We’ve all been told we should be aiming to drink eight glasses of water each day. But, how accurate is this recommendation? What else should we be keeping in mind when it comes to keeping hydrated each day?
Dr Dominique Condo, Senior Lecturer in Sports Nutrition at Deakin University and Performance Dietician at the Richmond Football Club, says when we’re thinking about the importance of being hydrated, we’re also thinking about the importance of preventing dehydration and the symptoms associated with it.
‘Essentially, when we are losing more fluid than what we're replacing the body does become in a state of dehydration. It can lead to things like mood changes, headaches; people get symptoms like nausea, lack of concentration, lack of performance,’ she tells Wellbeing by Teacher.
How much fluid do we need to consume each day?
Condo says the eight glasses of water recommendation is not based on scientific evidence, and while there is no hard and fast evidence-based rule, aiming for around two litres of water intake each day is a good place to start.
‘But, the reality is that some people are going to need a lot more and some people are going to need a lot less,’ she explains. ‘It does need to be individualised based on your own signs and symptoms, how you’re feeling in general. But, if we aim for two litres a day, you're more than likely to prevent dehydration.’
It’s not just glasses of water that contribute to our daily fluid intake. Cups of tea, for example, can contribute towards our two litre goal. Even our daily coffee and some fruits and vegetables can count.
‘There's some thought that tea and coffee can have a diuretic effect which can essentially outweigh the hydration. But what's been shown is that that balance is still quite different. The fluid that's coming in is a lot higher than what we potentially may lose as the diuretic effect,’ Condo shares.
‘When you’re having things like your fruit, that's obviously got a high water content, same as some veggies. It's hard to say one apple equals about half a cup of water, because it's going to vary with so many factors, but at the end of the day it does contribute to our overall fluid intake.’
When hydration is most important
It’s commonly said that drinking water when you’re feeling unwell, when it’s a hot summer day, and when you’re exercising is particularly important.
Condo says this is absolutely the case, because hydration is all about replacing the fluid we’re losing, primarily through sweating. ‘If we're sweating because we are unwell, if it's a hot day and were sweating, or definitely during exercise, the amounts that we need are going to be more.’
This is also when the role of electrolytes can come into play. ‘Electrolytes are in our sweat, so that's what we lose when we sweat,’ Condo explains. ‘So, sometimes if you've sweated a lot and you just drink a lot of water, you're actually just going to dehydrate yourself more because you're almost just diluting the system, you're not actually giving it back what you've lost in that sweat to be able to absorb more of that water back. And that's why you might just find you’re going to the bathroom more and you’re still actually feeling quite dehydrated.
‘So with lots of sweat, like athletes and like hot environments, electrolytes can play really important part. As well as being unwell in those scenarios when you're sweating a lot or you’ve lost a lot of fluid, definitely.’
However, on an average day, for the average person, Condo says adding in electrolytes probably isn’t necessary. We also need to be aware that a lot of the readily available sports drinks have extremely high levels of sugar in them.
Strategies for increasing your water intake
If a goal of yours is to start consuming more water on a daily basis, there are a few strategies that might be useful for you to implement.
The most important thing to remember, Condo says, is to start slow. ‘The first tip is to really think about what you're currently doing and having a real educated guess around what the current situation is, and make really small, achievable goals. So you might just start with having one extra glass of water a day.’
It’s also a good idea to have a water bottle visible to you at all times to help you remember to drink. Or, you might find it more effective to put an hourly reminder on your phone to prompt you to drink some water.
If the taste of water is your issue, Condo suggests adding some flavouring to your water bottle, such as fresh berries, mint, cucumber, or other fruits.