By Jake Grilley
Thirst is your body's natural cue that it's time to drink more fluids, right? Wrong. If you're drinking water only when you feel thirsty, you are likely living in a constant state of dehydration.
By the time your brain signals you to drink up, your body has already lost approximately 2-3% of its overall water volume, and both athletic performance and overall health have been hampered.
In a University of North Carolina report, nutritionists cite the myriad of effects that even mild chronic dehydration can have on endurance athletes. "Individuals engaging in rigorous physical activity will experience decrements in performance related to reduced endurance, increased fatigue, altered thermoregulatory capability, reduced motivation, and increased perceived effort," the report states.
That laundry list of side effects from inadequate daily fluid intake should send chills up the spine of any endurance athlete. Even scarier is the fact that the more your body acclimates to a state of chronic dehydration, the more it loses sensitivity to water deprivation. In other words, you won't be thirsty when you should be.
Know these warning signs
Thirst, however, isn't your body's only alert that its water reserves are consistently too low. Check out these five warning signs of chronic mild dehydration:
1. Headache. Water, not aspirin, is likely your best defense against mild headaches. Experts suggest that nerve endings in the brain trigger pain signals as a response to both the excess metabolic waste and the decreased blood and oxygen flow caused by chronic mild dehydration.
2. Impaired mood and cognitive function. According to a University of Connecticut study, both men and women had difficulty with mental tasks and working memory when mildly dehydrated. Both groups also experienced increased fatigue, tension, and anxiety with the symptoms "substantially greater in females than in males, both at rest and during exercise."
3. Allergies. Experts suggest that mild dehydration can cause a concentration in histamine levels and immune system deficiencies, which often manifest as allergy symptoms.
4. Digestive problems. Water is an essential part of the digestive system. Experts agree that both acid reflux and constipation can be triggered by dehydration.
5. Food cravings, especially for sweets. Often your body can misinterpret its own signals. Thirst signals, especially those that are consistently ignored, can show up as food cravings - especially for sweet or salty snacks.
Proper daily hydration
Adequate daily hydration will help you stay strong and healthy before, during, and after exercise. Aim for 0.5-0.6 ounces of water per pound of body weight in addition to the average 20-25 ounces per hour you are drinking during exercise. You can include coffee and tea as part of your daily fluid intake but make the vast majority of your hydration pure, clean water. HN