How to Hydrate Yourself: Many people guzzle their 8-10 glasses of water per day and still are physiologically dehydrated. Today we explore why consuming plain water does not translate to being hydrated on a cellular level and some better options to get hydrated once and for all finally!
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
What is Hydration?
When it comes to being adequately hydrated, most people simply think, “8 glasses of water a day”/ This rhetoric has been pumped into most of us since childhood. Still, the reality is that how many glasses of water you consume has nothing to do with how hydrated you are. When it comes to proper hydration, we’re talking about hydration on a cellular level. Cellular hydration occurs when electrolytes and fluids penetrate the lining of your cells and blood vessels into interstitial and intracellular regions of the entire body 1.
Many people associate clear or light-colored urine as a sign that they are hydrated, but this is a false sign of hydration. The color of your pee has nothing to do with how hydrated you are on a cellular level. Your urine color is simply a reflection of water passing through your gym system, not penetrating your cells. Believe it or not, clear pee and drinking too much plain water can signify dehydration and mineral depletion in the body 2.
Why Hydration Matters
Before diving into why plain water does not hydrate you, it’s essential to understand why hydration is so important. Many people understand hydration in terms of feeling thirsty or having dry skin. Although cellular hydration is one of the keys to aging gracefully, it’s also one of the most significant ways to avoid illness and disease 1, 3.
Cellular hydration contributes to metabolic regulation and is critical in determining the cellular response to different kinds of stress. As you probably know, our modern world is full of physical, emotional, and chemical stressors. As a result, your organs, hormones, and immune system cannot operate properly without being adequately hydrated. Compound that with stress, and you’re on a fast track to various ailments and diseases 1, 3.
Why Plain Water Does Not Hydrate
When individuals come to the hospital dehydrated, they are never put on a plain water IV. Instead, these IVs contain saline (salt), as well as electrolytes (like potassium), and often rapidly absorbed sugar (like dextrose) 4. Unfortunately, plain water does not hydrate the body. At best, it’s an ineffective way to hydrate, but more realistically, it may even lead to higher levels of dehydration. The reason is quite simple: the body does not know what to do with it.
Plain water does not hold an electrical charge; it is effectively dead. The water in our bodies is the same saliency as the ocean and is loaded with minerals. When you add electrolytes to water, water can hold an electrical charge 5.
Water is absorbed properly in the body as a complete package alongside nutrients like vitamins and minerals found in real food 6. For example, many fruits and vegetables are mostly water, but even meat (including cooked meat) and even packaged foods like cookies and crackers contain water that is more bio-available than plain water.
The key is combining water with other molecules, including minerals (electrolytes), vitamins, fat, proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber. True hydration occurs when water is attached to other things; you can think of it as “whole food” water, like eating “whole food” protein, which is better absorbed than isolating it 7. We need the complexity of fat, protein, carbs, and other micronutrients that come with food to absorb and assimilate it truly.
Drinking plain water can result in flushing out your mineral stores, making you more depleted and thirsty. Stress also depletes minerals, leading to dehydration 8. So if you’re always thirsty, your best bet is to stop guzzling plain water and start by addressing your stress levels! Mitigating stress is paramount in maintaining a well-hydrated body.
Ditch the Plain Water: Better Options for True Hydration
1. Hydrating Whole Foods
The most bang-for-your-buck hydration will always be whole foods. This is because whole foods are loaded with such a wide range of vitamins and minerals that the body knows exactly what to do with them. In addition, many fruits and vegetables are almost entirely water, so next time you’re thirsty, why not reach for cucumber, watermelon, strawberries, or tomatoes 6. Yes, it might sound crazy to someone who has been chugging plain water their whole life, but let me ask you… how is that working for you?
2. Acid and Salt
At a bare minimum, adding acid and salt to your water will improve its absorbancy drastically. By changing the chemical composition of your water with acid and salt, the body will recognize it as something with more nutritional value and therefore absorb it more efficiently than plain water. Apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon or lime juice are great all-natural options consumed before a meal. These acids will also help balance your blood sugar spike from eating 7.
3. Water, Electrolytes, and Glucose
Adding electrolytes and natural sugar to your plain water is easy to increase its bioavailability and hydrate yourself more appropriately. Although food is always superior, this combination works in a pinch.
The most important electrolytes for hydration are sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The average person sweats a salt ratio of 220 Sodium to 63 Potassium to 16 Calcium to 8 Magnesium, so commonly recommended electrolyte ratios tend to mirror these numbers 8. Many premade electrolyte mixes already factor in the optimal proportions, but you don’t have to sweat it if you’re making your own mix. Simply understand that sodium is the highest, followed by potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Glucose helps transport sodium, chloride, and water across the intestinal barrier, improving the bioavailability and absorption of water 9. It is unnecessary, but it helps to understand your body’s bio-individual needs and glucose response to decide if you should include or omit a natural sugar like honey or maple syrup.
Hydrogen is the H in H2O, and studies show that, unlike plain water, molecular hydrogen-rich water hydrates on a cellular level 10-11. Hydrogen is a mighty molecule that has profound health benefits. Besides cellular hydration, hydrogen-rich water has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties 12. Hydrogen also supports glucose homeostasis and fat metabolization, ideal during a fast.
You can simply add 1-2 tablets of a high-quality hydrogen supplement like Fastonic at any time of day to improve your hydration levels and overall health.
Although many people grew up hearing 8-10 glasses of water was the key to hydration, the reality is that plain water does not hydrate your body on a cellular level. Water must come with other vitamins and minerals to achieve true cellular hydration, especially electrolytes like sodium and potassium. The best source of bioavailable water is in whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and meat. To make your drinking water more bioavailable, consider adding acid, electrolytes, glucose, or hydrogen.
Medical Disclaimer: information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for the accuracy of the information provided, but we encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
- Häussinger, D et al. “Cellular hydration state: an important determinant of protein catabolism in health and disease.” Lancet (London, England) vol. 341,8856 (1993): 1330-2. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(93)90828-5
- “Are You over-Hydrated?” Gundersen Health System, https://www.gundersenhealth.org/health-wellness/eat/are-you-over-hydrated/.
- Schliess, Freimut, and Dieter Häussinger. “The cellular hydration state: a critical determinant for cell death and survival.” Biological chemistry vol. 383,3-4 (2002): 577-83. doi:10.1515/BC.2002.059
- “IV Fluids for Dehydration and Other Ways to Manage Cases.” Drip Drop ORS, https://www.dripdrop.com/blog/health-wellness/iv-fluids-for-dehydration.
- “Electrolytes: Types, Purpose and Normal Levels.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21790-electrolytes.
- Popkin, Barry M, et al. “Water, Hydration, and Health.” Nutrition Reviews, vol. 68, no. 8, 2010, pp. 439–458., https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x.
- Melse-Boonstra, Alida. “Bioavailability of Micronutrients from Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruits.” Frontiers in Nutrition, vol. 7, 2020, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2020.00101.
- Lopresti, Adrian L. “The Effects of Psychological and Environmental Stress on Micronutrient Concentrations in the Body: A Review of the Evidence.” Advances in Nutrition, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz082.
- Hamilton, Kirk L. “Robert K. Crane—Na+-Glucose Cotransporter to Cure?” Frontiers in Physiology, vol. 4, 2013, https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2013.00053.
- Qian L, Shen J, Chuai Y. et al. Hydrogen as a New Class of Radioprotective Agent. International Journal of Biological Sciences. 2013;9:887–94.
- Qiu, Peng, et al. “Recent Advances in Studies of Molecular Hydrogen against Sepsis.” International Journal of Biological Sciences, vol. 15, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1261–1275., https://doi.org/10.7150/ijbs.30741.
- Sim, M., Kim, CS., Shon, WJ. et al. Hydrogen-rich water reduces inflammatory responses and prevents apoptosis of peripheral blood cells in healthy adults: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Sci Rep 10, 12130 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68930-2.