This article originally appeared on UNC Health Talk.
If you’re planning to spend a lot of time outside in the heat, such as for a sporting event or a day at a theme park, it’s important to stay hydrated. Your body cools itself down by sweating, causing you to lose water. If you don’t replenish your fluids, you could become dehydrated and sluggish.
“Once you’re in a dehydrated state, it’s hard to come out of it,” says UNC Health registered dietitian Elizabeth Watt. “It’s best to take precautions to avoid reaching that point.”
Watt shares some advice on how to stay hydrated while on the go.
1. Drink lots of water before you’re going to be outside.
One of the most important things you can do is to drink a lot of fluids a day or two before you plan to be outside for a prolonged period.
“Especially if you know you’re going to be walking around a lot, it’s best to give yourself a leg up and hydrate in advance,” Watt says.
Aim for the recommended amount of water per day:
- Men: 125 ounces, a bit more than 15 8-ounce cups
- Women: 91 ounces, a bit more than 11 8-ounce cups
- Preteens and teenagers: At least 80 ounces, so at least 10 8-ounce cups
- Children ages 4 to 8: 48 ounces, or six 8-ounce cups
“It’s especially important for children and adolescents to get the recommended amount of water because their sweating mechanism isn’t as well developed,” Watt says. “It’s easier for them to become overheated faster.”
2. Avoid dehydrating drinks.
If you’re outside for a long time, you’ll want to avoid dehydrating beverages, including alcohol and drinks with sugar and caffeine, such as juice, coffee and soda. If you do choose to have one, make sure you drink a glass of water afterward.
3. Sip water throughout the day.
Whether or not you are outside, it’s better to sip water throughout the day than to guzzle it all at once, Watt says. This especially applies if you plan to be outside, because you’ll want to replace water as you lose it from sweating.
“Sipping water a little at a time keeps you balanced and also helps you avoid the tummy ache that can happen if you overload your stomach with water,” Watt says.
4. Restore electrolytes.
When you sweat, you lose not only water but also electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium and chloride that help your body function.
“If you’ve ever noticed salt on your skin after a run or physical activity, that’s your body losing sodium,” Watt says.
Most of the time, you can replenish your electrolytes simply by eating healthy food, Watt says. If you are on the go, you can use a sports drink packet that goes into water, such as Gatorade or Propel. Choose the low-sugar variety.
5. Eat hydrating foods.
Don’t forget that many fruits and vegetables are a good source of water, including cucumbers, celery, watermelon, grapes, strawberries and oranges.
Many fruits and vegetables are easier to eat if they are prepared in advance, so go ahead and wash and cut them so they’re ready for your next snack. Consider packing them in a cooler for an outdoor event, if you’re allowed to bring one.
Popsicles can also be a fun and hydrating summer treat. There are many low-sugar popsicle recipes online, as well as packaged options.
6. Make water fun.
If you are tired of drinking water or having trouble getting your kids to drink it, consider adding a lime or lemon wedge or cucumber slices to give it a little flavor. You can also add low-sugar drink packets to plain water or drink sparkling water to mix it up. For younger kids, you can add water to fruit juice to dilute it.
It’s also good to build a habit when it comes to choosing water over other drinks.
“There are all kinds of tricks to jazz up water, but try to train your kids to like water,” Watt says. “Get them used to drinking it at home and on breaks from playing outside.”
7. Pack a cooler.
If you’re going to be outside for hours, bring a cooler with ice packs, a few bottles of water and some hydrating foods. This will help you avoid having to wait in long lines for water or snacks and reduces the chance that you’ll become dehydrated.
How Do I Know if I’m Dehydrated?
If you feel thirsty, that’s a good sign that you are already dehydrated, Watt says. Other signs are:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dry mouth
- Dark-colored urine
It’s important to note that if you take a multivitamin, the excess vitamins could cause your urine to appear neon yellow. Don’t be alarmed if you see that, Watt says. What is more concerning is darker urine that looks like apple juice or apple cider.
If you start to feel dehydrated, sit in the shade and drink water as soon as possible.
Elizabeth Watt, RD, CSOWM, LDN
Registered Dietitian at the UNC Wellness Centers
Elizabeth Watt, RD, CSOWM, LDN, is a registered dietitian at the THRIVE Program powered by UNC Health.