Dehydration: It’s more than just thirst

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Water is important all the time, especially in warm weather as it keeps the body from overheating. It also regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints and also helps transport nutrients to your body to keep you healthy.

Dehydration is more than being hot and thirsty. It is a progressive condition that occurs when your body expels more water than it’s taking in. If not treated early, dehydration can cause immediate and severe health consequences. Common symptoms of dehydration are listed from mild- to life-threatening concerns.

  • Dizziness or lightheaded feeling
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of sweating
  • Hard, fast heartbeat

This imbalance of water disrupts usual levels of sugars and salts in your bloodstream, ultimately interfering with the way your body functions. But when is it appropriate to hydrate with only water and when should spotrs drinks really be used? The answer depends on the intensity and duration of the outdoor activity.

Some beverages are better than others at hydrating. For low to moderate levels of activity, such as walking for an hour or less or working out in cooler temperatures, water is the perfect solution. However, if you anticipate being out in the sun for more than an hour, you may want to hydrate with a sports drink.

What are the benefits of a sports drink compared to water?

Not only do sports drinks replace fluids (which is what water does) but they also contain sodium and potassium, which are commonly lost through perspiration. Common sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade contain these necessary electrolytes, which can help prevent muscle cramping and dehydration.

Are all sports drinks good for you?

Not necessarily.

Choose wisely when selecting a sports drink as some contain added sugar and/or caffeine, both of which should be taken in moderation. Other beverages such as soda should not be taken in place of a sports drink as it tends to pull water from the body, leading to dehydration. Fruit juices should not replace sports drinks as most of them contain high levels of sugar, too many carbohydrates and little sodium, which can lead to an upset stomach.

Whether you’re a serious athlete or simply spending time outside this summer, it’s crucial to stay hydrated. How much water or sports drink you need to consume depends on several factors including sweat rate, temperature and humidity and duration of exercise. However,

the American Council on Exercise suggests the following basic guidelines for drinking water before, during, and after exercise:

  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising
  • Drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up
  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise
  • Drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise

Athletes may want to measure how much fluid they lose during exercise to get a more specific measurement of how much water to drink by weighing themselves pre- and post- exercise. The guideline is to drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.

One final note about sports drinks and children. Sports drinks are heavily marketed toward kids, and in many cases kids don’t need them. Certainly if children are engaged in prolonged outdoor activity, use of sports drinks to rehydrate is appropriate. However, drinking sports drinks instead of water or as a replacement to juice or soda is not a healthy alternative. One eight-ounce serving of a sports drink is packed with 60-100 calories, 14-17 grams of sugar, and artificial colors. Drink the entire 20-ounce bottle and you may  consume upwards of 250 calories and 42 grams of added sugar.

For concerns about dehydration, contact or visit your local Michigan Urgent Care facility.