I often see people carrying around their 1L jugs with them with the intent to drink at least two of those throughout
the day. I also see a lot of people forcing themselves to drink this amount. Is 2L a day really the solution to hydrate properly for everyone?
You guessed it, NO. No it’s not.
In simple terms, we should be drinking when we require hydration. How can you tell though?
Hydration is critical for optimal health – it aids with digestion, muscle contraction, circulation, thermoregulation, and neurologic functioning. By hydrating when you feel your body needs it, is a pretty good rule to follow and it actually has quite a bit of scientific research backing it.
Our bodies have a built in thirst mechanism where it will tell you if you need to drink. If we become slightly dehydrated, our bodies release an anti-diuretic hormone called AVP, which retains more fluid in your body.
To get proper hydration, we need to listen to our thirst mechanisms, cater to your individual needs for fluid and also make adjustments for variables like climate and exercise.
There is no scientific evidence stating that your 8 glasses of water or 2L a day is the rule for optimal health and hydration. There is also no benefit of drinking greater quantities of water. It can actually bring on a condition called hyponatremia where your sodium balance in the body is out of whack (1).
20% of our hydration needs are met through food alone. Especially if you are adhering to Paleo lifestyle where we get lots of veggies and some fruit, which have higher water, content (2).
Dietary sodium helps transport water through the walls of your small intestines where 95% of your fluid absorption takes place. Sodium IS important. People on a Paleo diet are most likely getting less of it than your standard Australian diet peeps and it is actually possible to become deficient in sodium. To rebalance, we make sure to season our foods with a good quality Himalayan salt or sea salt.
Hydration for Athletes
When we work up a sweat, hydration becomes a little more complex. Longer efforts like marathons or back to back CrossFit competitions or even hard labour work outside in a hot climate make up for demanding physical and metabolic stress on our bodies.
This builds up your hydration needs because you are losing fluids through sweat and because you need to be hydrated in order to perform at a high level of fitness (3).
Athletes need to consider a few things. Exercise duration and intensity, environment and temperature, training status/level, acclimatization, previous hydration level, diet and body mass. There is no one size fits all here.
What Athletes Should Drink
Water is ok for more moderate training, but you are better off consuming a solution to get the best bang for your buck with hydration. This solution is a combination of water, salt and … yes. Sugar (glucose/sucrose) (4).
I know it sounds crazy, but read on.
To allow for maximum water absorption, our bodies require sodium and glucose/sucrose to help with the transportation of water through the channels in our small intestine.
The sugar in this solution is NOT for fuelling. A good example of how to follow this solution is about 470mL of water, a pinch of Himalayan salt and a teaspoon of maple syrup because it has a good composition of sucrose and glucose combined.
How much and When to Drink
There should really be no schedule. Again, drinking to thirst even in extreme conditions. There’s no “per hour” schedule – you simply listen to your body. Be mindful in more demanding situations like a marathon, some people will forget about hydration because their mind is focused so much on pace, so in times like this, it may be beneficial to set reminders.
Practice makes perfect. If you are doing high intensity training or are training in extreme conditions, it would be wise to practice a hydration strategy, which means drinking periodically and drink if it feels comfortable. If you are training for competition, train also for hydration. Understand what your body will require BEFORE heading into competition day.
Bottom line, listen to your body. It knows you best. If it’s telling you to drink, drink. If it’s telling you it can’t handle the 2L a day, don’t force yourself.
(2) Nutrition and Healthy Eating
(3) Waterlogged Part II: Trials, Questions, and Suggestions Regarding Hydration and Ultramarathons
(4) Pre- and Post-Race Hydration Status in Hyponatremic and Non-Hyponatremic Ultra-Endurance Athletes