Thirsty? This is why you should drink more water

If you’re struggling with headaches, tiredness and concentration, there’s every chance you may be dehydrated. Here’s how to spot the signs.

As little as a two per cent loss of fluid can impair our concentration and decrease physical performance says President of Sports Dietitians Australia Simone Austin.

“Insufficient water can be the cause of more health issues than we realise,” she says. “Your body is around 70 per cent water and your brain 75 per cent.”

The physical effects of dehydration

Water is vital for the proper functioning of the body.

“Water is used to remove wastes in urine and faeces, to cool us via sweating and with evaporation from our lungs when breathing,” Simone explains.

Even being mildly dehydrated, can lead to:

  • Impaired concentration
  • Increased frequency of urinary tract infections
  • Reduced bowel motions or constipation
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dry skin
  • Cramping

“Extreme dehydration is dangerous and can lead to heat stroke and an imbalance in the electrolytes that send signals from cell to cell. The brain then won’t function properly and you may lose consciousness,” she adds.

Dehydration increases the perception of effort of any task, particularly physical tasks, limiting performance for athletes and affecting jobs involving physical work.

“Even in winter we can dehydrate. Heated classrooms, offices and homes are drying environments, so too is exercising in the cold, where it is less inviting to drink water compared to in the heat,” Simone says.

Watch Sports Dietitian Simone Austin discuss dehydration with Ed and Zoe on House of Wellness TV.

Identifying and overcoming dehydration

There a number of simple checks we can do to prevent dehydration.

“Take a peek in the toilet bowl and increase fluid intake if your urine is darker than the colour of straw,” Simone says.

“Also remember to drink when you’re thirsty and be aware of how much fluid you lose when exercising.”

Other things to look out for:

  • If you are urinating infrequently you’re likely to have a degree of dehydration. You should be urinating every 3-4 hours.
  • Don’t confuse thirst with hunger. Sometimes you may feel hungry but are thirsty. Have a drink and see how you go.
  • 3pm energy slump? You probably need hydrating. Try soup for fluid and food in one.
  • Check your bowels. If you suffer with constipation it may be due to lack of fluid.

The Australian Nutrient Reference Values suggest 2.6 litres for men and 2.1 litres of fluid for women per day based on an ‘average weight person’ (76kg and 61kg respectively). Some people need more, others less.

How to increase fluid intake

Simone’s final piece of advice is to have plenty of opportunities around you to remind you to drink.

“Try warm water, herbal teas, soup, water on your desk or kitchen bench, water bottles when exercising. Avoid fluids with sugar unless you really need it, such as in endurance-based exercise.

“Food provides us with around 20 per cent of our daily water needs. So eating the recommended five servings a day of vegetables can boost your nutrient and water intake too.”

It also helps to:

  • Make water your main drink. It is inexpensive and easily accessible.
  • Have a jug of water on the table at meal times and in the fridge for everyone to grab.
  • Keep a water bottle on your desk, in the car and with you on outings.
  • Have a drink every time you have been to the toilet. It’s a great reminder.
  • If you drink alcohol, have a glass of water to quench your thirst before you reach for an alcoholic drink.
  • If you exercise intensely weigh yourself before and after exercise in minimal clothing. The weight loss is fluid loss so you can drink about one and a half times the amount to allow for this.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.