Hydration: How much is enough?

With New York mired in an unusually sweltering summer, the hydration debate screams even louder for a scientific conclusion. Everyone wants to know how much water to drink to stay properly hydrated — Bikram yogis might even be more interested than most — and there is no definitive answer.

The old standard says everyone needs eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day. That is likely too simplistic, and inadequate for anyone exercising heavily, much less for anyone exercising at 105 degrees for 90 minutes.

The good thing for Bikram practitioners is, at least we have an edge in this mystery because we are keenly aware of our water needs. If you read this New York Times story, lack of a awareness seems to be the largest factor in dehydration. By the time we hit Triangle pose, we have a really good idea if we have had enough water before class. In Bikram, it’s always best to be well hydrated ahead of class and not rely heavily on water during class.

A newer article advances a new formula for how much most people should drink: multiply your weight by 0.08 and that’s how many eight-ounce glasses of water should be consumed in a day. But you can also fulfill that liquid requirement with other liquids and with the water content in food. That makes the advice a little fuzzier and harder to follow (and just how much water was in that apple?) but it seems a better guideline than the eight-glasses-for-everyone standard because clearly weight should be a factor.

But exertion and sweating is also a factor, and it’s not accounted for there.

The easiest way to monitor hydration is by thirst, but it is not the most reliable. Urine color is a much better gauge, as this chart describes. The lighter the better.

Most of us understand the pitfalls of relying on sugar-loaded sports drinks in our hydration routines — excess calories, spikes and crashes in blood sugar among them. With enough low-calorie electrolyte replacers (coconut water, SmartWater, Emergen-C packets) available, most people should probably avoid the Gatorades of the world altogether unless exercising to extremes (think, IronMan training).

And now there is some new evidence that diet drinks are not a good choice in this rotation because artificial sweeteners might actually contribute to weight gain, not weight loss.

That’s a lot to absorb when thinking about how to keep yourself hydrated, but even with all the science, we’re back to this: drink water, a lot of it, and if you’re not thirsty, drink it anyway.

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