I pestered several health experts with hydration questions recently.
Our bodies know how much water to consume, they all told me in their different ways. We just have to listen.
But how do we absorb and retain water? On a cellular level, how does hydration work? Answers – with a smoothie for the road – follow.
“The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.” http://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html | Photograph by Ryan Moreno
What moves us
Water comprises 77-79% of our muscle tissue, says physical therapist, Francesco Gallaro, MSPT, CSCS. “Hydration is important when it comes to our activity levels and general tissue health. Our cellular hydration levels dictate protein synthesis,” he says, “so increased hydration levels help improve protein levels in the body to make muscle.”
Hot or not
Wondering whether the temperature of what we drink helps or hinders hydration, I found two studies that suggest when dehydrated after physical exercise, restoring fluids with water close to “cool tap water” temperature (16° C or 60.8°F) is optimal.
But nutritional pharmacist Ben Fuchs says, “While a hot or cold beverage may seem soothing to drink, in general, temperature does not affect how well fluids are absorbed. Your body works fairly quickly to adjust that liquid to match your body heat – no matter the temperature.”
Our bodies lose around 2.5 liters a day. When asked how much we should drink to rehydrate, Fuchs says to “simply let your symptoms be your guide. Drink when you’re thirsty – And then a little extra.”
Too much water loss, however, causes all kinds of bad for us. “Dehydration,” Gallaro says, “causes a catabolic state within muscle tissue, which causes tissue deterioration. Usually we will see this as a secondary result of disease.”
Furthermore, many of us, he says, don’t realize that “cellular dehydration causes more constriction of muscle, fascia and layers of the skin, which causes more compression of nerve and pain receptors. There is some evidence that shows increased myofascial pain and trigger points within tissue because of dehydration.”
Eating our water
Nadja Pinnavaia, founder and CEO of Euphebe explains how different plant fiber carbohydrates work to restore our fluids and more: “Soluble fibers such as beans, nuts, fruit (pectin), and oat bran, absorb water in your gut and help pace your digestion by doing a TON of cool things; while insoluble fibers such as brown rice, leafy greens, and fruit peels, also absorb water and scrub your intestines.”
Wait – hydra (water, in Greek) – so carbohydrates help us hydrate?
Dietitian Kayleen St. John of Euphebe broke it down: “Carbohydrates are so named because they contain hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Hydration occurs from water (H2O), which is present within a carbohydrate’s structure. Also,” she said, “the body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen within the body. For every gram of glycogen we store, we also store an accompanying 3 grams of water which helps to keep us hydrated.”
And salt helps?
“Water does follow salt,” St. John says, “and leads to water retention in the body when salt is consumed in large quantities. Salt (or sodium) is an electrolyte. Electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc) keep water properly balanced within the body.”
Of electrolyte beverages we see in the stores, says St. John, “many of those are marketed to improve hydration, but unless you are actively losing electrolytes (like during workouts or illness), most of us consume adequate electrolytes in the foods that we eat.”
Feeding your second brain
So how do you feel? Not sure? Perhaps a drink to help you contemplate?
If you’re jonesing for a smoothie, I recommend the juice bar in EXKi on West 28th and Madison for your next fix. Their recently relaunched menu includes seasonal fresh juices that you can spike with a super supplement – Yes, they have turmeric! – and green tea or coconut milk smoothies mixed with fruits and veggies (many locally sourced) to order.
If you’re in a hurry at EKXi, no prob – just take one of these prepped green-tea smoothies from the cooler to the bar, and they will whip it up for you to go.
Whatever you drink today, may it be in good health.