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You need to hydrate! For once, the medical community is totally in agreement about something. Hydration is good, necessary, and (above all) super easy to do.
The best ways to hydrate when dehydrated
Here’s a quick rundown of the best ways to hydrate when you’re dehydrated:
- Drink water. No trickery here. It really is that simple!
- Drink hydrating drinks that aren’t water. Sports drinks, fruit juice, coconut water… plenty of drinks way more flavorful than water can rehydrate you quickly.
- Enjoy some coffee or tea. Even though coffee and tea contain caffeine, drinking them in moderation can help you stay hydrated.
- Eat moisture-rich fruits and vegetables. Many fruits and veggies are packed full of water.
- Drink smoothies! Fruits and vegetables, but drinkable.
- Have soup. Soup isn’t just nutritious and delicious — it can also have powerful hydrating effects.
- Drink an oral hydration solution. This will get your body back on track after significant fluid loss (like after diarrhea or puking).
There are a ton of ways to rehydrate that don’t require chugging H2O. Sports drinks, fruits and vegetables, soups — they all work to ease dehydration.
Let’s look at the science of staying hydrated, including the best ways to do it and how to spot dehydration.
Staying hydrated isn’t difficult — but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. In addition to keeping the water levels in your body tip-top, it’s super important to consider electrolytes like sodium and potassium (especially in the long term).
Don’t worry, though — we’ve got you covered on everything hydration and hydration-adjacent. Here’s your one-stop definitive list of the best ways to hydrate.
1. Drink water
Water comes up a lot in the hydration conversation because hydration is all about making sure your body has enough of it.
Drinking enough water on the reg has a bunch of health benefits. It helps you:
- have enough blood, since your body uses water to make blood
- have a healthy brain, because your brain is about 73 percent water
- regulate your body temperature, because you can’t sweat properly without enough water
- digest nutrients smoothly, since water’s a crucial ingredient in both saliva and digestive fluids
- develop healthy muscles, since they use water to do what they do
- get a decent night’s sleep, because dehydration can cause leg cramps, dry cough, and loads of other sleep-interrupting issues
- reduce your risk of kidney stones, as water helps you flush out excess minerals via your pee
While it’s not the only way to hydrate, drinking water is the most efficient. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you’re parched, your body is telling you it needs water. Putting H2O in your mouth is the most direct route.
High tide: Beware of overhydration
It’s important to remember that overhydration is a thing. Even water can be lethal if you drink too much of it.
But don’t run screaming from the faucet just yet. Overhydration has multiple stages:
- First, you’ll take more frequent trips to the bathroom than usual.
- Hyponatremia (low sodium levels in your blood) might occur later.
Overhydration leading to water intoxication or death is extremely rare.
As this 2019 research review points out, humans, like all other mammals, are actually pretty prone to overdrinking when we’re thirsty. It’s not as difficult to do as you might think. Your body gives you warning signs, though.
How to avoid overhydrating
The best way to avoid overhydration is to drink your water at a steady pace. It’s difficult to say exactly how much water is too much, because it varies not only from person to person but also from day to day.
If you’re exercising a lot, you’ll likely need to drink more water than people who don’t exercise as much. Most cases of overhydration involve people who have consumed more than a liter of water in less than an hour.
You’d have to drink a lot to trigger an acute case of water intoxication. Case in point: The first reported death from overhydration occurred in a person in a hospital who received an infusion of 9 liters of water in an hour. You’re unlikely to knock back that amount from a water bottle mid-run.
As with most things, your strongest defenses against overhydration are self-awareness and common sense. Stop drinking water if you experience a sudden onset of any of these symptoms:
- nausea or vomiting
- disorientation, confusion, or irritation (any sudden/unexpected changes in mental state)
- muscle cramps or spasms
How much water should I drink each day?
Your body is about 60 percent water. When you do stuff like exercise or just exist, you use up your water reserves.
Proper hydration is critical for athletes and sporty types. But everybody should hydrate daily, no matter how much they move.
The more active you are, the more water you lose, so it’s especially important to hydrate during and after exercise. However, your heartbeat and breathing also require moisture. So do your blood, your brain, your digestive system… good golly, it’s a lot.
So the amount of water you need daily varies depending on the temperature, what you’re doing, your overall health, and the size of your body. As a general rule, most healthy folks can aim for a minimum of 8 cups (2 liters) per day without overhydrating.
A 2020 research review suggests that drinking 2.5 to 3.5 liters per day can help you produce a healthy amount of urine. The authors note that this is a rough guideline, and they recommend judging your overall water intake by the color of your pee.
Medical conditions can affect your water needs
It’s also important to note that many medical conditions and medications can impact your recommended daily water intake.
If you take medication or have an underlying health condition, always speak with your doctor before changing your hydration plans.
2. Drink sports drinks, juice, or coconut water
Water is important and refreshing. Let’s be honest, though — it’s a little dull. Plus, if you’re drinking plain water, you’re missing out on other nutrients. This is where other refreshing beverages, like sports drinks and fruit juices, come in so darn handy.
Taste benefits aside, there are some advantages to rehydrating with a sports drink, coconut water, fruit juice, or another healthy, noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic beverage — especially if you’re trying to hydrate after exercise.
When you sweat, you don’t only lose water. Sweat also contains vast amounts of electrolytes, with the main three being:
Sodium is especially important when it comes to hydration, because one of its key functions is to regulate fluid levels in your cells and body.
Plain water doesn’t replenish any of these electrolytes.
Many drinks, both natural and human-made, provide essential electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins. Since you also lose those during exercise (especially if you work out often), it’s important to keep your levels topped up.
The exact benefits depend on the drink. Many sports drinks will proudly advertise on the packaging how much sodium or general electrolyte goodness they’ll give you. Pedialyte and Gatorade are two widely available electrolyte-rich sports/medicinal drinks.
On the natural side, some fans of coconut water tout its higher-than-average electrolyte content, but there’s little to no scientific evidence to suggest it’s better for hydration than water or sports drinks.
In a small 2012 study with only 12 participants, researchers found no significant difference in hydration among those who drank coconut water, bottled water, and a typical sports drink after exercise.
3. Sip (a little) coffee or tea!
Caffeine makes you pee lots, so you might technically lose water if you consume a ton of it. But drinking coffee or tea in moderation can be effective for keeping you hydrated.
Research like this small study from 2017 suggests that the levels of caffeine in an average cup of coffee or tea aren’t nearly enough to counteract the fact that the cup is also full of water.
As far as your body is concerned, a cup of hot tea/coffee is just water with a kick. So long as you’re not knocking back espressos all day, there’s no dehydration risk to sipping hot drinks. Your body will still get the hydrational benefits.
4. Eat some fruits and vegetables…
Drinking fluids isn’t the only way to hydrate yourself. Plenty of fruits (and some vegetables) are high in the water and electrolytes you need to keep dehydration at bay.
Spotting the fruits and veggies with high water content is easy. They’re the ones that leak a lot when you squash them, including:
- melon (and watermelon, because obviously)
If it drips when you squeeze it hard, then chances are it’ll quench some thirst.
But remember that electrolytes are also pretty important. Some fruits and veg have a reputation for being hydration boosters, so including them in your diet might optimize your body’s management of H2O levels.
For example, bananas and dates aren’t the juiciest fruits in the store, but they do provide high levels of potassium. And supporting a healthy water balance in your bloodstream is one of potassium’s many essential functions.
Eating a banana won’t rehydrate you like drinking water will, but including potassium-rich foods like bananas in your diet will ensure you’re getting the most from every glass.
5. …or make them into a smoothie!
The hydration benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables also apply when they’re in smoothie form. Plus, by taking your fresh fruit or veg in liquid form, you can mash the best of Mother Nature together into a single electrolyte-dense, mega-hydrating super smoothie.
The other advantage of smoothies is that you can add supplements such as tablets and powders that boost your electrolyte intake, supporting your long-term hydration. Sure, you can add them to a glass of water. But, you know, boring.
You can find electrolyte supplements in most drugstores, and they’re also available online. Many larger stores also now stock them. Prices vary. And be sure to check the label for exact dosage and prep instructions.
It’s also important to check with a healthcare professional to discuss whether electrolyte supplements are right for you and to get advice on the right type and dosage for you.
The ingredients in your hydrating smoothie are obviously up to you. If you’re not sure where to start, why not try this electrolyte-packing glass of blended blueberry banana goodness?
6. Have some soup
Smoothies aren’t the only straddler of the food/drink fence when it comes to hydration benefits. Soup is also a great hydrator.
There are obviously loads of soups out there. Some will be more hydrating than others, but all are more hydrating than no soup at all. If you want a hearty soup that’s packed full of hydration-enabling electrolytes, why not try the creamy vegan sweet potato soup recipe below?
Electrolyte-packed creamy sweet potato soup
For this recipe, you’ll need sweet potato, kale, and white beans, all of which are great sources of electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
- 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 2 small sweet potatoes, chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 2 cans cooked cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 4 cups kale, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Pinch of red pepper flakes, for garnish
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add onion and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add carrot and sweet potatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
- Stir in bell pepper and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add garlic and rosemary and cook for 1 more minute.
- Add beans and broth, and then bring the whole shebang to a boil.
- Spoon 2 cups of the soup into a blender and blend for 1 to 2 minutes (or until smooth).
- Pour it back into the pot, add kale and lemon juice, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- When serving, add red pepper flakes to taste.
7. Drink an oral rehydration solution
Oral rehydration solutions are medical products.
Dehydration is a symptom and complication of many health conditions, especially ones that involve excessive sweating, vomiting, urination, or diarrhea.
Healthcare professionals may administer these solutions to people in hospitals or prescribe them for at-home use. Some oral rehydration solutions are available in drugstores, though, and there are also recipes to make them at home.
These solutions are used pretty much exclusively for medical-grade dehydration. If you’re just looking for a way to hydrate after exercise, it’s highly unlikely you’ll need one.
If you find that you can’t stay hydrated without an oral rehydration solution, it’s worth consulting a healthcare pro to find out whether you have an underlying health condition.
So what IS the fastest way to rehydrate?
Trick question. It’s not so much about what’s fastest but what’s best for your bod.
Unless you’ve lost a significant amount of fluid quickly (due to vomiting or diarrhea), drinking water is the way to go.
But drinking water won’t be as effective if you’re short on a few key electrolytes in your overall diet. If you find that water isn’t quite doing it for you, look into upping your electrolyte intake.
If you do need to rehydrate due to an illness, an oral rehydration solution may be more appropriate.
So that’s the lowdown on rehydration, but what about dehydration?
Dehydration happens when your body isn’t hydrated enough (the clue is in the name, right?). If you’re worried that you may be dehydrated, here are some symptoms to look out for:
- notable thirst
- yellow/cloudy urine
- dry mouth/lips/tongue
- disorientation, dizziness, or trouble focusing
- shallow or rapid breathing
- muscle weakness/cramps
If you experience any of the above during your workout, it might be time to pause and top up your water levels.
If you’re not exercising and you feel dehydrated, then definitely go drink some water. It’s easy to dehydrate when exercising, but if you’re dehydrated when resting or not physically active, it’s a sign that you haven’t had enough fluids so far that day.
Complications of dehydration
Dehydration can lead to more serious health problems. Without treatment, even short-term dehydration can lead to complications, including:
- dry or flaky skin
- digestive issues like inflammation
- constant fatigue
- frequent headaches
- altered mental states
- kidney failure
- liver problems
- low blood pressure
- changes in acid-base balance throughout your body
- swelling due to water retention (aka edema)
When to see a doctor about dehydration
Generally, you shouldn’t need to see a doctor about dehydration, because you can likely always rehydrate if you have access to water.
But if rehydrating doesn’t work or dehydration seems to set in quickly, contacting your doc becomes important, especially if you’re at rest when it happens.
Feeling a bit dehydrated on a hot day or after exercising is nothing to worry about. But if you find that you’re regularly dehydrated or that your attempts to rehydrate don’t alleviate your discomfort, seek medical attention ASAP.
Ultimately, you know your body best. If something feels wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to water management.
Hydration is all about making sure your cells and organs have enough water. This is especially important during exercise, but all humans need to make proper hydration a priority.
On average, humans need to consume about 2 liters of water per day to stay hydrated. This varies hugely, though, and your exact hydration requirements will be based on a bunch of factors like your size, age, level of physical activity, general health, and diet.
Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are also critical for hydration. Drinking water is the most important factor, but making sure your body has enough electrolytes is just as important, especially if your active lifestyle means you lose a lot of your body’s water reserves through sweat.
The best way to hydrate is to drink water. This is far from the only way, and there are tastier alternatives (and some you don’t even have to drink, like melons and soup). Electrolyte supplements and tablets are also available and can make rehydration more efficient.
Dehydration can lead to serious complications, so it’s important to keep tabs on what your body is telling you about its water needs. If you start experiencing dehydration symptoms, don’t wait around. Get hydrated ASAP.