Just about everyone loves summertime fun in the sun, and while it’s great exercise and a huge dose of vitamin D, it’s also a recipe for dehydration if you aren’t careful. Whether you’re cycling, hiking, or even training, there are seven symptoms of dehydration to watch for and avoid.
If you’re active, and if it’s hot outside, you’re going to feel tired at some point. Heat and activity combined will make anyone feel like taking a nap. However, if you feel fatigued more often than normal, you may be chronically dehydrated. The lack of water reduces blood amount, concentration, and pressure to the point that you simply cannot function like normal. If you can’t lift as many reps as you normally could, or if your five-mile hike gets cut in half, try increasing your consumption of water for a few days. Chances are good it’ll make a huge difference. Read our write up called “Is a Gallon of Water a Day Good for You?” to learn more about how much water to drink.
Your body needs water to make blood, and when there’s not enough of it, your blood pressure can drop – often quite quickly and substantially, at that. This is especially true if you’re pushing yourself hard. Doctors call this condition “orthostatic hypotension”, and it’s one of the first significant dehydration symptoms. The sudden drop in blood pressure can lead to a bout of dizziness, mild confusion, and in some cases, even fainting. If the dehydration worsens, it could cause complete delirium, organ failure, coma, and even death. To avoid it, make sure you’re getting plenty to drink, and consider adding electrolytes to the mix if you’re sweating.
If you take your fitness seriously, then you probably check your RHR regularly. This is a very good indicator of even very mild dehydration. When your body loses electrolytes, as it often does when you’re dehydrated, your heart must work harder to pump blood through your body. This leads to an increased RHR. What’s more, as the dehydration becomes more severe, your heart muscle can spasm and palpitate, which can lead to serious cardiac events. If your RHR seems higher than normal, drink some water or sports drink and check it again in a few hours.
When you’re even slightly dehydrated, physical activity quite literally becomes a pain. When you’re dehydrated and hot, there’s a good chance you’ll start experiencing muscle cramps. However, contrary to popular belief, it’s not dehydration that’s causing your cramps, after all – it’s the side effects of the dehydration. A study published in BMJ Sports Medicine showed that electrolyte levels don’t really change due to dehydration, which means that a lack of electrolytes isn’t causing your cramps. With that in mind, what’s actually causing that excruciating charlie horse?
While it’s not the dehydration itself making you cramp up, it could be related to one of the major dehydration symptoms – overheating. When you aren’t drinking enough fluid to compensate for what you’re losing as sweat, you’ll simply stop sweating. This means there’s nothing to evaporate and no way to rid yourself of excess heat. It’s the resulting increase in your body temperature that can cause “misfires” in communication between your muscles and your brain, and every so often, this makes a muscle tense up completely, resulting in a cramp.
Another of the most common dehydration symptoms that you should never ignore is constipation. This occurs when stools become hard and difficult to pass. As your digestive system moves the food you eat through your body, the waste material absorbs water through the intestinal wall. When there’s not enough water in your body, the stools themselves become harder, and your colon becomes less flexible and can’t contract. If your bowel movements have become more difficult and less frequent, this is usually a symptom of dehydration. Drinking more water will help, as will adding some additional fiber to your diet.
There’s a medical term that describes your skin’s ability to “snap back” to its normal shape after being pinched, and it’s called turgor. This is one of the first tests a medical professional will do, and it’s one of the more indicative dehydration symptoms. The worse your turgor, or the more slowly your skin resumes its original shape, the more dehydrated you are. When you’re dehydrated, your body attempts to reroute existing fluid to where it’s needed most – your internal organs. This means that your skin is often robbed of its moisture, leaving your skin feeling dry and, in some cases, even a bit saggy. That’s exactly why doctors recommend drinking plenty of water for maintaining a youthful glow, too.
Per a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology back in 2009, researchers determined that by the time you feel the sensation of thirst – that feeling of dryness in your mouth, throat, and lips – you’re already dehydrated. This is interesting, and it really shines some light on just how easily the human body can dehydrate. That’s because thirst can confuse your brain in some very interesting ways.
Another study out of the University of Washington showed that people who felt very hungry at night could substitute their late-night snack with a single glass of water and feel a complete sense of satiety. This meant that volunteers who could be described as clinically hydrated didn’t feel thirst at all – their dehydration manifested as hunger pangs, instead. By the time you feel that thirst and go for a drink of water, you may already be experiencing other dehydration symptoms.
Now that you’re aware of the various dehydration symptoms and what they mean, you might be wondering how much water you’re supposed to drink to avoid them. You’ve probably heard that the average person needs to drink 64 fluid ounces of water each day, or about eight 8-ounce glasses. Recently, the Institute of Medicine, or IOM, changed this recommendation. Men should get 104 ounces, on average, while women should consume at least 72. Of course, there are other factors that come into play, as well.
Dehydration symptoms range from incredibly mild to severe. In fact, many people aren’t even aware they’re dehydrated until they start to feel thirsty. Following the guidelines above can help you get enough water based on everything from your climate to your lifestyle. In turn, your workouts will be more effective and you’ll feel (and look) healthier.