For Your Health

The Glass Is Half Full: A Lesson In Hydration

Chad W. Lutz
“We never know the worth of water until the well runs dry”
- Thomas Fuller, MD (1732)
Ask any doctor or health official and they’ll tell you one of the single most important aspects of maintaining your health boils down to hydration. Keeping your body full of the fluids it needs to perform bodily functions ranks as one of the easiest and simplest ways to maintain good health. Regardless of weather, body type, or exercise regiment, providing your body with an adequate amount of fluid means the difference between going the distance and setting yourself up for disaster.

While most people probably think hydration is only important for those crazy athletes they see on TV running hundreds of miles a week and performing at elite levels, hydration is about as key to life as protons and neutrons are to the average atom. Hydration allows for improved circulation. Blood volume increases as a result of less viscosity, due largely to proper hydration. Muscles fatigue and break down at a much slower rate, the bodies metabolic rate increases, and mental clarity and capacity reach peak performance when the body contains the proper level of fluids.
image courtesy of google images
So why doesn’t everybody carry a water bottle around everywhere they go? Well, there are many reasons. The main culprit is beverage choice. Many people choose to drink beverages that contain chemicals that dehydrate the body called diuretics. One of the most common diuretics consumed also doubles as one of America’s favorite drugs: Caffeine. According to several sources about 90 percent of Americans consume a caffeinated beverage on daily basis. Just to put that in perspective, out of 311,800,000 people currently living in the United States, 280,620,000 of us lock lips with a caffeine concoction at one point or another every single day.

While it’s probably no secret America loves caffeine, the affects it’s having on our ability to stay well-hydrated may be more detrimental than we think. Some of the most common side effects of inadequate hydration include: fatigue, headaches, sleep apnea, joint problems, impaired cognitive abilities, and increased heart rate and body core temperature. Many argue that caffeine helps combat most of these symptoms, but the facts remain that caffeine provides only temporary relief for most of the above afflictions and is actually quite detrimental to a person’s ability to regulate sleep, heart rate, and body core temperature.

“But Chad, I don’t work out? Why do I need to hydrate like an athlete if I don’t work out like one?”

The truth is, even if you don’t participate in a rigorous workout regimen, the body still needs a great deal of fluid to operate, and probably more than you think. According to the Pacific Institute located in Oakland, California: “The average person needs a minimum of 1.3 gallons (5 liters) of water per day,” to perform at a high-functioning level in a moderate climate while maintaining an average level of fitness. Researchers at another prominent medical facility, Institute of Internal Medicine in St. Augustine, Florida, believe men need 3 liters of water or fluids a day, with females needing 2.2 liters to perform at efficient levels.

Now, take a moment to compare your own drinking habits to that of the model above. While popular drinks like coffee, energy drinks, and alcohol all technically count as “fluids” for any given day, the diuretic properties of these beverages negate their ability to properly hydrate the body. In not-so-confusing-Chad-speak, they don’t count. The best way to achieve proper hydration is through consuming juices or water, with water, obviously, being the best choice for your body, overall.
image courtesy of google images
Many of you are probably wondering, “Ok, Mr. Hydration, what do I stand to gain from all of this?” Well it may take time, but one of the first changes you’ll begin to notice after only a few weeks is a slimmer waistline. Think about it for a moment. All the calories you would normally consume drinking alcohol, juice, or whatever Starbucks has on special would vanish from your diet. Let us say, for example, that you drink an iced peppermint white chocolate mocha every day before work. Each drink contains a whopping 500 calories (give or take depending on whether or not you add whipped cream). Multiply that by five to give the average work-week worker the benefit of the doubt. That’s roughly 2,500 calories extra consumed per week just from having a single coffee beverage a day. What you may not know is that you have to burn over 3,000 calories in order to burn a single pound of body fat. Getting rid of the drink and replacing it with water does all the hard work for you and results in a slimmer you.

Another benefit of practicing proper hydration, aside from getting laid every night and having every single one of your wildest fantasies come instantly true (ok I’m exaggerating a little bit), is an overall increased feeling of vitality. Your body needs water to operate properly. Roughly comprised of 60% to 70% water, most of your body’s vital organs and tissues feed off of this one amazing resource. Being deficient in fluid levels typically results in a decrease in overall performance. People who regularly drink water/fluids on average see an increase in cognitive alertness and overall physical wellbeing. Habitual coffee and alcohol drinkers may experience slight discomfort during cessation of these drinks, but given a few weeks, most people eventually see improvement in overall wellbeing.
How one’s body might feel after a night of heavy drinking… (
From my own personal experience, I can tell you hydration has played a pivotal part in my ability to perform. I can remember back when I swam for a club team in college a particularly disastrous incident where I decided to neglect my hydration. After swimming the mile (which consists of 66 laps of a 25yd pool) in a time of 20:03.00 a few weeks earlier at a meet in Hudson, I stood on the blocks at an invitational in Bowling Green fresh off of a night of drinking nothing but beer, vodka, and whiskey. What proceeded to happen is probably one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. Coming up just short of dying (or at least it really felt that way) I made it through the first hundred feeling an agonizing weight in my arms and legs. This gave way to a burning sensation in my lungs, which grew and grew and grew until finally I had to stop because I couldn’t breathe. I had qualified for the state meet on a relay as an alternate and given conference honors as a high schooler. I went on to help our team win the regional championship. But that day I couldn’t finish a 200 yd event without stopping at the far wall to catch my breath. On a more embarrassing note, all of my friends from my first year of college attended the meet to watch me swim. It was not a pretty sight.

Moral of the story? If you want to perform to, or at least give yourself the best shot at, your potential, incorporating a simple plan of hydration is key (and not drinking before the night of a big meet works, too). Below are some tips to help add more water/fluids to your daily diet en route to a better you.

1.) Take a drink from every water fountain you pass. One sip might not seem like much, but do it every time, every day and you’ll start to see improvements.

2.) Drink a beverage with every meal. Not only will it help keep you hydrated, drinking water or juice or milk with meals actually helps your body absorb the nutrients in the food.

3.) Carry a water bottle with you at all times. You’ve seen those people walking around, staying so, so, so…hydrated. Join them! Find a bottle that suits your style. There are literally thousands of water bottles and thermos out there in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Friendly eco-tip: Avoid using single serving plastic bottles sold in bulk. Research suggests the plastic in these products produces toxins which poison the water with cancer causing free radicals known as BPA. Refilling these bottles also presents a health no-no due to bacteria build up which accumulates with each successive use.
image courtesy of google images
Who knows what could be lurking in these guys?!
4.) Drink water as soon as you wake up. While most people reach for the snooze button, prepare your body for the upcoming day’s events by hydrating with at least 8 oz of water within an hour of waking up.

5.) Drink slowly. Yes, there are even more rules to hydration. It might seem like a chore, but the same principle applies here as it does to food. Drinking too much at once can leave us feeling oversaturated, so to speak. In terms of hydration, drinking too much at once might actually affect your health in a negative and potentially fatal way. Like your favorite foods, drink fluids little by little and span them out over the course of the day.

6.) Keep at it. It doesn’t help to just drink the water when you need the effects of it most. To fully feel the effects of hydration, one must adhere to a consistent regimen. If you feel like you might be caught in a situation where you won’t be able to get to a drinking fountain or fridge for a long period of time, plan accordingly. This is where your brand new water bottle comes in handy.

7.) Drink according to activity level. As mentioned above, overhydration, a condition called hyponatremia, affects thousands of individuals and could easily be avoided by monitoring fluid intake. Be careful how much you drink. If you begin to feel lightheaded, experience dizziness or disorientation and you think it may be linked to drinking too much water, seek medical assistance immediately.

There you have it: seven simple ways to create healthy habits of hydration. Hopefully this article helped to dispel any apprehensions or myths you may have had. Staying hydrated takes time and it certainly takes patience to master. Most people go their entire lives without ever knowing the disservice they’re doing to their bodies. The good thing is time is on our sides. And while it might seem worthless or futile to even begin thinking about changing your hydration habits, the good news is, given the right mentality, the glass is always half full.

For more information on hydration and ways to stay hydrated and improve overall health, consult your doctor, especially when beginning an exercise program.