When you get down to it, the importance of hydration should come as no surprise. "If you look at our physiology, it becomes really clear. Children's bodies are about 70 to 75 percent water, while adults' are about 60 percent," explains Abbott research scientist Jennifer Williams, MPH. "And water is an essential part of keeping every cell in your body working at its best," she adds.
However, when it comes to the best ways to keep hydrated, there seems to be an overflow of misconceptions — some of which can have the opposite effect. Here are some of the most common missteps to avoid.
1. Avoiding Sodium Like It's Your Job
While too much sodium in your diet can be unhealthy, skipping salt altogether isn't necessarily the solution. Sodium is a critical electrolyte that, along with potassium and chloride, helps to deliver water to your body's cells. That means a diet that's too low in sodium can actually increase your risk of dehydration.
You may have noticed after a particularly sweaty workout or day in the sun that your skin can feel a bit gritty. That grit is actually salt that leaves your body along with water when you sweat. In order to properly rehydrate, you need to replace any sodium you lose.
Unless your doctor has instructed you to reduce salt intake, consider a salty post-workout snack like pretzels or an electrolyte-packed hydration beverage like Pedialyte® to help get the job done.
2. Not Eating Enough Fruits and Veggies
In addition to providing plenty of essential nutrients, fruits and vegetables also make great hydrating snacks. Bananas and avocados are rich in potassium, and many fruits are good sources of simple carbohydrates that, in the right quantities, can help your body absorb fluids and use later. Most importantly, almost every item in these two food groups is packed with water.
Related: How Staying Hydrated Helps Your Body
Williams explains that about 20 percent of your daily fluid intake should come from food, and while that may seem like a lot, there are plenty of great options. Foods like cucumber and lettuce, which are more than 90 percent water, can be especially helpful.
A simple way to track and improve your family's produce intake is to make sure that at every meal at least half of the plate is filled with a combination of fruits and vegetables. Between meals, consider serving up orange slices, apples and bananas as healthy, hydrating snacks.
3. Drinking Eight Glasses of Water Per Day
This one might come as a surprise, and while eight glasses a day can be a good habit, it can also be misleading. "Drinking water throughout the day is great, but the problem with the rule is that it doesn't apply to everyone. Some people may need more," says Williams.
Because fluid needs can be affected by a number of factors including body size, activity levels, weather and even your city's elevation, she recommends measuring hydration through urine color. Dark yellow to amber can point to dehydration, while pale yellow typically indicates that a person is hydrated.
Infographic: Is Dehydration on your Radar?
4. Only Drinking When You're Thirsty
"A lot of people mistake thirst as the first sign of dehydration," Williams says, "but it's entirely possible to become dehydrated before you feel thirsty." This is particularly relevant for kids who don't yet understand the importance of hydration, and for older adults since aging can actually weaken the sensation of thirst. You should drink water or other hydrating beverages regularly throughout the day and remind your family to do the same.
Another strategy for tracking hydration is to weigh yourself before and after exercise — whatever weight you lose through sweat needs to be replaced with fluids and electrolytes.
5. Chugging Sports Drinks
Sports drinks are often promoted as one of the best ways to keep hydrated, especially for athletes, but many of them don't have enough electrolytes to fully replenish you during or post- exercise. Some are often high in sugar, which can actually worsen dehydration.
Excess sugar can also exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea, while also limiting the body's ability to absorb fluids. A better option is something like Pedialyte Advanced Care Plus which has about twice the electrolytes and half the sugar of many sports drinks and supports optimal hydration.
6. Swearing Off Coffee and Tea
Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production, but it turns out that caffeinated beverages aren't as dehydrating as people once thought. In a 2014 PLOS ONE study, men who drank three to six cups of coffee per day weren't any less hydrated than those who drank the same amount of daily fluid, via water.
Williams recommends drinking something first thing in the morning because after a whole night without liquids, it's easy to wake up in a state of mild dehydration. So, upon waking, grab a glass of water and, also, enjoy your morning coffee guilt free!
Hydration can be simple provided you understand it. With these tips, you and your family can feel great and keep doing all the things you love to do.