As summer approaches, there is more and more talk about hydration and heat stress. But plenty of workers have unanswered questions about dehydration and how to prevent it.
Should you drink 8 glasses of water per day?
Does yellow urine indicate dehydration?
Is a sports drink really better at helping you hydrate than plain water and ice?
In this article, we’re going to go over some basic hydration facts to help workers know how to stay safe and refreshed.
You Don't Have to Wait Until You're Thirsty to Drink
Thirst is an indicator of mild dehydration. That doesn't mean it's too late to take a drink, but it does mean that you should try to stay on top of drinking before you get to the point of feeling thirsty.
Kidney specialist Dara Huang, founder of New York Culinary Medicine, explains that “Dehydration is the body’s natural loss of water through sweat, tears, and breathing. The kidneys control the water balance in the body, and when they sense the need for more water replacement, it sends a message to our brains to drink more water by making us feel thirsty.”
The feeling of thirst isn't your first signal that you should hydrate – it's simply your body’s way of reminding you that it needs more fluid.
(Learn more in Before Thirst: 6 Key Signs of Dehydration Workers Should Know.)
Your Urine Color Can Clue You in to How Dehydrated You Are
Dehydration often goes hand in hand with darker yellow urine, so it’s important to monitor this factor when working in hot conditions or sweating excessively. You want to aim for clear to light yellow urine with no distinct smell. This indicates adequate hydration.
It's also a good idea to consider the volume of urine you produce. If you’re rarely making a trip to the bathroom, you’re probably not drinking enough. On the other hand, if you’re running there every 20 minutes, you might be consuming too much.
Some People Need to Drink More Water Than Others
The "right" amount of water to consume each day is different for everyone. For some people, eight glasses might not be enough. For others, it might be a bit too much.
When determining how much water is right for you, consider the following factors:
- Your body size – larger people require more fluid
- The amount you sweat
- How much physical activity you’re engaging in
- Whether you have an underlying illness or medical issue (e.g., bladder infection, kidney stones)
NIOSH offers general guidelines for workers, noting that for moderate activity in moderate conditions, workers should consume about a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. But again, this varies person to person.
(Learn about 7 Lesser-Known Factors That Contribute to Heat Stress.)
You Can Hydrate Too Much
More isn’t always better when it comes to hydration. Over-consuming fluids can lead to a condition called hyponatremia, which can turn into a serious medical emergency.
Hyponatremia occurs when the sodium concentration in the blood is too low, causing water levels in the body to rise and cells to swell. In many cases, simply cutting back on your fluid consumption resolves the problem. In some cases, however, medical assistance is necessary.
Signs and symptoms of hyponatremia include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Energy loss, fatigue, drowsiness
- Irritability and restlessness
- Muscle weakness, cramps, or spasms
Electrolyte Drinks Can Help You Stay Hydrated
While not everyone needs and electrolyte drink, there are definitely times when it pays to have a drink that both tastes good (to encourage drinking more) and replenishes what's lost through heavy sweating. You should consider an electrolyte drink if:
- You’re doing more than one hour of physical activity/physical labor
- You’re sweating excessively
- You’re in the heat for an extended period of time
- You have an illness that is causing vomiting or diarrhea
- You struggle to remain hydrated with only water because of the taste
As it turns out, many of these points are issues on job sites. Plus, when it comes to safety, you don't want to take any chances in terms of ensuring workers are properly hydrated. In terms of maintaining workers' health and safety, hydration is a form of PPE!
(Learn more about Electrolytes: What They Are and Why They Matter for On-the-Job Hydration.)
Avoid Taking Salt Tablets
The purpose of salt tablets is to replenish the body’s sodium stores and help it re-balance. And while they are sometimes effective, they also come with a host of side effects and are therefore not an ideal way to rehydrate.
Potential side effects include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Disruption of the water-sodium balance and water retention
- Hypernatremia (a condition that occurs when the body's salt levels are too high)
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Drinking Coffee Counts for Hydration
Though coffee is a mild diuretic and may temporarily increase urine output, it actually does contribute to your daily fluid intake and has not been found to have any significant impact on dehydration.
With that said, it can contribute to headaches and insomnia in some people and pregnant women are advised not to consume large amounts of caffeine. So, for hydration purposes, it’s still generally best to stick with water.
Maintaining proper hydration is critical to staying healthy, particularly during warmer weather or in hot work environments. And being able to separate truth from myth will ensure you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to do just that.
Check out our Heat Stress Knowledge Center for more content.