When cold weather approaches, most of us will be reaching for a warm jacket, a pair of mittens, those extra thick socks that have been hanging out in the back of your drawer. We are less often filling up our water bottles and downing that cold glass of water. Is dehydration in the winter as important? Do we need to drink even when we’re not thirsty?
While thirst is one indicator of dehydration, it is certainly not the only, and often not the most important one. Here, we’ll discuss why hydration is so important, especially in cold weather, and how to improve your hydration when drinking doesn’t come naturally.
Benefits of Hydration
If you are interested in improving your health, whether that means losing weight, gaining more energy or reducing your medications, you can’t ignore hydration. Optimal hydration has a range of benefits, including:
- Regulating body temperature
- Preventing constipation (1)
- Improving cognition and mood! (2)
- Aiding weight loss (3)
- Preventing kidney stones
- Treating and preventing headache (4)
- Optimizing sports performance (5)
Risks of Dehydration
Thus, we know that the benefits of hydration are many. But, what about the effects of dehydration? Is it really that bad? One recent study indicated that in a state of dehydration our experience of pain is actually heightened!6 A more recent study further indicates that dehydration negatively affects mood, cognition and short-term memory.7
Beyond this, dehydration can be the culprit behind unpleasant issues, such as headache, constipation and kidney stones. Experiencing any of these conditions is motivation enough to stay on top of hydration goals. However, good intentions do not always translate into success. Below, we’ll cover the best practices for making hydration happen on the daily.
Signs of Dehydration
First, let’s look at a few ways to track your hydration status. As mentioned, thirst is one sign of dehydration. During cold weather, however, thirst can be less pronounced, and sometimes absent altogether. A more reliable indicator of hydration during the winter can be dryness in the lips or skin. Of course, winter air is drying for skin. However, adequate hydration should prevent lips from drying and cracking under moderate winter conditions. Urine is another indicator that tends to be quite reliable even in the winter months. Urine should be straw colored. Darker, amber urine indicates dehydration. Here is a handy chart that shows what different colors of urine mean. Essentially, the darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are.
Food Sources of Fluid
So, you’re motivated to prioritize fluid consumption, right? I will share my top strategies and tips for making optimal hydration a reality. First, we need to address sources of fluid. Obviously, most of our water intake comes from beverages. However, it’s important to remember that foods provide water as well. On average, fruits are the foods with the highest percentage of water. Some fruits, such as cantaloupe, strawberries and watermelon, are upwards of 90% water. Other foods, such as yogurts, soups, and smoothies, contain more than 70% water. Keep this in mind when planning meals, as fluids in this form are better absorbed than plain water. This enhanced absorption is related to the addition of electrolytes and carbohydrates found in the foods. If you tend to skimp on water during the day, having a soup-based lunch can help you reach your hydration goals.
If you feel that you would benefit from a professional assessment of your health status, and help creating a plan that will help you achieve your goals, schedule a free consultation with MEM Nutrition & Wellness.
Alternatives to Plain Water
Of course, beverages represent the biggest contributor to water consumption. As a dietitian, I always recommend water as the best beverage at mealtimes and throughout the day. Some individuals find this more challenging than others. When taste is an issue, I offer a couple of alternatives, which can be used interchangeably with plain water: infused water and herbal tisanes. Each of these are a little different. Infused water involves placing slices or pieces of the flavor enhancer into cold or room temperature water. The flavor enhancer can be strained out after the desired flavor is achieved. In some cases the flavoring item can be left in until consumed. In general, this type of water only keeps for 1-2 days in the fridge. There are options certain to fit any taste. Some of my favorites include:
- Ginger + orange
- Lemon + cucumber
- Watermelon + lime
- Grapefruit + mint
An herbal tisane, on the other hand, involves brewing your favorite herbal blend, enjoying hot, or chilling to have in place of water. Advantages of this option include convenience and shelf life. Brewing these tisanes does not involve any washing and chopping, as many of the infused waters do. In addition, your tasty beverage will be ready in a minute or two, whereas the time for a cold or room temperature water to fully infuse can take longer. A chilled tisane, when brewed properly, can last several days in the fridge. I have been known to dry my own garden herbs for tisanes. But, I’ll save that for another post. Most likely, you’re choosing a bagged tea. In which case, I have several recommendations (these are not paid partnerships):
Hydration Habits that Work
As with any health habit, we need to create a pattern that will support consistent success, meaning that on a regular basis, you are reaching your hydration goals. Start by establishing your goal and then breaking it down into manageable parts. Hydration needs vary based on activity level, age and environmental conditions. However, you get a rough estimate of your needs in ounces by halving your weight in pounds. For example, a 150-pound person will need about 75 ounces of water per day. That volume might not mean that much to you on its own. Just divide it by 8 to determine how many glasses of water you need. In the example, that comes out to 9.375 glasses of water. I recommend rounding up, which would be 10 glasses of water per day.
Now that you have a goal in mind, you can see how that can be broken down throughout the day. My top strategies for increasing your fluid consumption include:
- Front load your fluid consumption by drinking several glasses of water in the morning, as outlined below
- Finish each meal with a full glass of water. For better digestion, save it for after you’re done eating, as drinking during a meal can interfere with digestion.
- Consider ending your day with an electrolyte drink to off-set the dehydration that naturally sets in after a night of sleep.
The following is an example of how to get 10 cups of water in during the day:
- One glass upon rising
- One glass after breakfast
- One glass before leaving the house/starting your day
- Carry ~24 oz water bottle with you and finish it!
- One glass after lunch
- One glass after dinner
- Two cups (one herbal tea, one plain water or electrolyte drink) between dinner and bed, avoiding beverages within an hour of going to bed to avoid sleep disturbances.
Individual needs vary, as do lifestyles and habits. However, the above framework
provides a solid starting point for addressing your hydration needs.
Take Away: For most of us, hydration needs to be more intentional during the winter months. Being consistently well-hydrated has so many health benefits, including: improved gut health, headache treatment and prevention, bodyweight management, joint health and better sports performance. Meeting your hydration needs requires an honest assessment of your lifestyle and preference, followed by establishing a plan that achievable. Making changes and shifting behaviors related to health and lifestyle are challenging, without a doubt, and you don’t have to go it alone. If you’d like support in your health journey, please click below to schedule a free consultation with MEM Nutrition & Wellness to get clarity!
Sources 1. De Giorgio R, Ruggeri E, Stanghellini V, Eusebi LH, Bazzoli F, Chiarioni G. Chronic constipation in the elderly: a primer for the gastroenterologist. BMC Gastroenterol. 2015;15:130. Published 2015 Oct 14.
2. Ganio, M., Armstrong, L., Casa, D., McDermott, B., Lee, E., Yamamoto, L., . . . Lieberman, H. (2011). Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(10), 1535-1543.
4. Mark Spigt, Nico Weerkamp, Jaap Troost, Constant P van Schayck, J André Knottnerus, A randomized trial on the effects of regular water intake in patients with recurrent headaches, Family Practice, Volume 29, Issue 4, August 2012, Pages 370–375,
6. Ogino, Yuichi MD, PhD*; Kakeda, Takahiro RN, PHN, PhD†; Nakamura, Koji MD‡; Saito, Shigeru MD, PhD* Dehydration Enhances Pain-Evoked Activation in the Human Brain Compared with Rehydration, Anesthesia & Analgesia: June 2014 – Volume 118 – Issue 6 – p 1317-1325