Most people walk around in a constant state of dehydration. Operating in this manner can decrease one's energy level and performance at work and in sports.
Many aspects of health are oft-repeated, including avoiding fatty and fried foods to maintain a healthy body weight, normal cholesterol level, and good cardiovascular system. Hydration is no different; Basic Trainees and football athletes all probably have many fond memories of forced hydration chants to ensure that no one is lacking in water. Yet, despite the ease in detecting dehydration and the relief that achieving adequate hydration always brings, most people walk around in a constant state of dehydration. Even when not exercising, hydration is an absolute necessity in order to function at peak performance. As I was often told by my drill sergeants, "If you're thirsty, it means you're already dehydrated."
Certainly, sitting indoors in a cool office means that your hydration requirements are not going to be the same as that of a soldier or cross country athlete, but you must match your water intake to your occupation. The human body is composed primarily of water, and many of the body's processes (including operations as small as the cellular level) are linked to this pivotal ingredient. Even a deficiency in water as small as 1-2% can initiate a degradation in certain processes of the body.
The most apparent linkage between hydration and smooth bodily function is that of the sweat glands and cardiovascular system. If you become dehydrated, you will start to feel hot, because the body will not have enough water to cool you down properly through sweating. A decrease in water will also make blood flow more slowly, as it becomes thicker with a lower concentration of water. This will cause your heart to work harder to supply your body with the same amount of oxygen. Under normal conditions, you can survive mild dehydration without a problem (even though you shouldn't). If you try to transition from work to an exercise environment, however, you should plan ahead by hydrating one or more hours in advance. In this way, you can be sure that your body will respond in the best way possible to high-demand scenarios.
There are a number of drinks that make dehydration worse; these include coffee, tea, energy drinks, and sodas and other drinks that contain caffeine. The drug caffeine is a double-edged sword: it raises respiration and heart rate, which causes your body to burn off water at an increased rate. It is also categorized as a diuretic, which means that it discourages absorption of water and gives your body the urge to urinate. This means that you will be urinating the liquid that your body needs to operate if you imbibe heavily in caffeinated drinks. The rise in the consumption of caffeinated drinks (and the amount of caffeine they contain) is perhaps linked to the rapid pace at which we Americans (especially city dwellers) tend to work and live. The quest for "energy" often leads people to caffeinated drinks for a boost; in fact, caffeine's long-term results are disastrous; the fruits and vegetables that we often omit contain all the reliable energy our bodies could possibly ask for.
When I attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, I found a helpful guide on the wall of every urinal and stall: a "Fort Jackson Hydration Matrix." This matrix helped us to evaluate our level of hydration based upon color coded blocks ranging from a dark amber (you're in trouble) color to light yellow or clear (you've been hydrating properly) We were instructed to match the color of our urine with the corresponding color block in order to ascertain our level of hydration and adjust our liquid intake accordingly. I have since kept this guide in mind, and I think of it almost every time I.....check my hydration level. There is no simpler physical method of determining an individual's level of hydration than checking the color of their urine.
Hydrating more frequently has a price, however. The body is essentially an aqueous, water-based (about 60% to two-thirds is water) solution of chemicals. If you increase the body's supply of water, you will dilute the concentration of electrolytes like sodium and magnesium. These electrolytes are responsible for cellular communication, and they are the chemicals that facilitate communication between body cells. Without a sufficient supply of electrolytes and sugars, your ability to move will become diminished. This is exactly what happened to me at about age 3 when doctors convinced my parents to get me off of the bottle by putting water in my bottles. My intake of water went up above 120 ounces a day (a huge amount for a child of that age) and I flushed out all of my electrolytes and had a seizure. Dangerous levels of overhydration are unlikely for a healthy adult (you would have to consume gallons of water to flush out your electrolytes). The typical overhydration scenario is of a marathon runner consuming too much water during the race, but it is also extremely rare and unlikely. What should be gained from mentioning overhydration this is that these electrolytes are vital to keep your body operating in peak condition, so if you consume more water, you need to find a drink that replenishes some electrolytes as well. Another consequence of increased hydration is, simply enough, increased frequency of urination.
Gatorade was the first such drink created expressly for the purpose of replenishing electrolytes. Dr. Robert Cade created the drink in 1965 for a football team (can you guess which one?) in order to help them combat the water loss in the oppressive summer heat and humidity. Both it and its competitor Powerade are excellent for supplementing electrolytes. Propel, a recent Gatorade innovation, is a lighter drink that can be drunk during exercise without feeling too "full" from the syrup and sugars of the two sports drinks. All of these drinks are far better alternatives than sodas, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks. In the long run, relying on solid forms of energy from healthy foods and proper hydration is a guaranteed way to increase the health of the body, improve the quality of sleep, and make you feel better.