Summer is a great time for outdoor physical activity. But whether you’re working or playing outside, it’s important to remember to drink enough fluids, especially water, to keep your body hydrated. To be hydrated literally means to provide water in order to supply or maintain fluid balance. To be dehydrated means your body needs more water to get back in balance.
Did you know the human body is made up of approximately 60 percent water? Almost every system in the body uses water to function. Water carries nutrients to cells and organs and carries toxins out. Under normal circumstances, the human body maintains its fluid balance by eliminating excess water through urine and signaling thirst when more fluid is needed. However, when the body is under stress, as in hot and humid weather, more fluids — especially water — may be needed to reach a balanced state. Without enough fluid intake, you can become dehydrated and in hot, humid weather, dehydration can lead to illness.
Your body gets about 80 percent of the water it needs from the fluids you drink and about 20 percent from food. The least expensive, most readily available, and healthiest beverage you can drink is water — plain tap water. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day is a good place to start for the average adult. However, if you’re working or playing hard in a hot or humid environment, add another cup or two of water for every hour you’re physically active in the heat. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough fluids, check your urine. If it’s light yellow or clear, you’re getting enough. If it’s dark, you need to drink more water.
Children and teenagers are more sensitive to heat and should drink smaller amounts of water more often than adults. If you’re not sure if kids are getting enough fluids, ask whether they’re going to the bathroom several times during the day. Encourage them to take a beverage break every hour and stay out of the direct sun during the hottest part of the day, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Provide liquids if you're with kids; otherwise, fill water bottles they can take with them while they're playing or participating in sports.
What about other drinks besides water?
Although plain water is best for staying hydrated, you can try some other drinks for variety. People often ask if sports drinks are better than water for staying hydrated when you’re physically active. Not necessarily.
Sports drinks are designed for athletes or workers who are extremely physically active over several hours. For most of us who are moderately physically active in the heat, water or unsweetened non-caffeinated beverages, will work just fine — we don’t need the electrolytes, carbohydrates, or the added calories that sports drinks contain.
Similar advice applies to fruit and vegetable juices. They can be a good choice if they’re 100 percent juice; however, like sport drinks, they contain carbohydrates and calories, so limit juice intake to about 6-8 ounces per day.
Steer clear of drinks with caffeine and alcohol as they can lead to dehydration, not to mention other problems, such as weight gain. Read the Nutrition Facts labels on beverages and select those without caffeine, alcohol, or added sugars or sweeteners.
So what should you drink besides plain water for adequate hydration that's also healthy? Try adding some flavor to plain water by putting a few berries, or melon, cucumber, lemon, lime or orange slices in your glass. You might also try unsweetened tea or ready-made flavored waters for a change of pace — but watch the calories.
For more information, visit these online resources
Healthy Beverages, Healthy & Fit on the Go — University of Minnesota Extension
Beverages Make a Difference, Choose Healthy Ones — Cornell University Extension
Drink More Fluids During Hot Weather — eXtension.org
A Day of Beverages - Make Good Choices — eXtension.org