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Gym Gems: Dehydration Demystified

Water. It’s necessary for healthy skin, hair, nutrient absorption and digestion, brain and organ function. It maintains chemical balance in your body, affecting waste disposal, weight management and even mood. It covers 98% of the Earth, and you can’t live without it.  But let’s be serious, this is all kind of old news.  You’re Stanford students; you’ve heard it all before! But how important is water really, in a practical day-to-day sense? Read on to find out:
What is dehydration, scientifically? 
Dehydration” is, simply put, when your body’s balance of water is negative; that is, your body has used up more water than it has taken in.  Fluid loss comes from skin evaporation, breathing, and regular body function (aka peeing, duh), and is increased when you are in a warm or high altitude climate and during vigorous exercise.
Why do I have to drink water?

Water maintains your body’s fluid balance and allows it to function properly in “digestion, absorption, circulation, creating saliva, transporting nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature” (Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD). Beyond being a regulatory aid, water can help control calories — studies have proven that being dehydrated can lead to overeating. Your body sends “I’m hungry!” messages to your brain in an effort to regain fluid balance through food instead of water. Water also helps you look better on the outside — properly hydrating skin helps maintain its elasticity and coloring. It can also help disguise symptoms of fatigue.  
How do I know if I am or am becoming dehydrated?
Usual symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include: dry, sticky mouth; sleepiness or tiredness; thirst; decreased urine output; dry skin; headache; constipation; dizziness or lightheadedness. Severe dehydration, which is more likely to occur during exercise or in hot temperatures, results in: extreme thirst; irritability or confusion; dry mouth, skin, and mucous membranes; lack of sweating; little or no urination; sunken eyes; shriveled/dry skin; low blood pressure; rapid heartbeat; rapid breathing; fever; and in very extreme cases, delirium or unconsciousness.
Is my coffee addiction related to how hydrated I am?
In two words, it depends. Usually caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and soda are not directly dehydrating, but they do have a diuretic effect, meaning you urinate more after drinking them.  This can increase your risk of becoming dehydrated. This diuretic effect is not normally serious unless you consume 500 or more milligrams of caffeine (4+ cups of coffee) per day (Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., Mayo Clinic, Rochester). However, studies show that in many people, just 200 milligrams of caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness and nausea (yikes!). That said, you don’t have to cut out your daily jolt, just try to keep your daily intake under 4 cups, and don’t rely solely on caffeinated beverages for hydration purposes. For overall health, it’s better to rely on water for the balance of daily drinks.
What if I’m working out a lot? Do I need to drink a sports drink?
Water is especially important before, during and after exercise — the process through which you lose a high concentration of water per active minute. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 17 ounces of fluid 2 hours before exercising and drinking fluids at regular intervals during your workout. You should be drinking water no matter what you’re doing, but it is especially important if you’re going to be in high temperatures (75+) or active for long periods of time (45+ aerobic minutes, i.e. going for a long run or bike ride). Water hydrates muscle cells, the correct function of which can prevent early muscle fatigue and keep you feeling strong in your workout! Plain water is usually fine, but if you’re training for more than 60 minutes at a time, you may want to drink a diluted fruit juice or sports drink that will replace carbohydrates and minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium in your blood and prevent muscle fatigue. Try filling your water bottle with half Gatorade/Powerade/your favorite juice and half water, or dilute it to taste.
I hate drinking plain water. How can I hydrate creatively?
There are options for you!
1) Drink what you like! If you love lemonade, drink that (probably not 60 ounces worth, that’s a LOT of lemonade…)! Staying hydrated shouldn’t be a chore.
2) Eat foods with a high volume of water, like fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, oatmeal, and beans — because the water content is higher, these foods will help you to feel fuller longer. Nice.
3) Don’t forget your skin! Using a moisturizer creates a barrier to keep moisture from evaporating off of the skin. Use lotion or moisturizing soap daily, preferably with a sunscreen.
4) Cut down on alcohol and energy drinks — instead of downing three Red Bulls, sip one and throw a bottle of water into the mix. You’ll wake up feeling better rested, and your body will thank you.
Happy Hydrating, with love from HerCampus!

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