Water. It’s something our bodies need to function, but it can be difficult to stay hydrated throughout the day -- especially when we’re busy.
To make it even harder, there are many popular theories surrounding hydration that can easily confuse us. How much water is enough and how do we know when we are dehydrated?
“Being hydrated means having adequate water in your body so that all of your systems are able to function correctly," accredited practising dietician Chloe McLeod told The Huffington Post Australia.
“If you don’t have enough water this can result in dehydration, which can then result in poor concentration, headaches, tiredness and, in severe cases, kidney failure and even death.”
Dehydration has also been shown to increase the possibility of driving errors and can have the same effect as drink driving.
“Depending on how dehydrated you are, your ability to concentrate can be impaired as much as if you are really tired or if you’ve had a couple glasses of wine. So it can significantly affect your ability to complete day-to-day tasks," McLeod said.
So what about the hydration theories we often hear?
Myth versus Fact
1. If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated -- Fact
“That is actually true,” McLeod said.
“Once you’re thirsty, that is the first sign you need to have a drink -- but it is prior to this that your body starts to need fluids.”
“I always like to recommend keeping a bottle or glass of water on your desk, or keeping your water with you during the day, so that you can sip on it regularly -- just to help you avoid getting to that point of feeling too thirsty,” McLeod said.
2. You need eight glasses of water a day -- Depends
“It definitely depends -- I like to think this is approximately true,” McLeod said.
“Most people will function pretty well on that much in a comfortable environment. However, if it’s particularly warm or humid, you’re going to need more than that.”
Being in air conditioning all day can also increase the amount of water you need as it can be drying, according to McLeod.
“The best guide to go by is the colour of your urine,” McLeod said.
“The thing to aim for is a pale straw to clear colour -- rather than going by a specific number.”
3. If your urine is yellow you are dehydrated -- Depends
“It does depend on the shade -- if it’s a very pale yellow then it’s not really a problem, But if it’s much darker then yes -- the darker it is, the less hydrated you are, essentially," McLeod said.
“So when you go to the bathroom, check the colour -- if it’s that pale straw colour or nearly clear: perfect. If it’s a bit darker then up your water intake.”
4. Coffee and tea are dehydrating -- Myth
While both coffee and tea are diuretics -- meaning you are more likely to pass extra fluids -- it’s a common misconception that they are dehydrating.
“Recent studies are actually showing that they don’t dehydrate you as much as previously thought,” McLeod said. “So coffee and tea also count in your tally."
“I wouldn’t say drink coffee and tea instead of water (particularly the coffee), but if the majority that you drink is water -- and then a cup of coffee or a few cups of tea -- it’s not going to be as big of a deal."
5. You can drink too much water -- Fact
“There’s definitely a limit,” McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
“If you drink too much it can result in a condition called hyponatremia, which is when the sodium levels in the blood drops to a really low level,” McLeod said.
“For that to actually occur you would need to be drinking many litres of water in quite a short period of time, or, alternatively, be sweating significantly and not replacing any of your electrolytes -- for example athletes during endurance events.”
6. Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are best for hydration -- Depends
“They are -- but only in specific situations. As a day-to-day thing, it’s completely unnecessary.”
“But if it’s someone who, for example, is doing a marathon, they can be really useful for rehydration because of the electrolytes and carbohydrates that are in there,” McLeod said.
Sports drinks may also benefit someone who is working outside and lifting heavy things all day in summer, according to McLeod.
“But otherwise, water is always best,” McLeod said.
7. Water flushes out toxins -- Fact (Somewhat)
“It’s probably been hyped up a little bit, but that is part of the function of it,” McLeod said.
“If you don’t drink enough water then you’re not going to have enough fluid going through your kidneys to help with flushing out the waste products in your body.”
“So yes, it does do that, but it's not as though you can drink as much as you can to flush everything through -- drink as much as your body is needing,” McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
Have difficulty drinking enough water throughout the day? You’re not alone.
Here are some tips for staying hydrated.
Keep water near you
“I always like to recommend keeping your water -- whether it’s in a bottle or a glass -- in eyesight, so that you do have that visual reminder of ‘I better have a drink,’” McLeod said.
“Set up a reminder in your email or on your phone, so that you have that external reminder to say ‘have a glass of water’ or ‘have a sip of water,’” McLeod said.
“It is easy to forget to drink if you’re concentrating on other things.”
“Say you’ve got a 750ml bottle of water -- you can aim to have that drunk say by mid-morning, then aim to have another one drunk by just after lunch, and another one drunk by the time you get home,” McLeod said.
“So suddenly you've actually drunk all the water that you’re going to be needing for the day, without having to try really hard.”
Let’s face it -- water can also be boring, but there are two great ways around this.
Infuse your water
“There’s all sorts of things that you can put in your water to give it flavour -- berries work really well, grated ginger, sliced cucumber, mint, orange slices, cinnamon sticks.”
“I usually recommend putting in things that you like the taste of, or use a combination of different things to give the flavours that you enjoy,” McLeod said.
Try soda water
“Something like soda water can definitely count, because it’s just bubbly water, essentially,” McLeod said. “This is a good option for the people who find drinking plain water to be a bit boring.”