How Dehydration Can Impact Your Performance When Staying Active

Do you keep a drink bottle next to you on your work desk, but forget to drink from it? Or maybe you put post-it notes on your computer to remind you to drink regularly, but end up ignoring them? Well, you’re not alone. 

Many of us tend to focus on nutrition to help us strive for gold, whether at the gym or in the workplace. Yet, hydration is just as important—after all, it affects every system in the body

Our bodies are comprised of about 60 percent water. So if the balance is a little off, this can affect our decision-making, mental state, and overall performance.

Let’s explore the science and test the waters, so to speak.

Water helps regulate our body temperature, deliver nutrients to the body’s vital organs, and keeps them functioning optimally. In addition, hydration affects our mood, thinking, and sleep quality. Being dehydrated can result in poor concentration and slower reaction times. Even a slight decline in hydration can lead to a drop in cognitive performance and headaches. 

Have you ever experienced brain fog? Dehydration is a key mediator of this process

Because hydration is pivotal for our brain health, it makes sense that our mood can dip if we’re falling short on our fluid requirements. Recent research shows that dehydration can impact our mood. One study even found that light sleepers (less than 6 hours a night) had significantly higher incidences of dehydration than their better-rested counterparts. It’s easy to forget that a good night’s sleep can do wonders for our mood. So, rather than reaching for a quick pick-me-up, the answer may lie in that bottle of water beside you. 

When water levels are less than optimal, blood volume decreases. This reduction places extra strain on the heart to maintain blood pressure and blood flow to our vital organs. Mild dehydration is defined as a 1.5 per cent decline in normal water body volume. A fluid deficit above 2 per cent can be particularly dangerous. So it doesn’t take much to be running a little low and experiencing negative consequences.  

When staying active, hydration is key to performance. It’s important to maintain levels when working up a sweat on the track or in the gym. The challenge of preserving our water supply is made even harder during extreme events and in hot and humid environments. Athletes face the same consequences if their hydration levels are less than optimal, so it’s paramount that they develop a hydration strategy during and post the event. Athletes will need to consume 125 to 150 percent of their body fluid loss after exercising. This takes careful consideration, and a plan may need to be devised by a sports dietitian. 

For athletes and non-athletes alike, it’s important to drink frequently over the day. So, what’s the magic number? Eight glasses of water a day appears to be the widely accepted recommendation. However, this is simply a guideline. That’s because our fluid requirements are based on several key factors, such as age, size, activity level, and ambient temperature. So it’s best practice to monitor the color of your urine. If it’s yellow, drink more water. 

Meanwhile, thirst is not a great predictor of hydration. The thirst response is only spurred into action at 2 percent dehydration. The hypothalamus regulates this response. It signals the posterior pituitary gland to secrete Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH) to conserve fluid stores. Your body and brain will stop at nothing to ensure it has enough fluid on board to function near its best, even when things are less than adequate. 

Setting up a hydration plan and following it will likely result in some favourable outcomes. Remember that keeping a full drink bottle on the desk beside you is only half the equation. So, bottoms up!

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