EATING BETWEEN THE LIES: OVER-HYDRATION. IS IT REALLY A THING?
One of the most common issues I see with my clients is that they don’t drink enough water.
“The taste is just so boring.”
“I honestly just don’t remember to drink.”
“I hate water.”
Sound familiar? Well, let me tell you – you are not alone.
For those clients, I make a point of finding easy ways to get them to drink more water because the fact of the matter is, our bodies need water to function. Not drinking enough of it can be dangerous.
But then one day a client asked: “Is it possible to drink too much water? Because I think I do.” Just a few weeks passed, and I got the same question again! It occurred to me that while some people are concerned about not drinking enough water, others are concerned about drinking too much water.
And, the fact of the matter is, drinking too much can be just as dangerous as not drinking enough. How so? Well, let’s first talk about why we need to drink water to begin with.
Our bodies are made up of mostly water, and we lose some of that water through various ways: sweat, urine, even breathing. So, we drink water to make up for that loss. The more we lose, the more we need to drink. That’s why when we exercise and leave totally drenched in sweat, we need to drink more to make up for all that lost water. But, we also lost a bunch of other stuff in that sweat – electrolytes (ie. sodium) – that we to replace.
In fact, there is a particular water-to-sodium ratio in the blood that is ideal for our bodies to function. So, if we simply chugged straight water after an intense workout, we might be restoring some of that lost water, but we’re totally forgetting about all that sodium that we still need.
When that happens, our sodium-to-water ratio gets all out of wack. Too much water, not enough sodium. In fact, because maintaining balance within the body is so important for it to function properly, we actually have internal mechanisms to help get us back to normal...
- We get rid of the water altogether by filtering it through the kidneys (ie. urinating aka “peeing”). At this point the water-to-sodium level might be back to normal, but we still haven’t fully succeeded in replenishing our body if we simply flush out all the water we drank.
- We move the water around within the body by moving the water from the blood into the cells. At this point, the water-to-sodium ratio might be back to normal, but now the cells in our bodies start to swell from all that water that just moved in. This becomes an even bigger issue in the brain as the brain cells swell. When taken to the extreme, this can actually lead to a form of drowning.
NOW, BEFORE YOU FREAK OUT, LET PREEMPTIVELY CALM YOU DOWN. The chance of this happening to you is very slim. This is mostly a concern for people who are training intensely, are losing a significant amount of water and sodium, and are unaware of the need to replenish water and sodium.
But, even for the average person, there are still valid take-home messages to note. So, what does this mean for you re: hydration?
Well, if you don’t work out at all (which, if that’s the case, we should probably address at another point in time), then your rule of thumb should be 14-16ml of water per pound per day, depending on your age. Say you weigh 120 pounds, you should be having around 1700-1900ml of water throughout the day. (That’s about 3 sport-sized water bottles.) If you weigh 180 pounds, your needs will be a bit more – around 2500-2900ml per day. (That’s more like 5 sport-sized water bottles.)
If it’s particularly hot out or you’re exercising and are sweating a lot, you’ll want to replenish both the water and sodium loss. How should you do this?
For starters, Gatorade and other sports drinks are not the answer. While they might have the sodium we need, they are also full of extra sugar and unnecessary food coloring that our bodies don’t need.
And though coconut water and watermelon water might have their own health benefits (another post for another time), their sodium levels are definitely not going to cut it.
So, what are my recommendations?
- Drink water. Exactly how much is hard to say. It really depends on how much you are sweating out. The more you are sweating, the more you should be drinking. For example: when I spin, I sweat way more than when I practice yoga, so I tend to drink a lot more on the days that I spin than on the days that I practice yoga. (TMI? Well, brace yourself for this next sentence.) A great way to gage your hydration status is by the color of your urine. If it’s more yellow, that means your body is conserving water, and you likely need to drink a bit more. If it’s lighter or clear, you’re probably good to go.
- Then have a snack or meal that contains sodium-rich foods. This doesn’t mean you should go out and eat a cheeseburger or grab a back of potato chips. Rather, think along the lines of: whole grain crackers, cottage cheese, pickles, hearts of palm, lox, kimchi, sauerkraut, sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, peppadew peppers (check out my recipe Peppadew Quinoa Salad for inspiration). Basically anything jarred or pickled should do. Or, you can just add salt to whatever you’re eating. (Think: avocado toast with salt sprinkled on top.
Finally, when it comes to anything health related the trick is to stay informed, but not to overthink it or go to extremes! No need to eat an entire can of pickles after an intense workout. In fact, I’d probably advise against it. As always, if you have a hydration/water/sodium-related medical condition, take what I say with a grain of salt (pun totally intended!) and consult your doctor before making any changes to your regimen.