Hydration doesn't need to be so complicated. There are plenty of ways to stay fully hydrated without being a wannabe waterboy.
Happy idiots, that's what I call them. They're the smug bastards who walk around carrying gallon jugs of water all day. It's their way of telling you that they're healthier than you, or maybe that they're getting ready for some sort of physique contest.
Ah, maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe carrying around those jugs is an homage to Adam Sandler's "Waterboy" movie. If that's their rationale, we can't help them, but for those of you who think drinking all that water is healthier or even necessary, you've likely got a case of hydrocephaly.
The truth is that everyone has differing water needs depending on a host of factors, but it doesn't matter where we get this water, be it from stupid gallon-sized jugs or other, more flavorful sources.
Coffee or Tea Is Just as Good as Water
For some reason, hydration purists got it into their soggy heads that water's the only thing that can safely quench thirst. Coffee and tea, however, are often avoided by these purists because they think it's going to paradoxically dehydrate them and leave them looking like a hollow-eyed smoked mackerel.
It's somewhat understandable, though, because the caffeine contained in those drinks has some diuretic properties. Plus there's the near universal dry-mouth experience you get from tea and coffee. However, a relatively recent study showed that the diuretic effect of tea or coffee is negligible; that they work equally well in terms of hydration.
Researchers at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Birmingham divided 50 male coffee drinkers – all of who routinely drank 3 to 6 cups of coffee per day – into two groups.
In separate three-day trials, each group drank either four 200ml cups of coffee or the same amount of water. The researchers found "no significant differences across a wide range of hematological and urinary markers of hydration status between trials."
As far as the "dry mouth" sensation coffee and tea elicit, it's because of the tannins they contain. Dr. Ali Webster of the International Food Information Council explains that tannins – which are compounds found in tea and coffee – bind to our saliva and create that "drying, astringent feeling." It's got nothing to do with true dehydration.
What About Sodas?
Caffeinated sodas, unlike coffee or tea, often contain sugar, carbonation, and sodium, which at first glance sounds like a wannabe hydrater's nightmare. We've already presumably done away with the objection to caffeine, so let's look at the other ingredients.
Sugar does slow hydration a bit. The body draws a bit of water away from other places to help digest the sugar, but the effect is minimal. Hell, it hasn't kept the Gatorade company scoundrels, with their sugar-laden product, from proclaiming their drink to be the best hydrating drink in the world.
As far as carbonation, there's no evidence to suggest that it does anything to affect hydration rates. That leaves sodium, which, depending on who you ask, may actually cause the body to retain water rather than eliminate it.
How to Use This Info
It doesn't matter how you get your water: coffee, tea, soda, milk, food, it's all the same. Even beer is okay, provided it isn't your only source of water (there's a certain point where the additive amount of alcohol would impede hydration).
As far as amount, the old 8 glasses a day thing is a myth, probably stemming from a recommendation once made by the Nutrition Board of the National Research Council to drink 1 milliliter of water for every calorie of food, which equals about 8 glasses.
We also have quarterback Tom Brady to partially blame for some of this water mania. As part of his widely debunked TB12 method for conditioning, Tom drinks 37 glasses of water a day, which would seriously tax even Adam Sandler's water-carrying capabilities.
In truth, the amount needed is highly variable, depending on such factors as activity, age, health, and environmental conditions. Don't make it too complicated, though. Just monitor your thirst (drink if you're thirsty!) and the color of your urine.
Empty out that stupid jug of water you carry and pee in it. If it looks like pale lemonade, you're good.
- Killer SC, Blannin AK, Jeukendrup AE, "No evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population." PLoS One. 2014 Jan 9;9(1)