You probably know you need to drink water (and most likely, more of it). After all, it’s your life force, making up approximately 60 percent of your body and keeping everything flowing smoothly. It helps with digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as regulating body temperature. Better yet, more H2O could help you reach your weight loss goals.
The truth is, though, that dehydration plagues roughly 75 percent of Americans. While a parched mouth and insatiable thirst clearly signal you need fluids stat, those aren’t the only signs. Inadequate hydration can show up in super sneaky ways, including these seven not-so-obvious symptoms.
7 Dehydration Symptoms That Have Nothing to Do with Thirst
1. Your brain is foggy.
Having trouble finishing your work? Keep forgetting things? You might want to slurp some H2O. “One of the most important things water does is deliver nutrients and remove toxins,” says Jamie Sheahan, registered dietitian and director of nutrition at The Edge Sport & Fitness in South Burlington, VT. “When you’re not taking in adequate fluids, it can mess with your body quite a bit and you may end up feeling a little loopy.” Studies have even shown that mild dehydration can cause headaches and decrease cognitive performance, leading to difficulty concentrating and impaired working memory.
2. Your workouts feel extra hard.
If you’re doing all the right things — fueling up pre-workout and getting a good night’s sleep — but your gym sesh still feels meh, you could need a tall glass of liquids. Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sees this regularly with his clients. “They’re dehydrated and that can really affect athletic performance,” he says. That may mean increased fatigue, reduced endurance, reduced motivation and increased perceived effort.
Studies have examined percent body weight water lost and how it can lead to different symptoms,” Sheahan explains. “When you get to a two- to three-percent loss, you start to see performance drastically reduce,” she says.
Something else to keep in mind: Dehydration can leave you prone to injury, White says. Your muscles, bones and organs are made up of water and helps cushion your joints. When your muscles lose water, they become fatigued.
3. You’re cranky.
Your sky-high hanger levels and annoying workmate may not be the only reason that you’re irritable. It could mean you need a beverage. A study conducted at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut found that mild dehydration could adversely affect your mood, both at rest and during exercise. Sip up, smile more.
4. You’re backed up.
Fiber isn’t the only factor in moving food through your gut. Low fluid intake can also lead to problems. One study found an association between both low fiber and water intake and an increased prevalence of constipation. Another study found that skimping on water increased levels of acute constipation in older people. If you want to stay regular, fill up your glass frequently.
5. Your lips feel chapped.
Dry, cracked lips could come from more than cold weather. Dehydration can also cause you to reach for lip balm, says Sheahan. When your body’s short on fluids, it pulls available liquids away from non-essential areas like your lips, and then moves it to important organs like your heart and brain. The result? Flaky lips.
6. You think your blood sugar’s low.
When you’re woozy and feel faint, your first instinct might be to grab a bite to eat to stabilize plummeting blood sugar levels. But before you reach for a granola bar, consider your H20 intake. Many people mistake thirst for hunger when they feeling light-headed. “The symptoms of hypoglycemia and dehydration can often be similar, especially when it comes to signs like dizziness, increased weakness and labored breathing,” says White. Caution though: If you feel dazed and confused, have a rapid pulse or lose consciousness, it’s time to see a doctor.
7. You may drive erratically.
Even when you’re mildly dehydrated, it shows in how you handle your car. A study found that operating a vehicle when you’re low in liquids can lead to more driving errors during a prolonged, monotonous drive. The effects are similar to sleep deprivation or a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. Scary stuff!
Check Your Hydration Levels
Hydration levels — and how much you need to maintain them — vary from person to person. So if your BFF downs three liters of water a day, it doesn’t mean you should. But how can you tell how much H2O you need? Let the experts explain…
“We used to go with the standard eight cups of water per day, but we’ve pulled away from that as we realized how much more individual it is. You need to look at factors like body weight, the climate you live in, even altitude,” says Sheahan. Age and gender also play a role, as well as how much caffeine and alcohol you consume. “Those factors are all going to affect your hydration needs, and that’s not even factoring in your activity level,” she says. Sheahan typically recommends a 0.5 to 0.6 ounces of water per body weight as a baseline for her clients.
While there are a number of apps and trackers that can help keep your hydration levels in check, Sheahan suggests something pretty simple — look at your urine. It should be look not too light and not too dark. “On average, what you’re looking for is a pale, lemonade color. You don’t want anything that’s perfectly clear and you don’t want a dark color,” she explains. Because vitamin supplements can affect the color of your urine, White recommends paying special attention to your pee first thing in the morning. If you notice your urine is brown or you see blood, schedule a doctor appointment.
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The length and intensity of your workouts can affect how much you sweat, and performing a sweat test will also determine how much water you should drink. “Weigh in before your activity and then again after to see how much fluid you lost and if you’re replacing that amount,” says Sheahan.
Runners, triathletes and other endurance stars take note: This can also help ensure that you’re not drinking too much during a workout, putting you at risk for hyponatremia. Generally, White recommends eight to 16 ounces of fluids before a workout. “And try to get in at least 16 ounces after you exercise,” he says.
While it can feel like more art than science, maintaining adequate hydration is a habit we can all work on. To start, fill up your bottle and drink up!