Is it eight glasses, four litres, or the 3184ml that I found when I entered my body data into an online calculator?! The simple answer: drink to thirst. But that is not all. Climate, altitude, age and physical exertion all have their parts to play. Water consumption shouldn’t change regardless of weather, however when it’s hot we drink more and when it’s cold we don’t. At high altitudes the body actually becomes more efficient with how it uses and stores water with the body staying in a state of perpetual dehydration. In regards to age, once again the 8 glasses of water a day remains in effect; however, the further along in years you get, the more susceptible you are to the effects of dehydration. So does that mean I should start the day with a massive guzzle of water? There was, and as far as I know still is, the practice in the army that the first thing in the morning we all stood lining the hall and on command had to skull a full 2 litre water bottler before being allowed to start the day. Usually this would result in people choking, water coming out the nose or the solid water vomit onto the linoleum floor. That kind of water consumption is definitely not recommended. Spacing is the key. Drink often and drink regularly. Every hour on the hour if you really wish to regiment it.
However, drinking isn’t the only way to stay hydrated. Food accounts for 20% of our average fluid intake with fruits and some vegetables having higher concentrations than others. Also hydration comes from some other unlikely fluid sources. Despite popular, belief tea, coffee and even alcohol actually do assist in bringing the body back from the brink of dehydration. Even though side effects include having to journey to the toilet constantly or having a rather painful headache resulting from over consumption, the body will still filter out the fluids and use them in the daily functioning of the body. This however, doesn’t mean water can be completely substituted.
Too much water can also be a bad thing. When the body is flooded with water the danger of hyponatraemia can become a real possibility. This condition occurs when the sodium levels in the body are so diluted that the body’s cells fail to function. Symptoms of hyponatraemia include nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, lethargy, fatigue, appetite loss, restlessness and irritability, muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps, seizures, and decreased consciousness, and in worse cases, coma. This can simply be avoided with the right diet, a little extra salt on your meal, a sports drink, or a can of soft drink. Basically anything that has the right ingredients to give your body those much needed electrolytes after a particularly sweaty workout. Did you know 13% of the athletes who finished the 2002 Boston Marathon were in a clinically hyponatraemic condition.
So remember drink plenty of water before and during exercise. Then once completed drink some more with either a little snack or a good balanced meal. For longer more intense sessions such as my Military Circuit on Wednesday mornings or Tough Mudder, make sure you bring with you a little snack like a banana or a sports drink so as to keep those sodium levels topped up and your body in its best condition to keep working and working hard.