The Fundamentals Series - Hydration

By Tim Mugabi

Did you know that your body is 66% water? To give you an impression of how much that is, that would roughly be the height from the soles of your feet to your chest! With that being the case, itís so important that we get the right amount of water each day, but unfortunately many of us donít drink nearly as much as we should.

Why 2 Litres?

Itís widely recommended that we should drink 2 litres of water each day. This is the amount our body needs in order to carry out itís functions on a daily basis. In a typical period, our body loses water in the following ways:

  • 1.5 Litres through urine
  • 750 ml through the skin
  • 400 ml in the breath
  • 150 ml through faeces

That comes to a total of 2.8 litres; however also takes in water in the following ways:

  • 300 ml through the process of breaking down our food
  • 1 litre contained in our food

This evens out at a deficit of 1.5 litres which we have to drink daily. Adding another 500ml to round the amount to 2 litres ensures that we have enough to handle increases in activity or temperature. 2 litres also ensures that our kidneys have enough fluid to flush out harmful toxins from the body.

The Effects of Mild Dehydration

When our bodies donít have enough water to carry out itís regular functions, this is known as dehydration. However we usually only think of dehydration in itís extreme forms, evoked images of people crawling through deserts looking for an oasis; but even mild dehydration can have an effect on our lives.

We start to feel thirsty when we are only 1% - 2% dehydrated. At this point our temperature has increased and our concentration has decreased. 1%! A lack of concentration is something that plagues a great many of us and it could be greatly decreased by making sure we are drinking enough water.

The thirst mechanism that kicks in at the 1% mark is often mistaken for hunger, especially if our throat isnít particular dry; this has us reaching for the nearest and most convenient thing to eat. Itís an easy mistake to make, our concentration has waned and our body clearly wants something, so we interpret that as an edible pick me up. A lot of the time, all we need is a drink, and the feelings of hunger will subside or at least diminish. Over time, this is a very useful tool in preventing weight gain, especially if we are drinking water instead of a processed snack.

Strategies for ensuring enough water

The reason many of us donít drink enough water is that we have no idea we are actually drinking. Weíre advised to drink our 2 litres of water in 8 oz or 250ml glasses of water 8 times a day. Now firstly, I donít know if the glasses in my cupboard are 250ml or not and Iím not likely to remember how many of said glasses Iíve drunk. The best way to ensure you drink enough is to have as little to keep track of as possible.

Drinking from a pint glass means you only have to keep track of 4 glasses as opposed to 8; this much easier and ensures youíre more likely to drink enough water. Most bottles of water come in 500ml bottles, so emptying the bottle four times means youíve drank your intake for the day. Itís also possible to get bottles that are 1 litre, 2 litres and larger, making it even easier to keep track of how much youíve drank. The slight downside is that the large bottles can make the task seem more daunting than it actually is Ė especially for those of us who arenít accustomed to drinking enough water. The key is to make the habit seem manageable, but easy to keep on top of.

Getting our water from other liquids

In addition to water, itís equally plausible to stay hydrated by drinking other liquids. Milk, fruit juices and herbal teas provide as much hydration as the same amount of water and can be counted towards your daily intake. Alcoholic drinks donít contribute to your daily intake, as they are known as diuretics, substances that increase the need to urinate. As a result, drinking an alcoholic drink produces a net loss of fluids, as they cause a loss of more fluids than they bring in. For a long time, caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee and fizzy drinks were also considered diuretics, but recently scientific evidence has shown otherwise. The caffeine in these drinks does increase the need to urinate, but not as much as alcoholic drinks. Also, those of us that regularly drink caffeinated drinks build up a tolerance and as such, the diuretic effect decreases.

However itís important not to forget the other consequences of drinking these other liquids, such as the sugar in fruit juices and fat in milk. While they have their place in your diet, nothing beats drinking water in keeping you hydrated.

So to amend a well known phrase, you are what you eatÖ and drink! Youíre made of 2/3 water and itís important to stay topped up and well hydrated. Doing so will help you concentrate, stave off hunger pangs and keep you healthy and functioning well.