Hydration 101

This National Nutrition Month, I focused my efforts on a component of nutrition that many people tend to forget or may struggle with – hydration.  When you think “nutrition”, you think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But it’s also important to think about beverages as a part of your nutrition.



When your body is made up of 60% water, it’s vital to know whether or not you’re drinking enough to stay hydrated. When you drink adequately, the water in your body lubricates your joints and eyes, supports digestion, maintains your blood, keeps skin in good shape, and provides a means to excrete waste. If you don’t take in enough fluid, these systems will suffer, ultimately leading to dehydration. At that point, your body is at risk for excessive tiredness, serious electrolyte imbalances, or urinary tract infections.


How do you know if you’re drinking enough?


Try this rule of thumb: 1 milliliter (mL) of fluid per calorie


Example: If you typically eat 2,000 calories per day, you should shoot for 2,000 mL of fluid per day. This is equal to 2 Liters, 68 oz, or 8.5 cups.


Keep in mind this is a rule of thumb…. simply an estimation.


This method is based on calories needed for maintaining your current weight. If you are only eating 1,200 calories for weight loss, this does not mean you only need to drink 1200 mL. If you are fasting for the day, this does not mean drink 0 mL…catch my drift? This number should be based on how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. Pst….if you need help with how many calories you need, see me after class!


Some people may need less than 1 mL per calorie, and some may need more. If you participate in regular exercise, or if it’s hot outside, or if you are sick, you will need more than what this rule of thumb suggests.


The most important and accurate way to evaluate your hydration status is to do a self- assessment.


#1: Look at your pee.


Don’t be shy! If it’s brown or honey colored, you are dehydrated. You have an immediate need to drink water, and a lot of it. If your pee is dark yellow or medium yellow, you’re doing OK, but could use an extra glass or two per day. If your pee is light yellow, you’re doing perfect!  Keep drinking at the same rate. If your pee is completely clear, you are definitely hydrated and could even stand to back off the jug a little bit.


#2: Look at your skin.


Does it look dry?  Though there are many reasons skin may be dry, poor hydration can be a major cause. Next, give the skin on the back of your hand a pinch, forming a tent with your skin. When you let go, does it snap back? Or take a while to return? If it returns slowly (1 to 2 seconds), you are likely dehydrated.


#3: Look inside.


Are you thirsty? If at any point you feel physically thirsty, you are already behind, and should increase your fluids.



Now that you know how much to drink, here’s a look at what to drink:


Water:  It’s your best friend. Calorie free, refreshing, natural. Water, whether bottled, filtered, or from your tap will ALWAYS do the body good. Flavored water is a good alternative for those who can’t take it plain. No added sugar of course.


Juice: While some juices have health benefits, such as vitamin C from orange juice, be aware that it’s a source of simple sugar, whether the sugar is “added” or not. Try to eat your fruits and veggies, but if you must drink them, go for 100% juice and limit your intake to 4 to 6 ounces per day.


Milk: Believe it or not, milk is 85 to 90% water and very hydrating. It’s part of a healthy balanced diet and an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein.


Soda: Soda, energy drinks, lemonades, sweetened teas, and other beverages like these should be a special treat only. While they do provide hydration, they have very little nutritional value (if any at all), provide a significant amount of empty calories from sugar, and do damage to your teeth. Either avoid them completely or buy the smallest quantity you can find – moderation is absolutely key.


Diet Drinks: Diet soda or zero calorie beverages are hydrating, but also provide essentially zero nutritional value. The debate on artificial sweeteners is up in the air, and they may possibly be doing long-term harm (experts are awaiting more research in this area). In my opinion, diet drinks are a better option than sugar sweetened beverages by far, as the link between soda and diabetes is undeniable.


Sports Drinks: Electrolyte drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are appropriate only for those who participate in high-energy activities lasting more than 1 hour in duration. They are designed to replace lost electrolytes and re-fuel muscles that have been working hard. Otherwise, they’re a source of unnecessary calories from sugar.


Coffee and Tea: Though caffeine does have a diuretic effect, these beverages are as effective as water….to a point. Exceed 300mg of caffeine (2 to 3 cups) per day and the hydrating power will be become much less.


Alcohol: Though many alcoholic beverages contain water, the diuretic effects of the alcohol itself are strong. The higher the alcohol content, the less hydrating. Drinking water before and after alcoholic beverages can help reduce this effect. If you do choose to drink alcohol, don’t exceed 1 beverage per day for women and 2 beverages per day for men.


Fruit and vegetables: wait a minute – those aren’t drinks. That’s right, but it’s worth noting that fruits and vegetables absolutely count toward your hydration goals. Think about a juicy watermelon or ripe tomato. Even though you couldn’t pour them into a glass, their juice provides plenty of H2O.



Nutrition Technique: hydration is essential to a well-functioning body. In general, we need 1mL of fluid per calorie, though this varies significantly from one person to another. Always keep physical tabs on your hydration, and adjust accordingly. Water is the gold standard beverage, and sugar sweetened ones should be kicked to the curb or enjoyed in extreme moderation. Otherwise, pick something that’s both hydrating AND packed with nutrition, like milk or fruits and veggies.  


Thirsty yet? Do a self-assessment and take a look at your daily drink habits. When in doubt, choose more water!


Amy Jones, MS, RDN, LD