Preventing Winter Dehydration

FishWe all know hydration is important for our bodies, but how’s this for proof? Up to 60 percent of the human body is water, but our brains are composed of 70 percent, and the lungs are nearly 90 percent water. Feeling like a human fish tank yet?

Now that the holiday season is upon us, there are two potential dehydrating factors in play: winter air and alcohol consumption. Being aware of how both elements affect the body’s water supply will help you avoid feeling the consequences of dehydration.

Winter Air
Dehydration can accelerate conditions like hypothermia, frostbite and fatigue; something outdoor sports enthusiasts need to think about. “Exercise and recreation at higher altitude increases the risk of dehydration because you breathe more to compensate for the relative lack of oxygen in the air,” says Virginia Mason sports medicine physician William Callahan, MD. “That means you’re losing even more water through evaporation when you breathe.”

Dr. Callahan also recommends layering winter clothing properly to avoid excessive sweating – another cause of dehydration during strenuous winter activities. “Dress so you can shed a layer if you’re overheating, which may leave you too cold if clothing becomes damp from sweating.”

Even if you’re not planning an alpine adventure, winter air is colder and drier, depleting the body as it works to humidify and warm the air. The trouble starts when we skip drinking water because we don’t feel thirsty. But whether we feel it or not, our bodies are hoping we’ll replace at least a couple liters of water a day. Of course all of this doesn’t have to come from camping out at the water cooler. Water-based foods, including fruits and vegetables, replenish H2O too (provided we eat them!) Also, herbal teas and other noncaffeinated beverages can be a more pleasant and winter-friendly way to increase your water intake.

Speaking of beverages, another dehydration culprit this time of year is alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means you lose more fluid than you gain when you drink it. This happens because alcohol interferes with a hormone that helps the body reabsorb water.

With this hormone blocked, people urinate more frequently and voilà – they become dehydrated.

In addition to losing water after drinking alcohol, electrolytes and minerals tend to go with the flow as well. So consider adding a sports drink to your hangover recovery plan, which has ingredients to help get you hydrated more quickly.

Better yet, try to avoid dehydration in winter in the first place, by creating a system to help ensure you get the water you need. Keep a water bottle at hand that can be refilled to provide what should be your daily water intake so you know you’re drinking enough. Remember to drink water before, during and after strenuous winter activity. During party season, try chasing every alcoholic drink with a glass of water. It won’t replace everything you’re going to lose when imbibing, but it will reduce the deficit. Just remember that when it comes to proper hydration, drinking water is a must, for all seasons.

Coconut Water: Miracle (or Myth) in a Box?

Dreading a blazing day’s forecast last year, I knew to start chugging the liquids early before heading out to an all-day tennis competition. In my home that morning, I had two options: trusty water from my fridge (free) or the much hyped hydration “miracle” coconut water (certainly not free).

Reaching for anything to keep my feet moving faster than my opponent, I went with the coconut water. Hours later and about a dozen dollars poorer, I still cramped under the heat and felt thirsty and exhausted. I knew the next morning would be spent lying on the couch struggling to get around all day.

Is coconut water really the fountain of athletic youth it is claimed to be, or are all the claims simply hype? Here’s what I learned about the juice, while lounging haplessly the next morning and researching what the experts had to say:

  • Water may be just fine. Most of us won’t compete in the Ironman triathlon, so for many exercises, even strenuous routines, water is adequate to replenish liquids. Be sure to sip the stuff before, during and after a workout and watch for signs of dehydration.
  • It’s all about what you sweat.When you sweat, you lose electrolytes (such as potassium and sodium) as well as water. With increasing time spent exercising and sweating, you may need additional electrolytes and hydration.
    • Coconut water’s real asset is high potassium (300 to 500 milligrams). Yet, sodium is mostly what we sweat out and need to replace; this is what coconut water lacks.
    • Coconut waters available on the market vary in the amount of sodium they contain. Rehydration drinks typically contain 110 mg of sodium per 8-ounce cup serving, but pure coconut water beverages (not concentrate) claim to contain about 40 to 60 mg of sodium in an 11-ounce serving (one particular brand contains 160 mg per serving).
    • You’re better off drinking water and eating some salty pretzels to replenish electrolytes. You can also replace both sodium and potassium by eating some fruits or vegetables after your workout.
  • Don’t buy into all the other health claims. Can coconut water prevent cancer, help manage diabetes or even prevent aging? It is highly unlikely and not at all backed by convincing scientific evidence. You should speak with your doctor about proven ways to prevent illness through nutrition.


Dane Fukumoto enjoys playing tennis. When he is not on the court, he is working as Virginia Mason’s patient communications manager.