fitting clothing when doing outdoor activities.
  • Take breaks in the shade.
  • Don’t rely on pouring water on your head or body for cooling. While it may feel good, it doesn’t hydrate.
  • Get in the habit of always bringing water with you.
  • Add fresh herbs or fruit to your water to make it more appealing.
  • Start and end your day with a glass or water.

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