Water, water everywhere……

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At this time of year, it is particularly important to stay hydrated on a day-to-day basis, but even more so when you are out on a WALX. Dehydration can cause fatigue, affect your mood and ability to concentrate, and impact on your physical performance. But what is the best way to stay hydrated?

Not all drinks are equal!

While the cheapest, most effective way to maintain your body’s hydration is to drink water (no need for fancy bottled or mineral water – tap water should suffice – flavoured with a slice of citrus or a dash of sugar-free cordial, if you wish), many people argue that they are getting their fluid intake from the other drinks they consume during the day. However, not all drinks are equal in their ability to hydrate us. Caffeinated drinks like coffee (and to a lesser extent tea) and some well-known fizzy and energy drinks are diuretic and affect kidney function. They make you need to urinate more frequently, defeating the object of staying hydrated. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, milk, tea and orange juice (but not sports drinks) were concluded to be “more” hydrating than plain water. Yet, while coffee, alcohol and sports drinks provided less hydration than water, they still contribute to our hydration, to some extent. The composition of the drink in terms of its nutrients and chemical makeup play a role in how the body can take up and retain the water within it.

When to drink, and how much is too much?

Drinking plain water on an empty stomach may not actually improve your state of hydration! Food and nutrients help the digestive system to absorb the water – without them, it just slips right through, and inconveniently adds to the need to visit the bathroom a couple of hours later. Bear in mind this is a significant issue if this coincides with being far from a loo on one of our WALX! I personally prefer to avoid the wild wee, if possible! While drinking copious quantities of water between meals may be thought to contribute to cleansing toxins from the body, there is no evidence to suggest that this is more effective on an empty stomach.

In fact, overhydration – where copious quantities of clear urine are produced due to excessive water intake – can be harmful, as too much sodium is lost from the body causing a chemical imbalance known as hyponatremia. In extreme conditions, this can be fatal. However, this is more common in elite athletes than everyday walkers, so shouldn’t concern us too much. Nevertheless, sports drinks which contain a balance of electrolytes can help to maintain the body’s natural chemical balance when we are participating in more strenuous activities than usual (but watch out for high sugar content or synthetic sweeteners in these products).

So, how much fluids should we consume? According to BUPA, most adults should consume 2 to 2.5 litres a day, which equates to roughly 10 medium glasses or mugs. You need to make sure that your fluid intake is sufficient to replenish the amount lost by your body. We lose about 1.5 litres in urine, 200ml in faeces and on an average day about 500ml in sweat, but when the weather is hot, or you have the central heating or air conditioning on, this can increase, so you need to compensate for this.

The take home messages:

  • Drinking before or during a meal is the best way to maintain hydration.
  • In addition, sipping water regularly throughout the day (as opposed to drowning your digestive system at regular intervals) is a good way to stay hydrated.
  • All your (non-alcoholic) drinks count – but some may also add calories and sugar, so be mindful if you are watching your weight or diabetic.
  • Under unusually extreme circumstances (like the warm weather we are experiencing or during a physical activity session) increase your fluid intake to make up for the additional fluids lost.

And finally, a tip for the hot weather…. Half fill your water bottle the night before with cold water then place it in the freezer (upright) with the lid loose or open. If you seal the bottle the expansion of the water as it freezes could cause it to burst. In the morning, just before you set off, top up the bottle with more fresh water. Your drink will stay cooler for longer during your walk as the ice thaws out.

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