Can hydration be intuitive? I've been asked this question by other people and spent time asking it myself, and I'm here to finally crack the code of hydration - because y'all, sometimes it does feel like it's written in code.
CAN HYDRATION BE INTUITIVE?
Unfortunately...not so much. See, when we're talking about food and hunger, there are several stages of hunger that range from overfull to satisfied to snack-y (my favorite term) to starving. With hydration, there's mostly just not thirsty, a little thirsty, and super thirsty. The problem is, because of how hydration is regulated in the body, we don't really feel thirsty until we're already dehydrated.
In short, when body water is low, the hypothalamus senses that the concentration of body sodium/solutes is HIGH (see right). This creates a sense of thirst. When you drink, your body water level increases and sodium is diluted correctly (see left). Because we don't feel thirst until body water is low, like on the right side of the illustration, it's best to drink slightly ahead of thirst.
CRACKING THE HYDRATION CODE
Generally speaking, for individuals without conditions that affect hydration/solutes, we need about 8-9 cups of water/fluid per day. This should bring your pee to the color of a light yellow Post-It and indicates correct hydration.
For exercise lasting an hour or so, typically you can get away with sipping water throughout and having an extra cup or two after. BUT if you work out for 90 minutes or more, work out in hot and/or humid weather, or are a salty sweater (like if your sweat literally leaves behind salt when it dries), you may want to look into an electrolyte replacement. This is because as we sweat, not only do we lose water, but we lose electrolytes. With short exercise, our bodies can accommodate these losses and keep all of our electrolyte levels normal - but with longer exercise, it's best to add some back in. Gatorade or Powerade will do the trick, or you can DIY it with a recipe like this one.
It is possible to overhydrate, so keep an eye on that pee and back off the drinks if it is consistently clear - and always always always call a doctor or seek emergency care if needed. Things to keep tabs on: dizziness, peeing a LOT more than usual, peeing WAY LESS than usual, temperature changes.
MAKING HYDRATION EASIER
Hate water? Me, too. It's tasteless and I have to be pretty dang thirsty for plain water to be satisfying, which we've learned is when it's a little late in the game and dehydration has already struck. Here's some ways to make it more bearable, or dare I say - fun?
DRINK OUT OF A STRAW
Drew's nana always warns me against sipping my margaritas out of a straw because it "makes the tequila hit you harder" (yes, I drink margs with Drew's nana and yes, it is one of the highlights of my life) - but there's a simple explanation why. We just drink faster and more out of straws. There's not really a scientific basis for this, but I've heard agreement from many people that they hydrate way better from cups with a straw.
USE A CLEAR CUP
This helps you watch the water level sink and track your progress. For whatever reason, I drink way less out of opaque cups than my clear ones, and once again I've heard agreement from friends.
KEEP WATER ON HAND
This may be a "duh", but it's way easier to remember to drink if your water is next to you all day. I use this Bubba cup (BONUS: it has a straw AND it's clear) because it's huge (4 cups!) and two of them per day meets my water needs! No frequent refills!
ADD SOME FLAVOR
Y'all. I got introduced to these lemon packets a few months ago and they are a hydration GAME CHANGER. They're just crystallized lemon that you sprinkle into drinks. Then you don't have to deal with messy lemon cutting or forgotten wedges in the fridge. Slice your fruit and let it sit in your water (in the fridge!) for a few hours or overnight, then sip away!