What to watch for to prevent dehydration.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. We all know it’s important to drink plenty of fluids. Literally every system in our bodies utilizes water, which accounts for roughly 60 percent of our total body weight. Dehydration carries numerous health risks, including impaired cognitive, gastrointestinal, kidney, and heart function. In athletes, dehydration can negatively impact performance, manifesting as increased fatigue, increased perceived exertion, decreased endurance, and lagging motivation.
Your body has plenty of ways to alert you that you’re dehydrated, if you know what to watch for. Here are some of the most common indicators that you need to drink up.
The thirst sensation is your body’s alarm to tell you what it needs. When your body is dehydrated and short on electrolytes, your kidneys are unable to function properly. This sends a message to your brain, which triggers the thirst response. It’s important to drink whenever you feel thirsty. Even better, drink plenty of liquids at regular intervals to avoid getting dehydrated in the first place. You’ll need extra fluids when exercising or spending time in the sun or hot climates.
Headaches—from mild to migraine—are another common symptom of dehydration. All our bodily systems require water to function properly, and a headache can be one of the first red flags that you’re not getting enough fluid. At the first sign of a headache, drink a tall glass of water and see whether rehydrating helps relieve the pain.
Dehydration is one of the leading causes of muscle cramping in athletes. Even in cool weather, it’s important to replace fluids and electrolytes while working out. Muscle cramps can completely derail a training session or race, so it’s important to practice proper hydration. For the best chance of avoiding dehydration-related muscle cramps, drink a small amount of electrolyte replacement sports drink before starting your work out. Then, continue sipping your drink at regular intervals as you exercise.
Lack of Sweat
If you stop sweating, stop exercising immediately. The lack of sweat during exercise can be a sign that you are either severely dehydrated or experiencing heat stroke. It’s important to cool down and rehydrate right away.
Urine and Bowel Changes
An age-old way of knowing whether or not you’re properly hydrated? Take a look at your urine. It should be clear or light yellow in color. Dark yellow, concentrated urine is a sure sign of dehydration, showing that your kidneys are not excreting waste from the body as they should. Constipation and bloating are also common signs of dehydration, as your body does not have enough fluid to properly pass waste. On the flip side, if you are ill and experience diarrhea, your body will expel too much fluid and quickly become dehydrated. When you are sick, extra fluids are an essential part of any healing protocol.
Fever and Chills
Fever and chills can also be signs of dehydration. Overheating during exercise can cause severe dehydration and impact your normal body temperature, resulting in fever and/or chills. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to stop exercising immediately, rehydrate, and cool down. A fever caused by illness can increase dehydration, and therefore fluid intake is key to help reduce fever and kick the bug.
If your skin is shriveled and dry, lacking its usual elasticity, you’re probably dehydrated. You can test your skin’s elasticity by pinching the skin on the back of your hand. It should spring back within a few seconds. If it remains pinched in place like a tent, grab a bottle of water and rehydrate.
Dry eyes or blurry vision can occur as a result of dehydration during long periods of exertion. If you’re tackling a long training session or an endurance race, pay close attention to vision changes. If your eyes feel dry and irritated or if your vision becomes blurry, try increasing your fluid intake.
Dehydration can prevent your body from producing enough saliva, leading to an overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth and subsequent bad breath. A sticky or dry mouth is another obvious sign of dehydration.
A craving for sweets can also be a symptom of dehydration. When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you deplete your body’s glycogen stores more quickly than normal, and therefore tend to crave sugar to replace what you’ve lost. Next time you crave sweets, try drinking a glass of water, then see if you still long for that chocolate bar.
Physical and Mental Fatigue and Mood Changes
Studies show that even mild dehydration can negatively impact mood, energy, and cognitive function—and this can occur whether you’re active or sedentary. If you're unusually tired, irritable, or out of sorts, you may be dehydrated. This may be a protective mechanism—your body’s way of conserving energy and resources until your fluids are back in balance.
Although there are many negative health and performance consequences to dehydration, the good news is that it’s often easily cured by consuming more water or electrolyte replacement drink. You’ll know you’re rehydrated when your symptoms clear up (for example, your headache dissipates or your urine returns to a healthy light yellow color). If you don’t improve quickly through rehydration, and if your dehydration symptoms are severe or prolonged, it’s wise to consult with your doctor.
A healthy recommendation for anyone is to avoid becoming dehydrated to begin with. The best way to do this is by keeping plenty of water or sports drink conveniently on hand, and drinking at regular intervals all throughout the day. Purchase a dedicated water bottle, like one from the BlenderBottle® Performance Hydration line or Owala, to keep by your side—whether at home, at work, or while exercising—as a reminder to stay healthily hydrated, always.