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Keeping the human body well hydrated is essential in ensuring optimum mental and physical functioning. Our body is made up of 60% water. Water plays a critical role in all body functions and metabolisms. Therefore, an adequate fluid intake is critical to allow our body to function at its best.
Most people don’t realize that every day they lose water equivalent to between 1% and 2% of one’s total body weight through normal bodily functions. As loss of fluid is essential to many bodily functions, including maintaining a normal body temperature it is important that we replace lost fluid effectively throughout the day. The amount of fluid lost during the day can vary considerably from one person to the next, depending on body type, activity levels and climate.
Studies prove that dehydration may result in a decrease in general physical performance including excess fatigue, headaches and lack of both concentration and coordination.
Lack of hydration in children and the elderly is a particular risk and must be monitored.
The role of soft drinks and hydration
Consuming 2-2.5 litres of fluid each day comprising both drinks and food such as fruit and vegetables, will generally keep hydration levels normal in adults. Science shows that consuming different fluids – water, juices and both hot and cold beverages – encourages drinking by providing variety and choice in flavours and format.
The basic ingredient of a non-alcoholic beverage is always water. Sometimes a sweetener and a flavour are added. Water represents about 90% of a sugar-containing carbonated drink (even more in low calorie versions).
In its 2008 advice on nutrient profiles the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stressed the special role that beverages play in the diet due to their hydration properties. This is a link to the one page summary, with the relevant paragraph highlighted below. (The Regulation requires that the setting of nutrient profiles should take into account the dietary role and importance of food groups and their contribution of nutrients to the overall diet of the population (or specific population groups).Food groups with important dietary roles include vegetable oils, spreadable fats, dairy products, cereals and cereal products, fruits and vegetables and their products, meat and meat products, fish and fish products, and non-alcoholic beverages. The different dietary roles of such food groups are related to differences in their nutrient composition, as well as their (habitual) intake, and are recognised in food based dietary guidelines in Member States)
Dehydration can result in a decrease in general physical performance, excess fatigue, headaches and lack of concentration and coordination.
Hydration and Sport
During exercise the working muscles produce heat and this heat must be dissipated in order to keep the body temperature within safe limits.
Sweating, and its evaporation from the skin, is our most effective mechanism for regulating body temperature. If fluid lost as sweat is not replaced during exercise, the resulting dehydration quickly impairs performance. As little as a 2% of body weight lost as fluid (i.e. 1.5 litres for an average 75kg male) can result in a decrease in both mental performance (e.g. reduced concentration/decision making ability) and physical performance (fatigue/reduced muscular strength).
Replacing lost fluid is thus vitally important both for maintaining sporting performance and also for minimizing risks to health. Sports drinks have been specially designed to contain both carbohydrate and electrolytes which work to promote rapid absorption from the small intestine and increase retention of ingested fluid.
Risks of dehydration:
Scientific studies have shown that losing more than 2% of body weight, 1.5kgs or 1.5 litres for an average 75kg person, through dehydration can result in a decrease in physical and mental performance.
In extreme conditions, normally associated with exercise in hot and/or humid environments, dehydration can cause the body’s core temperature to exceed 41°C with potentially fatal consequences. This condition is known as hyperthermia.
Questions and Answers:
How can people ensure that they are adequately hydrated?
Fluid intake differs among individuals and is affected by thirst, habit, culture, access and palatability. Allowing for a variety in the food and beverages consumed will help people maintain adequate hydration and consumer a range of beverages throughout the day.
Is plain water more hydrating than other beverages?
No. There is no evidence to show that water provides better hydration than other beverages, indeed studies show that variety in flavours can encourage fluid consumption. Where dehydration is accompanied by loss in sodium which may occur during endurance physical activity or in hot environmental conditions the inclusion of a small amount of sodium in a sports drink can facilitate effective hydration.
Are caffeinated beverages dehydrating?
No. Research shows that those who regularly ingest caffeine do not experience increased urine output or altered indicators of hydration status after consuming caffeinated beverages.(Denaro et al. 1991; Gorelick et al. 1997; Montain et al. 1999; Grandjean et al. 2000)
Surely people should stick to water rather than carbonated or sugary drinks if they want to stay correctly hydrated?
Hydration comes from any liquid source such as drinks, fruit, vegetables and other foods. It has been shown that when there is a large choice of drinks, hydration is better accomplished especially in children, elderly and physically active people. Research indicates there are three main physiological triggers for thirst: cerebral osmoreceptors, extra cerebral osmoreceptors and volume receptors. While the need for water is biological, beverage selection is influenced by several factors. Sensory attributes such as colour, flavour, odour and texture determine the palatability of a beverage. Appearance and temperature also affect consumption as does availability.
- European Food Information Council (EUFIC)
- European Food Safety authority comment on the special role of non-alcoholic beverages in the diet within its opinion on Nutrient profiles.
- British Soft Drinks Association Hydration Fact Sheets
- American Beverage Association on Hydration