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Hydration 101

How to balance your fluid intake and your body for optimal health.

The human body is 60 to 70 per cent water and it needs to keep consuming water for digestion, nutrient transportation, waste removal, organ cushioning, and fluid/electrolyte balance, according to Dietitians of Canada.

The 8 Cups Myth

Though water is one of the best fluids we can drink, it is a myth that we need to drink eight cups of the stuff every day. What’s actually important is consuming enough fluids to keep our bodies hydrated – in addition to water, fluids include milk, juice, broth, soup and, even coffee and tea, which have long been thought to “not count” toward your fluid intake. According to Dietitians of Canada, for women 19 years old and older, proper hydration means 2.2 litres (nine cups) of fluid a day, and for men in the same age group, that means three litres, or 12 cups of fluid a day.

Why Hydration Matters

Hydration is all about balance in the body, explains Chris Falcon, a personal trainer and the founder of the Illinois-based Reactive Performance Enhancement Center. He divides hydration into two schools – intracellular (within the cells) and extracellular (outside the cells).

“Fifty to 60 per cent of our body weight is made up of water, and two-thirds of that water is located within the cells (intracellular),” says Falcon, who is also a motivational speaker. “The body is always looking to maintain the right balance of salt to water both within the cells and outside of the cells.” That balance, he explains, is regulated by osmotic pressure. If there is not enough water present outside of the cells, water and salt can leave the cells in an attempt to balance it out. 

“In an ideal world, the osmotic pressure both within the cell and outside of the cell would always be the same,” Falcon says. When dehydration happens, the balance of salt to water both inside and outside the cells is compromised.

“This imbalance can negatively impact cell function if the body attempts to balance things out by flooding the cells with too much water.”

Intracellular vs. Extracellular

Falcon defines these two types of hydration as follows:

Intracellular Hydration: The water and salt within the cells are impacted greatly by what we consume. A diet rich in nutrients from plant-based super-foods helps keep the cells hydrated due to the high amounts of electrolytes present in fruits and vegetables. In general, since most of the body's water is stored within the cells (intracellular) it is important to maintain the balance of salt to water.

Extracellular Hydration: The water outside of our cells plays a very important role in transporting nutrients around the body and removing toxins. This water also needs to have the right balance of salt, and it uses the water in the cells to help regulate that. 

Hydration and Exercise

“When most people exercise, they sweat, and even if they don’t sweat, they are still losing valuable nutrients,” Falcon says. “Intracellular hydration is crucial for athletes and avid exercisers because it will help to maintain the right balance of water to salt within the cells, and ultimately between the cells. This is why electrolyte drinks […] are so popular. They are banking their legitimacy on the science that says the better hydrated the cells are, the better they will perform. I tend to agree, but I don't think we need to rely completely on supplements. We can achieve a lot of this through whole-food consumption.”

Three Tips to Stay Hydrated & Balanced

  • Eat more colourful fruits and vegetables – Falcon recommends embracing a plant-based diet when possible)
  • Avoid over-consuming water
  • Use electrolyte supplements when necessary

And remember, you can eat your hydration, too.

“When we think of hydration, we need to not just think about drinking a glass of water,” Falcon says. “The nutrients in our food also play a big role in hydrating our bodies.”