Something great about the summer is the number of things you can do outside when it’s nice out. Whether you’re at the beach, hiking in a park, or any other fun activity your town might have, proper hydration is still key. The average American drinks around 4 cups of water a day. While recommendations have changed over time and the once-standard 8 cups a day may longer apply, staying hydrated is vital to your overall health and needs, especially in the hot sunny summer months. Fun fact – adults are composed of around 60% water, while children can be up to 78% water. When you’re dehydrated your whole body is affected, leading to a whole range of uncomfortable and possibly dangerous symptoms.
Hydration and Exercise
Is dehydration dangerous?
Safely staying active is important all year round, but especially in summer you need to make sure you’re not working out dehydrated. Muscle is composed of 75% water, so it’s no surprise that dehydration can negatively affect your workouts. Besides dehydration causing decreased performance, it can also lead to PEES, or Post-Extreme Endurance Syndrome. Caused mainly by dehydration during endurance workouts, PEES symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, muscle cramps, dizziness and a lowered body temp (your skin might even feel cool to the touch!). This can be very serious if not recognized and prevented by proper hydration; and in the summer, the hot temperatures and longer sunny days can lead to dehydration quickly. Pay attention to some of the telltale symptoms like dry mouth, muscle cramps, and dizziness before it gets serious.
Why is my sweat salty?
Another part of hydration that is important to think about for athletes is the salt lost through sweat. Whether you’re training for a marathon or just trying to stay in shape, effectively raising your heart rate during a workout will invariably lead to sweating. Try to pay attention to your sweat next time you finish a workout. Do your headphones or clothes have a thin layer of salt? This is called “cake sweat” (no worries if this doesn’t apply to you). If you do notice this then you should try to replenish your salt. Salt tablets generally aren’t necessary, the average American eats more than enough sodium. However, if you are a ‘salty sweater’ then you might not need to cut all the salt out of your diet. If you’re still worried about replacing your salt and electrolytes, drink a few ounces of sports drink during or after workouts so you can be assured that you’re replenishing all the good stuff. Don’t go chugging the sports drinks though, water has always been a go-to gold standard for rehydration.
So, how much hydration is proper hydration?
After your workout isn’t the only time to stay hydrated. If you have access during a workout, take at least a few sips of water every 15 to 20 minutes throughout your training session. In warm summer weather, you sweat more so you’ll need to drink more. Don’t forget to hydrate before a workout just like you fuel up for exercise: drink 14 to 22 fluid ounces (just under 2 to 3 cups) 2 hours prior to an event or planned activity, and 6 to 12 oz every 15 to 20 minutes (as tolerated) during, as well as after, an activity to replace water loss. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for you, everybody’s different.
Going into the deets for diagnosing dehydration
The (classic) Pee test
Over the years, opinions on how to stay hydrated best have varied. Many experts have said that by the time you’re thirsty, it’s actually a too late, you’ve been dehydrated for a while. However, others recently have supported the traditional thought that thirst is the best indicator of dehydration. Likely, the truth is that it’s individualized. Not sure if you’re drinking enough water? One great way to tell is to pay attention to the color of your pee. It should be a pale yellow if you’re properly hydrated. A deeper yellow (like the color of apple juice or straw) or even bordering brownish-yellow you’re probably dehydrated (any darker than that you should really see a doctor!). Also, it should be odorless or nearly odorless, any smell shows that it’s more concentrated and wasn’t diluted with much water (not something you want to think about but it’s true).
Another way to tell if you’re dehydrated is to pay attention to your body. Most headaches are caused by dehydration, so if you feel a headache coming on go grab a glass of water.
Other signs of dehydration include fatigue, mental cloudiness, dry mouth, and muscle cramps.
So how much should I drink after I exercise?
Here’s a good test to see how much water you need after sweating it out. Weigh yourself before and after exercising. For each pound lighter, try to drink 16-20 ounces of water to rehydrate. This may be especially useful if you live in a very dry climate since it’s easy not to realize how much fluid you’re losing to evaporation.
Liquid Lessons Learned
Now that you know the importance of proper hydration, here are a few general tips to keep in mind for having fun in the sun while staying hydrated:
- Focus on water. Although you can hydrate with anything, drinking a lot of sugar sweetened beverages like soda or juice can cause other health problems. Water is free, has zero calories, and an easy natural way to stay hydrated.
- Keep a water bottle with you all the time. Even if you realize you’re dehydrated, it won’t do any good if you don’t have access to water. Water bottles come in many shapes and sizes for convenience, plus some are super cute. Before you know it it’ll be a habit and you’ll forget what it’s like to not having a water bottle with you.
- Snack on hydrating foods with high water content. I’m talking watermelon, gazpacho, smoothies, ice pops, and most other fruits. You don’t only need to drink your water to stay hydrated, you can eat it too!
- If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you’re likely dehydrated. Even if you’re careful, it’s hard to not get dehydrated if you spend your days outside. Trying following these hydration tips in the shade, and make sure to drink plenty of water afterwards!