When following a Paleo diet what to eat and how much to eat, when to eat, and where to source your food tends to be the primary focus. Food, however, is not the only nourishment that you ingest: water and how you hydrate is vital to your success too.
Water is the elixir of life and drinking enough is one of the best things you can do to support your wellness goals. Adequate hydration benefits your entire body, from your skin tone to your kidneys. Summer or winter, it is always important to stay aware of your water intake and to ensure you are getting enough fluid and electrolytes to keep your body in optimal condition.
How Much Water Do You Need?
Body weight, nutritional needs, age, and activity levels all affect the amount of water someone needs every day. A young athlete will have very different water needs from a more sedentary older person. Healthy individuals not living in extreme climates or participating in endurance sports, can maintain healthy water levels throughout the day by simply listening to the signals of thirst.
Your body requires approximately half your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water to function properly. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you would need 75 oz. of water or the equivalent of 6 – 7, 12-oz glasses.
The standard advice of 8 8-oz glasses of water per day may be well-meaning, but unfortunately, inaccurate. It was never based on any evidence and does not consider the water in foods (especially soups and vegetables).
The body has to balance the amount of water excreted with the amount consumed, to keep a constant ratio of water to other substances in its fluids. The concentration of other substances in these fluids signals the body to conserve or excrete water. For example, a high concentration of salt in the blood, will cause feelings of thirst and signal the kidneys to conserve more water, rather than excreting it through urine. The thirst will fade when water and salt levels are rebalanced and the kidneys begin to excrete any excess water.
Of course, you may need more water if you are particularly physically active that day or have spent time in the heat. You may also notice that with the increase of clean, quality water and your Paleo diet rich in water-containing vegetables that you need less water. This is a generalized guide to consider when seeking optimal hydration.
For the average person, people engaged in shorter-duration exercise, and endurance athletes not immediately preparing for or actively engaged in long workouts or races, drinking to thirst is still the best recommendation.
Follow Your Thirst
Thirst is a sufficient indicator for most people of hydration status. There is no research supporting the claim that thirst is an indicator that a person is already dehydrated. Thirst begins when the concentration of blood, an accurate indicator of our state of hydration, has risen by around two percent and dehydration is when that concentration has risen by at least five percent. Thirst is a good indicator that a drink would help maintain hydration, but does not imply dehydration.
Exceptions include athletes engaged in exceptionally strenuous activity. Drinking water works well but performance can be further when carbohydrate and electrolytes are added. Exercise lasting more than 2 hours should include water and sodium to aid rehydration.
Excessive thirst can also be a symptom of hyperglycemia, amongst other diseases, and not necessarily an indication of dehydration. People with health conditions that affect their thirst, such as diabetes or kidney disease, may need more precise estimations of water requirements on a daily basis.
Signs You May Need More Water
Lack of hydration has been associated with:
- Skin irritation (acne, dryness, chapped lips)
- Digestive imbalances (gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea)
- Brain fog, poor mental performance
- Stiffness, inflammation, and muscle spasms
- Furthermore, lifestyle factors and dietary choices can further hinder your hydration attempts. These include:
- Stimulants like caffeine
- Refined sugar/salt
- Processed/refined foods (especially dehydrated and dry foods like chips and crackers)
- Lack of sleep
What To Drink
Pure water is probably good enough for recreational athletes engaged in mild to moderate activity. Those doing intense training or those who sweat excessively, however, will need electrolytes in addition to water. Sodium is essential to avoid hyponatremia, a serious condition caused by a lack of salt in the blood, leading to water imbalance and water build-up in the brain. Sodium is an important electrolyte, essential to include in a rehydration protocol, especially after strenuous exercise.
Most sports drinks are not your friend. They contain high concentrations of glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, sucralose, xylitol and a host of unnatural ingredients like dyes, stabilizers and preservatives.
For an electrolyte-rich re-hydrating treat try coconut water. It is packed with potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium and can replenish lost fluids and electrolytes from exercise and hot summer temperatures. Try freezing coconut water ice cubes or pops for a refreshing, hydrating, Paleo friendly summer treat.
Bone broth is full of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which can help with muscle contraction and relaxation, as well as amino acids for improved muscle and joint repair, making it a great choice for athletes.
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Fermented pickle or sauerkraut juice is another great way to boost hydration, especially for those who need the extra sodium and electrolytes. An added bonus of drinking these fermented juices is that they also contain probiotics to aid gut health.
Even simply adding a pinch of sea salt to your water bottle is often sufficient in supporting rehydration after a trip to the gym. You could also add liquid minerals to your water for an extra boost. The added minerals in water support hydration, they will help boost adrenal and thyroid function, providing more natural energy.
Drinking mineralized and/or sparkling water is another way to get these added minerals.
Bacon can be a salty snack to support your electrolyte needs when on-the- go.
Tips For Optimal Hydration
Drink throughout the day. Keep water handy so it is available if you want it, but there is no need to become overly obsessive over it. You can only absorb a certain amount of water and drinking more does necessarily hydrate you more. Again, follow your thirst
Hydrating first thing in the morning is the most effective time of the day to drink your water. A night of sleeping leaves you dehydrated when waking – make it a point to start you day off with some water which will do wonders in your efforts of staying hydrated throughout the day.
Add Some Flavor
Many people believe plain water is boring and avoid drinking it. It can be simple to create variety in the flavor or taste of your water. As a bonus, this can also make the water more hydrating. An easy addition is that of fresh lemon juice and unrefined sea salt. This mineralizes the water and the lemon juice makes the water cells more bioavailable. Herbal tea sweetened and infused waters are also good options.
Drink Water Alone
Drinking water with food can dilute the enzyme and acid activity otherwise released while eating leading to poor digestion. This in turn inhibits how much water you are able to absorb. Eating dried, dehydrated and overly salty foods results in needing water to rehydrate the foods as they are being eaten. This is one of the factors that create feelings of thirst when eating any heavily-processed food.
Eating a whole food-based, Paleo diet is important. Most animal proteins can contain up to 60% water content and fruits and vegetables all have a high-water content.
Eating a Paleo diet results in you being less likely to dehydrate your body. Experiment with having a glass of water 30 minutes before each meal, and then proceed to not drink any water until at least an hour afterwards.
Coffee and other natural stimulants like green tea can provide many health benefits. You might, however, choose to limit your consumption and/or balance them with plenty of hydrating liquids.
Excess caffeine can have a diuretic effect in the body, resulting in possible dehydration. If you are drinking a caffeinated beverage for extra energy, consider trying some pure, mineralized water. You might be pleasantly surprised as to how much more energy you have by hydrating better.
One of the simplest ways to stay up-to-date with how hydrated you are is to monitor your urine’s characteristics. If your urine is dark in pigment or yellow, you are likely dehydrated! In general, the darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are. The first step would be to get some sleep, drink quality water and avoid what may be dehydrating you.
Similarly, if your urine is color and odor-less, you may be drinking too much and risk dehydration because your electrolyte levels will be falling too low.
If either of these situations is happening consistently, then definitely follow up with your health care team.
The Bottom Line
Staying hydrated is as important to your health as eating high quality, real food. However, there is no need to force yourself to drink any set amount or constantly rehydrate, especially if you are no thirsty. If you are at risk of dehydration for any reason (like from very intense athletic training), stay aware of your water intake and ensure to consume enough fluid as well as electrolytes to keep your body performing at its best.