I grew up around pools: I was a competitive diver for ten years and every summer job I had was poolside. Maybe it’s the “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink” saying that stuck with me from being around chlorinated water so much of my life, but I’m pretty on top of making sure I drink enough water every day (you’ll never see me without a water bottle).
When it comes to the “how to” part of hydration, I’ve heard a slew of competing rules of thumb: from my health teacher telling me to make sure I’m peeing once an hour to my mom’s rule to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. And while my teacher may have been right and I’ve heard doctors quote the “8 by 8” rule, I’ve got to wonder whether either system is the be-all-end-all for staying hydrated.
With 75% of Americans chronically dehydrated, I know my water bottle addiction isn’t total paranoia. But it may be time to knock out that 8 by 8 rule for some better (and easier to follow) rules.
Why should you care about being in the hydrated minority? More than half of your body is made up of water — your weight can even fluctuate up to a half a pound in a single day based on how much you’ve had to drink and how much you’ve sweat. What this means that when your body isn’t getting enough fluids, it has a hard time keeping things running smoothly. You’re more likely to have headaches, skin breakouts, digestion issues, and body temperature imbalances. Dehydration has even been tied to unwanted weight gain.
The easiest way to tell if you’re dehydrated is by looking at the toilet bowl after you pee. Your pee should be clear or light yellow; anything darker and you could be dehydrated. What else can the toilet tell you? You really should be pooping 1-2 times a day. If you aren’t, this constipation may be tied to dehydration.
Another common symptom of dehydration is a headache — before you reach for that bottle of advil, try a glass of water first.
The easiest way to stay hydrated is — you guessed it — drinking water and other fluids. Every fluid you drink counts towards your daily fluid intake goal. But, some liquids are better than others. Coffee may be good for waking you up in the morning, but caffeinated beverages work against your hydration because caffeine is a diuretic: it forces water from your body, which is why you may notice you have to pee soon after having your morning cup. Alcohol, another diuretic, can also dehydrate you. That doesn’t mean you should avoid these types of drinks completely, just make sure you’re offsetting these less-hydrating beverages by drinking one glass of water with each caffeinated or alcoholic beverage to balance it out.
In addition to thinking about the types of liquids you’re drinking, make sure you focus on other ways to get and stay hydrated.
In addition to thinking about the types of liquids you’re drinking, make sure you focus on other ways to get and stay hydrated. Especially during the summer, take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and chock full of water — this counts towards your fluid intake, too! Foods like cucumbers, celery, radishes, and green peppers help ensure that you’re getting the proper amount of liquid. Familiarize yourself with the top 30 hydrating foods so you know to pick them up next time you’re at the grocery store.
If these tips sound great, but you’re more of a numbers person (and less of a look-in-the-toilet-bowl kind of person), don’t fall back on the 8 by 8 rule. The exact amount of fluids you should be consuming depends on many different factors: how active you are, your age, and your weight. To get a more personalized daily goal, take your weight and divide it by two: that gives you roughly the number of ounces of water you need in a day. As a general rule of thumb when exercising, supplement your baseline water intake by drinking an additional 2 glasses of water — one before and one after your workout — as well as a large gulp every 15 minutes while you’re working out.
If you want to be even more exact about tracking your fluid intake, there are plenty of apps that can help you stay on track. But, for the most part, you can follow the simple toilet-bowl-test. Drink up!