Water is the “fluid of life” and our abilities to function on a day to day basis depend on it greatly. But how do we know if we are hydrated on a daily basis? Common symptoms of dehydration include a dry or sticky mouth (especially first thing in the morning), headaches, dry skin, decreased urine output, thirst and light-headedness. There are a number of factors that can contribute to below optimal hydration, however the most common causes include intense exercise, training in hot weather, excessive caffeine or alcohol intake, diarrhea, fever and excessive sweating.

Hydration & Exercise

While thirst may be a reliable indicator for some people to maintain the right level of hydration, the more active you are, the less reliable it becomes. Incredibly, a mere 2% drop in hydration can lead to an 8-10% decrease in your performance. If you wait until you “feel thirsty”, you’ve waited too long. Studies show that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. If maintaining high productivity or achieving a new personal best is your primary goal then it’s crucial to ensure you are getting sufficient water to meet your training demands.

However, the reality is that the optimal intake of water varies significantly from one individual to the next. Depending on your age, sex, body type, level of health and activity, your ideal water intake will vary. The standard general guideline is to consume 8 glasses of water daily, divided throughout the day. While this is a good tip for most people it isn’t always a one size fits all calculation as many people believe.

How can you tell if you’re getting enough fluids in through water and food? As a quick rule or indicator drink enough water to keep the color of your urine light yellow to clear. The darker your urine becomes, generally the more dehydrated you are.

Are Sports Drinks the Best Option for Refueling During Exercise?

For most people, water is sufficient for rehydration during exercise. However, the more intensely you train or the longer you train (i.e. greater than 90 minutes), it’s important to add electrolytes to your water. Sodium is critical for maintaining optimal cellular function and if your sodium levels fall below normal – a condition called hyponatremia – you may experience symptoms of fatigue, headache, confusion, loss of balance, and muscle  cramps.

Although the body’s primary fuel choice is glucose, it’s important to remember that some sports drink companies use the cheaper form of sugar, sucrose. Sucrose is comprised of one glucose molecule linked to one fructose molecule, and it is the fructose that you need to be wary of.

Remember that hydration isn’t always a one size fits all calculation, but it is one of the most important things an athlete needs to watch in order to have success in their training.