If you have ever done one of our body fat tests, you know that hydration percentage is just as important as lean mass and body fat percentage. That is because the body functions less optimally at less than 60% hydrated. Very rarely do we see people with hydration percentages that would put them in a group of physiologically hydrated people, which is a major concern for overall health and improving body fat levels. A study done on 3,020 people concluded that 75% of those studied are chronically dehydrated. Most people we test are around this same number, and it is only reasonable to translate this to the American population. The fact is, we are not drinking enough water, and it is impacting our health dramatically. In this article, I am going to explain not only what proper hydration can do for you, but why not being properly hydrated is keeping you from reaching your fitness and body composition goals.
The Effects of Chronic Dehydration
One of the reasons the effects of chronic dehydration are not taken more seriously starts with the simple fact that most people have never been properly hydrated. A recent study done on the effects of dehydration found that a mere 5% drop in water levels in the body can cause a 25-30% loss in energy; even a 3% drop can cause fuzzy thinking, “brain fog” and a slower metabolism. If you are wondering how small a 5% drop in hydration is, exercising intensely for just one hour can decrease your hydration levels by 2-4%! If you are often tired after a good night's sleep or often have a hard time thinking clearly, there is a good chance you are dehydrated. If that doesn’t make you reach for your water bottle, check this out. Dehydration is one of the most common risk factors for kidney stones. This is because being properly hydrated helps filter minerals, specifically calcium, through the kidneys. If calcium builds up in the kidneys due to lack of water, you get kidney stones. Simply adding 50 ounces or more of water a day is a start to keeping kidney stones in your rearview mirror.
A Day Without Water Could Kill You
The importance of hydration can be found in the simple fact that a person can go days without food, but a day without water can kill them. Indeed, this is true, and also why it is so important to prioritize water in a healthy lifestyle. In order for our metabolisms to function properly, water intake needs to be high. Tim and I talk about water and proper hydration all the time during our nutrition coaching sessions, especially for those seeking fat loss. Study after study shows that your body won’t let go of fat if you are not properly hydrated. Why? It’s simple, fat stores are essential for survival. Your body already doesn’t have enough water to properly function, why would it give up fat too? Our bodies are not stupid, they are built to survive. If you aren’t getting enough water daily, you won’t reach your fat loss goals. Plain and simple.
What Causes Dehydration?
Dehydration can be caused by sweating, urinating, and digestion without properly putting the water back in the body. Sweating is our body's natural cooling down mechanism that requires water stored in the body to help cool us down in hot weather and when exercising.This is especially true in the scorching Bakersfield summer months. This past summer, we had close to 75+ days with temperatures above 95 degrees. The hotter the weather, the more our body has to regulate the change in body temperature, which can change by simply going from your house to your car!
Caffeine and alcohol are other culprits of causing the body to become more dehydrated. Indeed, caffeine upregulates the adrenal glands which in turn forces “free water” from the body into the bladder. Alcohol does the same thing. It actually takes two water molecules to transport one ethanol molecule out of the body, so alcohol is two fold dehydrating on the body. In fact, many of hangover symptoms people experience after a night of drinking are caused by the dehydration effect of alcohol.
How To Know If You Need To Be Drinking More Water
If you have done a body fat test, Tim or I have already highlighted for you the need to consume more water based on your hydration percentage. For those who don’t know their hydration percentage, here are some tell tale signs you are dehydrated.
Constipation or hard to pass stools are a sign that you are not getting enough water. When we digest food, water helps break down and transport food through the small intestine, into the colon. This water is then soaked up in the colon where it is transported to the bladder to be excreted. If you are dehydrated, you have limited water to help push digestion through the system, leading to hard and dry stools. If you have a hard time going to the bathroom, or don’t regularly, there is a good chance you are not drinking enough water.
Another sign you are not drinking enough water is the color of your urine. The darker your urine is, the more dehydrated you are. The lighter the color, the more hydrated you are. A bit of caution on over hydration. You don’t want to drink too much water too fast. If your pee is too clear, you are depleting your electrolytes too quickly which is not good for staying hydrated or performing in the gym. A light yellow color is optimal for hydration. It is also worth noting that if you take a multivitamin, there is a good chance it is making your urine bright yellow, which will throw off your perceived level of hydration.
A Word on Salt and Electrolytes
Not consuming enough high quality salt is also found to be a form of dehydration. Most of us have been told by doctors to avoid salt because of the worry that consuming high amounts of salt will cause high blood pressure. Like in all things, though, not getting enough salt can also be detrimental to our health. Make it a priority to buy high quality salt, like himalayan or celtic sea salt, and put some on your food. Don’t worry about having too much as our bodies have natural mechanisms for telling us we are getting too much salt. My personal favorite, Redmond's Real Salt, is harvested from an ancient dried up seabed. This ensures that the salt I am getting is of the highest quality.
Drinking Sports Drinks Will Not Keep You Hydrated
We are consistently advertised to that sports drinks are the solution to our dehydration problem. And indeed, sports drinks do have electrolytes in them, but they also have a ton of sugar. Sugar is known to have dehydrating effects on the body. So sports drinks are actually terrible for hydrating the body! This is because consuming high amounts of processed sugar pushes water out of your cells and into the bloodstream which done enough causes your body to excrete the water from your cells. And since the hydration of your cells mirrors the hydration of your body, consuming sports drinks and other sweetened beverages is actually dehydrating. If you are serious about improving your health, sweetened beverages should be consumed infrequently.
Shane Hubbard CPT, PN1