We hear it all the time — drink more water. Drink this vitamin water. Drink this brand. This one’s filtered. This one’s distilled or bottled at the source. This one’s smart. Some are alkaline. Some have electrolytes added (what in the world are those?!). Water is one of the most natural things on the planet, yet it’s gotten to be one of the most confusing choices to make. What does it all mean and what should we be drinking to get the best hydration possible?
Water is integral not only to our health, but essential for every function in our body. Without food, we can survive for a week or longer. Without water, we perish in about three days, our organs breaking down along the way.
Colorless urine is an indicator that we’re hydrated. Darker urine, dry mouth, fatigue, extreme thirst, headache, confusion, lightheadedness and a lack of tears when crying are all indicators that we’re dehydrated. Thirst is a delayed alarm system. By the time we register as thirsty, we’re already dehydrated. Lack of the right hydration can make us sluggish during workouts and can even lay us flat on the floor when we’re out of balance with our electrolytes.
What are electrolytes?
“Electrolytes” is a term often thrown around amongst the health conscious, but what are those little magic bullets? Water paddlers use these terms as selling points, further complicating our decision making. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium that are vital to key functions in the body. They’re important in every facet of health, but are often discussed in regards to exercise.
Replenishing electrolytes after a workout is important, as they’re pivotal for our muscle function, but we lose these nutrients on a daily basis naturally as well. Since sweating leads to a loss of electrolytes, restoring their balance is essential.
Long before thirst sets in, we can suffer the ill effects of dehydration without knowing it. Being even mildly dehydrated affects our mood, memory and ability to focus, not to mention our reaction times.
Our energy levels are dependent on our hydration levels as well. Clients have looked at me incredibly when I tell them to drink more water even if they think they have great energy levels. It’s more difficult for our tickers to pump blood when we’re dehydrated, sometimes causing an elevated heart rate. Remember, water is what gets it all moving — our digestion, our cells, everything! Dehydration can even lead to sensations typically brought on by acid reflux — bloating and heartburn for a start.
Healthy weight loss is aided by water as well. A study done in 2016 documented that participants who increased their water intake by only one percent consumed fewer calories, reducing their intake of sugar, cholesterol and fat. Water consumption enhances joint health (cartilage is about 80 percent water) pushes toxins out of our body and decreases the chances of kidney stones.
What’s more hydrating?
Now that we know why we need to hydrate, what’s the best way to do it without adding a bunch of sugar and artificial stuff to our daily intake?
Ironically, the more I read about it, the more natural water seems to be the answer. Perhaps we can add some things to make the minerals naturally present in the water more bioavailable. Most water, unless purified and treated, will naturally contain trace amounts of electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
In our current foodscape, food companies are allowed to bend the rules (and not just a little). Sports drinks load with artificial ingredients are marketed using fancy terms that mean very little. Using terminology like “electric”, “performance enhancing”, and “supercharge,” sports drink companies take ordinary ingredients like sugar and salt, process them in a lab, combine them with colors and flavors to make you want to come back for more, slap them in some brightly wrapped plastic and then charge you an arm and a leg. How can we blame them? The sports drink industry is estimated to grow from $24.6 billion in 2020 to $32.6 billion by 2027, leaving everyone’s mouth watering for a gulp of that artificially flavored pie.
Some minerals like copper and lead are removed from tap water to make it fit for human consumption. To enhance the taste, lab-derived minerals (the ones we don’t absorb as well as the natural ones) are added. Chlorine is often used to make sure it’s clear of bacteria and viruses as well. While distilled water may seem like a clean choice, it may be too clean. Distilled water is devoid of minerals.
Water is not only laced with flavorings and colors, it’s also made to be more alkaline by going through a process called electrolysis. Water naturally measures at a pH of about 7, making it neutral. It can be naturally alkaline, but most of the alkalized water we buy goes through electrolysis, bringing it to the pH of 8 or 9. Processed alkaline water isn’t always the best choice, as it’s not always purified, leaving the possibility of contaminants in our water.
A study conducted in 2012 found that alkaline water reduced pepsin, the enzyme that plays a lead role in acid reflux. When I conducted my own study on this subject matter in 2020, while pregnant with my son, I tried to use alkaline water to quell my need for antacids. My little anecdotal study was unsuccessful, but the jury is clearly still out.
It’s important to point out that bottled waters are in plastic bottles, something that’s been deemed harmful. Plastic particles are everywhere — in our fish, in us and even in our babies. Steering clear of plastic bottles is not only better for the environment, but for our health.
Best way to hydrate
Sports drinks are a huge market. While some are better quality than others, food companies are simply offering a solution to a perceived problem, making a lot of loot while doing so. Coconut water naturally offers electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, magnesium and phosphorus, making it a great ingredient in your DIY replenishing drinks. Some specific forms of sugar can partner with sodium to help get us hydrated faster and replenish our muscles. A little natural sugar, like that found in coconut water or fruit, helps get us where we need to go faster. Salt, as we know, is pivotal in hydration.
We’ve gotten so brainwashed by the beverage industry that we may identify electrolyte sources only as treated waters and other beverages. What we may not realize is that electrolytes are found in foods as well. Food sources include good-quality salt for sodium and potassium-rich fruits and veggies. Meat, poultry, fish and beans are great sources of phosphorus, as are calcium-filled dairy and nuts. My fave green leafies are great sources of potassium. Some even contain calcium as well.
DIY Electrolyte Juice
1 cup coconut water (depending on taste and third level)
1/8 – ¼ teaspoon good quality salt
½ lime – juiced
1 tangerine – juiced
½ lemon – juiced
Salt rim – (optional according to desired level of fanciness)
Combine all ingredients and enjoy before or after strenuous activity.
Perfect for replenishing after a day of… life, too!
Remember, if it’s too salty, your body doesn’t need as much salt!
Salt to taste — that will guide you.
*Sweeteners and colors naturally omitted