Staying adequately hydrated seems to be a simple matter of drinking enough fluids, but there are a surprising number of myths and misconceptions around the topic. Here’s a look at some of the most common myths and what the real facts are about good hydration practice.
Myth #1 You need to drink eight glasses of water a day
It’s common to hear the advice that you need to drink eight glasses of water a day in order to stay properly hydrated. However, the truth is that there is no one-size-fits all rule. The amount of water that you need depends on factors such as body weight, activity levels, the climate, age and your overall state of health.
Alcohol, salty foods, and certain medications can also make you dehydrated more easily.
Myth#2 Thirst is the only reliable sign of dehydration
Many people assume that drinking when they feel thirsty is enough to stay well hydrated. However, thirst is often not the first indication that you are dehydrated because the body can lose up to 3% of its water content before the signals of thirst reach the brain. This process can be even more delayed with age.
Therefore it’s best to make a habit of drinking fluids at regular intervals rather than waiting until you feel thirsty. Checking the colour, volume and frequency of your urine is another way to gauge your hydration levels. Signs that you have a good fluid balance include pale and clear urine and needing to take a trip to the toilet every few hours.
If your urine is a dark gold colour and you are an infrequent visitor to the bathroom, this is a sign that you need to drink more.
Myth#3 Coffee is dehydrating
It is often said that tea and coffee do not count towards the rehydration process. This is because caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, meaning that it increases the need to urinate. However, the volume of fluids taken in through caffeinated beverages far outweighs the volume lost, and moderate consumption of tea or coffee is fine.
Myth#4 Drinking fluids are the only way to stay hydrated
Our bodies absorb water through foods as well as drink, particularly fruit and vegetables with a high water content. Therefore it is important to eat a well balanced diet.
If you have had a stomach bug and have not been able to keep food down for a day or two, you may notice pronounced signs of dehydration such as a dry mouth, cracked lips, and feeling faint or dizzy. In this case, it is recommended to take an oral rehydration tablet to help the body absorb fluids more quickly.
Myth#5 You should consume energy drinks if you take part in sports
Strenuous workouts or sports such as football mean that you will lose bodily fluids more quickly through sweat.
Energy drinks are marketed as the best way to remain hydrated during and after exercise, but they usually contain unhelpful additives such as sugar and hydrogenated oils. After intense exercise, adding a hydration tablet that contains electrolytes to your water is a better option.