By Nicky Gilbert
We all know that keeping hydrated is essential for health and wellbeing but when it comes to putting it into practice, it isn’t quite so easy to get it right.
In short ‘getting it right’ means drinking the right choice of drink in the right amount at the right time. This may seem simple enough, but our drinking habits and choices may need to vary with fluctuating temperatures and environmental conditions, as well as our lifestyle demands. What might be perfect drinking practices on one day may not match your needs the next day.
How much should we drink each day?
Some fluid comes from our food, especially fruit and vegetables which have a high water content, but each day adults also need to drink at least six to eight large (250ml) mugs or glasses of fluid, which is roughly a minimum of 1.6 to two litres.
Most of us will need to drink more to compensate for losses from sweating if we’re doing vigorous exercise. The same is true if we’re spending a lot of time in air-conditioned or heated buildings, wearing thick layers or wearing protective clothing.
|Risks for dehydration||Impact on performance|
|· Heating and air conditioning
· Hot environment
· Protective clothing
· Limited access to fluid
· Not taking breaks
· Long hours working or exercising
Reduction in strength
Perception of effort is increased
Tiredness and fatigue
Monitoring urine colour is a simple and easy way to check if you are drinking enough. If you are drinking enough, at regular intervals, then you should be peeing frequently and your urine should be pale and plentiful.
How often should I be drinking?
Take time for regular drinks breaks to maintain optimal hydration – from the time you get up, throughout the day and during any activity. The problem is that we frequently fail to recognise dehydration until we become thirsty and then it is too late. It is far better to take preventative measures, for as well as limiting our physical performance being dehydrated can negatively affect mood, anxiety, decision-making and concentration.
|Some practical reminders to prompt regular drinking
What are the healthiest drink choices?
- Both tap water and skimmed milk are healthy choices for frequent drinking. For most of our daily activities, refilling a bottle with tap water alone or with a sugar-free flavouring is a cheap, effective and environmentally-friendly approach to keeping hydrated.
- Skimmed milk also has hydration-boosting qualities, is tooth-friendly and a nutritious source of calcium and protein.
- Use of sports drinks may be helpful for hydration during lengthy and intensive exercise sessions, however, reliance is not recommended as these acidic drinks can impair dental health.
- It is also wise to be cautious about drinking an excessive amount of caffeine in drinks. Caffeine is not only in tea and coffee but also in chocolate, colas and many sports and energy drinks. It can be easy to exceed safe intakes. Although caffeine can usefully reduce sleepiness and aid alertness, it can also increase anxiety, irritability and sleep disturbances.
|Making good fluid choices|
|Water||Either tap or bottled is fine.
Tap is more environmentally-friendly.
|All of these can be high in sugar so be sure to look at labels and choose low sugar variants.
All types are acidic and not ideal as the main choice for hydration.
|Milk: skimmed or semi-skimmed||Low-fat milk is ideal for regular drinking throughout the day.
With isotonic properties, it is highly effective for rehydration after exercise and ideal as a nutrient-rich drink before bedtime.
Plant-based alternatives can be a healthy option – choose those that are fortified with essential nutrients.
|Fruit juices and smoothies||A small glass of fruit juice a day contributes one portion of fruit to your ‘five-a-day’ and can also provide essential Vitamin C and other nutrients. However, it is best to restrict intake to just one glass a day as these drinks are also sugary and acidic.|
|Tea and coffee||Tea and coffee and all types of fruit and herbal teas can helpfully boost daily fluid intake.
Caffeine intakes of up to 400mg/day, or equivalent to four to five cups of coffee, tend not to be dehydrating but it is wise to choose decaffeinated alternatives after midday if caffeine causes sleep disturbances.
|Sports drinks||Some sports drinks legitimately support and enhance hydration and effective rehydration and may be suitable if you are doing vigorous exercise.
However, they also tend to be sugary and acidic. Many contain caffeine and cannot be considered healthy for frequent use.
|Energy drinks||The majority contain a mixture of sugar and caffeine and act as stimulants. They are not considered suitable for effective and healthy hydration.|
And finally, a word about alcohol!
- Men and women should drink no more than two to three alcoholic drinks, two or three times a week
- Alcoholic drinks do not contribute to hydration and can cause dehydration and sleep disturbances.
- Safe and healthy drinking habits are the same for men and women
- 14 units or less per week
- More alcohol-free days in the week
- NO binge-drinking
Refer to drinkaware.co.uk for further recommendations about safe alcohol intake and some useful resources.
Nicky Gilbert is a freelance dietitian, lecturer and Registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist with 30 years experience in the field. For many years she worked with the players at Nottingham Forest Football Club as well as supporting other national teams and Olympians. As well as working with DIS athletes, she also works with industry to support health and wellbeing in the workplace as an accredited BDA Work Ready Dietitian.