Expert opinions about what’s healthy for you to eat are often annoyingly contradictory (we’re looking at you, eggs). But if there’s one thing everyone in the wellness world seems to agree on, it’s the importance of hydration. Want to slim down, boost your fitness level, streamline digestion, and even improve your mood? Water, water, water, and water.
But staying hydrated can feel like a chore sometimes, especially if running to the bathroom seems to have become a part-time (unpaid) job. Good news: There are ways to hydrate effectively without chugging all day.
FIRST, KNOW YOUR NEEDS
The recommendation to drink 8 ounces of water eight times per day has been repeated often, but experts question that conventional wisdom. According to the Mayo Clinic, no single formula fits everyone, and it’s more important to know about your body’s needs for fluids when trying to estimate how much to drink. For example, you’ll need more hydration based on your activity level, humidity of the environment, and even gender (the Mayo notes that men need more water than women). Watch for signs of dehydration like urinating less often, dark-colored urine, extreme thirst, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. When you do re-hydrate, especially if you’re seeing any of these symptoms, go slow. Sipping is much more effective than chugging, so your body has time to absorb the water.
UP YOUR ELECTROLYTES
Made up of sodium chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, electrolytes help your body absorb fluids. They’re also key for healthy nerve and muscle function. You can find them in sports drinks, but those are often loaded with sugar, artificial dyes and other less-desirable ingredients. A better strategy is to eat more foods rich in those minerals, says Tiffany DeWitt, R.D. These include bananas, avocados, Greek yogurt, kale, nuts, and spinach. Coconut water is also a good source of electrolytes and a refreshing post-workout drink.
THROW IN SOME CARBS
Carbohydrates, particularly the unrefined kind—those coming from plant sources like fruits, vegetables, and legumes—also contain water, DeWitt notes. So adding even a few more servings of veggies per day can boost hydration.
The sodium chloride in salt is a major hydration booster (that’s why hospitals often use a sodium solution for people who are dehydrated instead of pure water). It’s not tough to find salt in a typical American diet, but some foods are better choices than others. DeWitt recommends celery, whole-grain bread, and broth-based soups, all of which deliver nutrients in addition to salt.
ALL LIQUIDS COUNT
In a British study, researchers found milk and orange juice had a higher “hydration index” than water, and that some drink choices like coffee, sports drinks, tea, and even beer can be just as hydrating as a glass of water. Milk, in particular, may be a top choice if you’re feeling dehydrated, which may be part of the reason so many marathon runners chug chocolate milk at the finish line. The researchers noted that milk contains sodium and potassium, which help the liquid absorb more fully into the body.