Not drinking enough water? You could be setting yourself up for trouble. Here we identify telltale signs of dehydration and how you can prevent it
Living in a tropical country like ours, many would assume that we’ve acclimated to the harsh conditions quite well. The heat and humidity shouldn’t be a concern for us right? Sadly, the answer is no.
Despite spending most, if not all, of our lives in this scorching climate, our body still needs a lot of care and concern when it comes to dehydration.
So what’s the big deal about dehydration? And why does lacking even a little bit of water make a huge difference in our health, well-being, and performance?
What causes dehydration?
Our bodies need to function at an ideal temperature range. Going above or below this would result in adverse effects on our body. Case in point, when exposed to high temperatures, our body needs to cool down to avoid damage to internal organs such as the brain. It does this by sweating. Sweating is a heat exchange process in which heat from our core gets vented out with water (sweat) acting as the medium. The hotter it is, the more we need to sweat and cool down. But where does the water come from? Our bodily fluids—such as our blood. Unfortunately, we don’t have an unlimited supply of blood so as we sweat, our blood volume drastically drops, resulting in a few problems.
What are the effects of dehydration?
1. With less blood volume, our heart needs to work harder
Our heart’s cardiac output is referred to as the stroke volume multiplied by heart rate. This is essentially how much blood our heart is able to pump out across a minute. Since our red blood cells carry oxygen molecules, this is also linked to how much oxygen is delivered to our cells. When we are dehydrated, less oxygen is delivered to our cells because there’s less blood volume to go around. As a result, our heart needs to work harder by beating faster. This is why you’ll notice an elevated heart rate when you’re drastically dehydrated.
2. We are unable to remove waste products properly
Aside from defecation, urination is another way our body gets rid of waste products (e.g. ammonia, creatinine, urea etc.) from metabolic processes. Of course, the medium used here is through water as well. Having low hydration levels means our body moves waste removal down the priority list for fear of losing more water. This, long term, would be a problem as the accumulation of waste products in our bloodstream could have severe consequences.
3. Our body is unable to function at full capacity
Aside from its more common manifestation, which is cramping, there are other lesser known symptoms of dehydration. Dizziness, headaches, and the overall feeling of weakness or lack of concentration are all telltale signs of dehydration. The feeling we get is quite similar to being “hung over” from a night of drinking since the mechanisms at play are quite similar. Drinking too much alcohol also results in dehydration and hence would have similar effects. The lack of fluids puts pressure on our skull since our brain effectively shrinks in size.
How do we prevent dehydration?
1. Be proactive
An elevated heart rate, a huge drop in body weight (i.e. 5 percent or more), headaches, and dizziness are all telltale signs you’re dehydrated; unfortunately, they also point to advanced levels of dehydration. Once you’re experiencing these problems, it’s going to be harder to recover.
While thirst and dark-colored urine are a couple of early signs, nothing beats being proactive when it comes to taking in fluids. In fact, I recommend anticipating how much fluid you’ll lose depending on the conditions. If it’s a hot day, take an extra chug of water or two before and during your workout.
2. Don’t drink a lot of fluids in one go
A common mistake people make is to down a tall glass of water in a single go. We might think we’re taking in a lot of fluids this way but the problem is, our body realizes this is too much and you end up peeing it out. Furthermore, doing this frequently can lead to a rapid loss of electrolytes called hyponatremia. This is another form of dehydration and can potentially be fatal.
A better way to approach proper hydration would be to drink water gradually throughout the day. Make it a point to drink around 200 to 300mL of water gradually across 30 to 60 minutes. This will ensure your body will absorb it and keep your hydration levels topped up.
3. Supplement with electrolyte drinks
Whenever we hear about sports drinks promoting rehydration, the term electrolytes always gets brought up. Electrolytes are minerals that are able to carry an electric charge. This is important since they help with neuromuscular function, metabolic processes, balancing pH (acid/base) levels, and even water levels. By taking in enough electrolytes, you’re ensuring your body is able to function properly as well as retain the water you ingest. Think of it as a way to hold more water inside the body.
4. Stay cool
A good hack to prevent excessive fluid loss is to address the main culprit: heat.
When training indoors, there’s nothing wrong with using a fan at full blast or even switching on the air conditioner. While I firmly believe that acclimating (i.e. heat training) can be beneficial for a given sport, too much can also be detrimental. By making sure your body is comfortable and functioning well, you can push it harder and further consistently.
Outdoors, we don’t really have control over how hot things are but we can manipulate how our body perceives this heat. It may seem counterintuitive to wear long sleeves and to cover yourself up on a hot sunny day but this is actually more beneficial than working out topless. The less direct heat (or sunlight) our skin gets into contact with, the less heat gets absorbed. However, before you bring out your long-sleeved shirts and jogging pants, make sure you’re choosing materials that are breathable and wick sweat away from your body. These qualities ensure the fabrics keep you cool rather than trap excess body heat .
With the Philippine heat taking its toll on our bodies even during the rainy season, let’s take steps to make sure we’re taking care of our bodies well. It all starts with the right knowledge and ends with proper execution. Train smart!
Have some training questions, feedback or suggestions for future articles? Drop a note in the comments section below or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You can also get in touch with Don directly here.