Drink Up: A Guide to Summer Hydration
Across the United States, it’s warm. In some regions, to say it’s “warmer” is a serious understatement. We’re talking record-setting heat, fueled by climate change, that lasts for days and doesn’t let up, even at night.
To keep on loving our summer outdoor plans, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to hydration. For yourself, and for the rest of the pack: friends, kids, elders, and of course the dogs/cats/critters.
They say most adults in the U.S. don’t get enough water already. “Our bodies are roughly 60 percent water, so even the slightest bit of dehydration can negatively affect how we function,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of the New York Nutrition Group.
Hydration’s super important; it regulates your body temperature, keeps your organs working, and delivers nutrients to your cells. It also helps you think clearly, sleep soundly, and maintain your mood. (Whenever we’re feeling grumpy, we always start there! Ask yourself: “Have I had enough (or… any) water today?”)
What are the signs of dehydration?
Signs of dehydration to watch out for (in yourself or others) include:
• feeling thirsty
• dark yellow or strong-smelling pee
• feeling dizzy or lightheaded
• muscle cramps
• feeling tired
• dry mouth, lips, and eyes
• peeing little, and fewer than four times a day
And, as always, keep an eye on little ones! Babies and kids are the age groups that are most at risk for dehydration because they aren’t always able to let you know. Watch for excessive fussiness or lethargy, and keep track of how many times a baby’s diaper needs to be changed or how often a toddler needs to go to the bathroom. If it’s less than usual, that could be a sign of dehydration.
So what should I drink?
In a word: water. Especially when you’re exercising (or taking a vigorous hike on a hot day). Most experts will tell you it’s best to avoid fruit juices or sugary drinks, and that caffeinated drinks can be dehydrating. Studies have shown drinking a cup or two of coffee won’t dehydrate you. But a whole lot of coffee (think five or more cups at once) just might.
Pro tip: If you’re a devoted coffee drinker, think about slamming an extra glass of water in between all those cups. It’ll help with your focus more than just coffee alone!
For kids, in addition to plenty of drinking water, try serving foods with a high water content like melon, strawberries, soup, or plain yogurt. When you’re facing a major heat wave, offering up mostly-water desserts like gelatin or popsicles can be a good trick for keeping kids hydrated (without force-feeding them glass after glass of water).
How much should I drink?
It depends: on the weather, your activities, your age, even what clothing you’re wearing that day. According to the Harvard Medical School, a healthy person needs 30 to 50 ounces of fluid per day. Not all of it has to come from water you drink, though; many fruits and veggies have a naturally high water content.
Pro tip: Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink. At that point, you’re already playing catch-up. Before heading out for that run or hike, drink a glass or two of water so your tank is full (and maybe use the bathroom before you leave).
If you and your family are getting some particularly strenuous exercise (like scaling steep terrain) for more than an hour, you might need to replenish your electrolytes.
Just what are electrolytes, anyway?
Electrolytes are minerals in your blood (and other bodily fluids). They have an electrical charge which is essential to keeping the heart, nerves, and muscles functioning, and keeping your body’s systems stable and running smoothly. The major electrolytes are sodium, potassium, phosphate, chloride, and magnesium.
A balanced diet — one with whole grains, leafy greens, vegetables, and fresh fruit — should be enough to keep your electrolytes balanced. But if you’re several thousand feet of elevation gain from the summit or four hours into a marathon ultimate frisbee tournament, you might want to think about supplements (especially if it’s very hot and dry out).
To balance electrolytes, we like to keep it natural and grab a coconut water. But if you’ve got a coconut allergy or coconut water just isn’t your thing, electrolyte supplements come in almost any form, from powder to gel to bottled sports drinks. (But is that sports drink just a soda in disguise? We always check labels for ridiculously high sugar content before we bottoms-up.)
For kids, try an over-the-counter oral rehydration solution, which usually comes as a drink, a powder, or a popsicle.
Got any other tips for staying hydrated?
Yes! Here’s how we keep hydrated while we’re making the most of our time outside:
Fuel up on the go with a hydration pack.
For the trail, a hydration pack isn’t a necessity, but it is super convenient and efficient! Most hydration packs have a drinking tube that’s connected to a water reservoir, so you don’t need to slow down, take off your pack, and then grab your water bottle. Be sure to choose one that’s the right size and has the right features for the activity you plan to do, whether it’s hiking, cycling, paddling, or skiing.
Use an app.
Download an app like Water Reminder that will keep track of how much water you’ve had and send you reminders to periodically refill your water bottle. (Or do it the old-school way and set a timer to remind yourself.)
Mix it up.
Not every glass of water has to be eight ounces from the office cooler. Add some flavor with fresh additions like orange slices, muddled strawberries, cucumber rounds, or fresh basil, mint, or ginger. Or try filling your water bottle with iced herbal tea. And don’t forget: water’s always more fun with some bubbles in it.
Prepare for the unexpected with a Lifestraw.
What’s a Lifestraw? A super useful part of your just-in-case kit. These portable water filters weigh in at just two ounces each, so it’s easy to carry one (or a few) along with you. In a pinch, you can use them (just like a straw) to drink from a stream, a water barrel, or even a puddle; they remove nasty bacteria, parasites, microplastic, and sediment from any less-than-pristine water source. A genius invention, and each filter lasts for a thousand gallons!