Breaking News: Hydration is important. And it doesn't end at merely quenching your thirst on a hot day.
“Staying well-hydrated is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, but one that is often overlooked," says Jessica Garay, Ph.D., RDN. CSSD, FAND, nutrition professor at Syracuse University, who specializes in sports nutrition, adult weight management, and dietary supplements.
"Being optimally hydrated can benefit your workouts, your sleep, even your appearance.”
Expanding on this, Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for the National Coalition on Healthcare, says hydration is critical for several physiological functions, including:
- maintaining body temperature
- lubricating joints
- transporting nutrients to provide energy
However, understanding the importance of hydration is only part of the optimal performance equation. You also want to understand how to hydrate fast. Ahead, Garay and Costa share exactly how much water you should drink a day, along with how to accelerate hydration when you’re depleted.
How Much Water Should We Drink Daily?
Costa says individuals should aim to drink approximately 0.5 to 1.0 ounce of water per pound of body weight daily–cautioning that this general recommendation can vary significantly, depending on factors such as physical activity, climate, health conditions, and individual metabolic needs.
For athletes or individuals engaging in intense physical exercise, the hydration needs can be significantly higher. “Strenuous activities cause excessive sweating, leading to a substantial loss of fluids and electrolytes from the body,” Costa explains. “The same holds true for those who live in hot and humid climates, where sweat is the primary mechanism for cooling down the body.”
Garay offers a similar guideline as Costa, but works from the low end of her range, saying to take your weight in pounds and divide that by two for the total ounces you should drink. She adds that if you exercise on a regular basis, you will need to add roughly 8–12 ounces of additional fluid per hour of exercise.
Related: 4 Creative Ways to Stay Hydrated Throughout Your Day
How Long Does It Take To Rehydrate Properly?
Despite what marketing says about IV hydration drips or electrolyte powders, Garay says the body is pretty quick to respond to changes in hydration status, good or bad. “If you are dehydrated and begin to drink more fluid, things will improve within a few minutes up to an hour or so, depending on how dehydrated you were,” she confirms.
surprise here, but “the time it takes to rehydrate can vary depending on the individual's hydration status, the intensity of dehydration, and the method of rehydration,” adds Costa. “Typically, for mild to moderate dehydration, it takes only a few hours of consuming fluids to restore adequate hydration status."
It's important to note that in severe cases, dehydration may require medical attention, intravenous (IV) fluids, and longer periods of rehydration. “It's essential to listen to your body's signals and seek medical guidance as needed,” says Costa.
What Is the Fastest Way To Rehydrate?
If you’re not drinking enough water, one way to jumpstart the hydration process is to reach for enhanced water: “Mineral water, coconut water, or water with added electrolytes can supercharge rehydration due to their electrolyte content,” says Costa. She notes that for most individuals and under normal circumstances, these options are not always necessary, and regular water intake suffices.
Electrolytes help regulate fluid balance and ensure efficient absorption of water into the cells, and a small amount of carbohydrates in a beverage may help with fluid retention and absorption. “Therefore, such individuals should consider drinks that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates, such as electrolyte drinks or coconut water, for optimal rehydration,” Costa says.
Costa shares more detailed guidance for the exercise crowd on the best way to beat dehydration, according to guidelines from the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA):
- Start with the intake of 500 to 600 ml of water or sports drink two to three hours prior to exercise, followed by an additional 200 to 300 ml just before exercise.
- Continue with 200 to 300 ml every 10 to 20 minutes during the workout session, to maintain hydration levels effectively.
- Post-activity, replenish any fluid loss, and considering water quality, particularly its alkalinity and mineral content, to further enhance hydration. (The amount of water you drink will vary based on the intensity of your workout and its duration.)
It bears repeating that “for the general population, drinking plain water is an effective way to rehydrate quickly,” says Costa. “Prevention is key. Make it a habit to regularly hydrate, particularly in hot weather or during physical activities.”
Related: The 6 Most Basic Hydration Rules Every Athlete Should Know
What Hydrates Faster Than Water?
As we touched on above, certain drinks like sports drinks, coconut water, or specially formulated rehydration solutions can rehydrate the body faster.
“Carbohydrates in rehydration drinks can accelerate hydration by facilitating water absorption in the intestines," Costa notes. “However, some of these options should be consumed in moderation due to their high sugar and sodium content."
Garay says the most effective fluid for rehydration is ultimately the one that you will drink most consistently. “Based on the beverage hydration index, milk and sports drinks ‘scored’ better than regular water. But it really comes down to what you like to drink and can commit to drinking enough of."
You've probably heard that a great way for an athlete to rehydrate following an intense, sweaty workout is to have a sports drink that contains electrolytes. "This will help ensure that they are replacing the sodium (and other minerals) lost in their sweat,” Garay says, adding that sodium is key because wherever it moves in our body, water will follow it.
A good way to determine how much you will need to drink is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. “You should aim to drink 1.5 times the amount [of fluid] you lost in the next several hours after you finish the workout,” Garay says. “For example, if you lost two pounds of water weight, then you should aim to drink three pounds (48 ounces) of fluid to replenish.”
Related: The 13 Best Hydration Drinks and Drink Mixes
Should We Only Be Concerned About Dehydration When We Feel Thirsty?
According to Costa, Dehydration isn't merely a matter of thirst but a condition that, if not monitored, can significantly impact your overall health and performance. "Chronic, severe dehydration can lead to serious health issues such as impaired cognitive function, loss of consciousness, organ damage, and, if left untreated, even death," she says.
Particularly those engaged in physical activities, live in hot climates, and are a part of older adult populations, shouldn't rely solely on the sensation of thirst to determine hydration needs. And Costa says need should ultimately determine hydration strategy. “It's important to monitor your hydration status closely and adjust your fluid intake accordingly.”
Costa also notes that going overboard with hydration is something to be wary of, too, saying, “Over-hydration or excessive water intake, though rare, can also lead to electrolyte imbalances and other health concerns.”
If you’re unsure about how much fluid you should be consuming for your unique needs, seek guidance from a registered dietitian or healthcare professional.