MY tall silver water flask stands out on my office desk. Some creative nerds at work call the one-liter container a rocket. Other wise guys crack green jokes about the 12-inch flask, a gift from my mother when I landed my first job. She had pure intentions: “Drink plenty of water,” she said. The gift serves as her constant reminder to keep up a habit that often gets forgotten in the daily grind.
“Put it this way: Water is more important than food,” says Luz Callanta, R.N.D., M.S.N., MH nutrition advisor and a senior lecturer at the College of Home Economics at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. “You can survive 40 days without food. But without drinking water for two to three days, you will die because of dehydration.”
More than 60 percent of the human body is composed of water. In fact, just like carbohydrates, protein, and fat, it is a macronutrient, “a nutrient that your body requires a lot of, as opposed to micronutrients, which can be taken in smaller, milligram amounts,” Callanta explains.
Water also plays a key role in keeping your core body temperature down so you don't overheat like an ill-maintained car, especially during physical activities.
“We’re the only animals who perspire to keep our bodies cool,” says Patrick Joson, a triathlon coach certified by the International Triathlon Union. Unlike your pet dogs that sweat only through their noses, you sweat all throughout your body due to the pores on your skin. You therefore need to drink more fluids to replenish your depleted water volume.
THE MAGIC NUMBER
You’ve been told this tons of times that it’s almost a cliché: “Drink eight glasses — or two liters — of water a day.” Callanta, however, considers this advice old-fashioned. “This was the number set because it’s easy to remember,” she believes.
The real deal is that men and women have different hydration needs. Women are advised to drink 2.2 to 2.8 liters (roughly nine to 11 glasses) of water a day, depending on their height. Men, on the other hand, need more fluids — 3 to 3.2 liters (about 12 to 13 glasses) — daily because they naturally have more muscle mass than women, and water is essential for muscle nourishment.
While 12 is the new figure to remember, there are instances when you need to drain even more glasses of H20 — for example, when the weather is hotter and denser. “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. You’re [already] partially dehydrated when you’re thirsty,” Callanta points out.
You likewise need more fluids when you have a fever and even more when exercising, during which you lose water and salt through sweating.
Exactly how much should you drink? “It depends on the activity and the intensity,” Joson states. He recommends gulping 4 to 6 ounces (about two mouthfuls) of water for every 15 to 30 minutes of exercise.
If you’re having trouble meeting the required daily fluid intake of 12 glasses, Joson suggests starting the day by drinking a glass or two of water. After several hours of sleep, you’re actually dehydrated and the best way to hydrate is by chugging down H20. It’s calorie- and sugar-free, too. That leaves you with a more manageable debt of about 10 glasses for the rest of the day.
DRINK MORE TO LOSE MORE
When you feel hungry, the automatic response is to grab something to eat right away. But Callanta recommends having a glass of water first, especially if you’re watching your weight. “If, in five to 10 minutes, the hunger pangs subside after you drink, then you were probably just thirsty.”
Your metabolism will also get a boost if you stay well-hydrated. “Water is present in every bodily function,” Callanta says. “Without water, your body is not able to do its functions, one of which is to burn calories. Your body’s capacity to burn calories slows down when you’re dehydrated.”
Hence, dehydration actually invites the enemy of weight management: slower metabolism. “Your body can’t convert fat into fuel when you’re dehydrated,” Callanta adds.
THE RIGHT KIND OF DRINK
Apart from water, there are many other drinks to choose from. Not all these are created equal, though, when it comes to hydration — especially during exercise.
According to Callanta, there are several types of drinks: hydration, sports, and energy. A hydration drink aims to simply replenish the water you lose. A sports drink, on the other hand, is a special concoction of water and electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Finally, an energy drink contains caffeine, a known diuretic that will actually make you lose rather than retain water. (See “No to Diuretics” for a list of what to avoid.)
So which fluid is your best exercise buddy? It varies depending on the physical activity, intensity, and duration. Skip the fancy sports drink when you’re working out for only an hour at moderate intensity, and opt for cold water instead. Joson says that cold water is easily absorbed by your body when its temperature is high due to exercise.
A sports drink, meanwhile, is a great option if you’re going to exercise for more than an hour. This is because when you sweat, you lose not only water but also electrolytes that are necessary for your body to function at its peak. A sports drink usually contains the essential minerals you lose due to perspiration. (See “Think Before You Drink” to get an idea of what you should look out for.)
MAKING A CHOICE
Water remains the best choice for hydration, yet not many people are keen on drinking it. But while sodas or sugar-loaded juices are more tempting because of their taste, they do your body more harm than good. Callanta notes that soft drinks contain gas, so you feel bloated after consuming them. She adds that it doesn’t help that most sugary drinks are carbonated and thus cause a stinging sensation in your throat, making you consume less liquids. Then there are the added calories in them that you don’t need.
Keeping the negative eftfects of sweeter drinks in mind, you can ease yourself into drinking more H20 by making your own flavored water. By steeping slices of fruit or vegetables in regular water, you can infuse it with some tang. “Flavored water is very refreshing that it makes you want to drink more,” Callanta says. While you’re at it, eating more fruits also helps stave off dehydration thanks to their water content.
At the end of the day, our moms might not have been strictly scientific about the amount of water we should take daily. But the notion that drinking water is the healthiest form of hydration is certainly no old wives’ tale.
Boring No More
Luz Callanta, R.N.D., M.S.N., says that by making your own flavored water, you can add zest to plain H2O
You can add any or a combination of the following to your water: chopped peppermint leaves, lemongrass, cucumber, lemon, lime, orange, and apple. Thoroughly wash the ingredients before slicing them. Then, put them in a jug and add water. Let the concoction sit overnight before drinking. Doing this helps you meet your daily water requirement and at the same time infuse a couple more nutrients into your body.
NO TO DIURETICS
If you’re looking to stay hydrated, avoid diuretic drinks. As the name implies, beverages in this category make you urinate more, so you lose more fluids than you normally would. Diuretics include caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Nope, that ice-cold beer does not make the good-hydration-drink list.
THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK
Pick the right kind of sports drink with these tips from Callanta, and Patrick Joson, a certified International Triathlon Union coach.
Light to Moderate Exercise
Opt for a low carbohydrate sports drink. Joson explains that this workout intensity and duration might not be enough to burn the sugar in a regular sports drink.
Over Two Hours of Activity
According to Callanta, an activity that goes on for this long requires a sports drink that contains the following: sodium, potassium, and glucose. She stresses that the longer the activity, the more glucose you need.
For events like a triathlon, you need more than your regular sports drink. Joson suggests one with protein and a higher concentration of electrolytes. The protein content will help aid muscle repair during your activity, while the electrolytes are essential for your body to stay in optimum shape on the way to the finish line.