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Every chemical reaction that occurs in the body requires a proper medium of water. Muscle contains about 75 percent water by weight. When a muscle contracts it is somewhat like getting power from a battery. If there is not enough water the power supply is diminished. So how much water do you need to keep the muscles working properly? The amount you need depends on environmental factors and activity levels. In addition, certain health problems may occur if water intake is not adequate.
Muscles depend on blood to deliver nutrients, oxygen and energy and remove wastes. Blood is about 83 percent water. If you are not taking in enough water not only is muscle contraction compromised so is the oxygen delivery system and waste removal system. In addition heart function is compromised. Stroke volume, the amount of blood pumped with each beat of the heart, decreases. All of this may add up to poor performance, exhaustion or even collapse.
If you are leading a sedentary lifestyle spending very little time being physically active you need less water to avoid the problems that dehydration brings. However, drinking more water can aid in digestion and decrease the amount of food you need to feel full. This can help you avoid weight gain and reduce the risk of kidney stones and constipation. It may help you avoid other health problems, too, since increasing water intake flushes toxins from the body. For most sedentary people six to eight glasses of water a day is probably enough to keep things flowing. This would not include water gained from foods, juices, coffee or other drinks. In fact is best to moderate the daily intake of fluids other than water. Juices and sugary drinks add extra calories. Drinks with caffeine most likely will not cause dehydration, it takes about six or seven cups of coffee to do that. However, it is still not advisable to count caffeinated drinks when adding up water intake. Also, many beverages (including juice) contain natural or added sugars that may cause stomach distress when exercising and pile on empty calories.
The thirst mechanism can be an effective way of maintaining proper hydration. However, if you are working out or are in a very hot environment and losing lots of fluid through your sweat and breath you may be too dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty.
Some experts recommend a daily intake of 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight if you are not active and 2/3 ounce per pound of body weight if you are active. This will amount to about 10 to 14 glasses of water for a 160- pound person. In extreme conditions you may need more than that. If you are exercising in normal conditions for less than an hour you should not need an electrolyte replacement drink (sports drink) unless you have skipped a meal. If you are exercising more than an hour you may eat a snack or use a sports drink that has some carbohydrates, potassium and sodium.
It can be difficult to drink the recommended amount of water. As with all recommendations results will vary among individuals. I have a friend who is a very competitive endurance athlete in his 50s who does not drink nearly the recommended amount of water. Would his performance improve if he drank more water? Maybe.
If you don't drink much water start by getting in the minimum of 6-8 glasses a day and go from there. Find out what works for you and stick to the routine. Always be aware that you will need to drink more in a hot environment or if you working out and sweating a lot. If your urine is dark or very yellow or you do not need to go to the bathroom for a long period of time it is an indication you are dehydrated.
If you don't like the water out of your tap invest in a filtration system. You may use a pitcher, on tap filter or consult a professional to install a system. Drink a glass of water in the morning, even if you have juice and or coffee/tea. Bring 6-8 glasses of water (or more) with you to work or school and consume it over the course of the day. Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated and it is the healthiest/most cost effective.
Charlie Stephens is a retired P.E. Teacher and owns/operates Kenai Sport & Train, Inc. which specializes in P.E. consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.