Staying Hydrated in Hot Weather
What Should One Drink to Stay Hydrated in Hot Environments?
by Denise Agatep, MD, MS and Ronda McCarthy, MD, MPH, FACOEM , Concentra Occupational Health
Water is the best option. Water maintains hydration during work in the heat if one eats regular meals to replace the salt lost in sweat. Drink plenty of water during strenuous activities, especially in hot environments.
For heat exposure longer than two hours with moderate to heavy physical exertion, also consume sports drinks containing electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that are essential for the proper function of nerves, muscles, heart, and brain. They also help balance the amount of water in one's body and the acid/base, or pH level. Consider replacing every third cup of water with an electrolyte-infused sports drink with physical exertion in prolonged excessive heat exposure.
Sweating is the release of salt-based fluid to regulate body temperature. The average person loses about one liter of fluid an hour through sweating. An average water bottle is one-half liter, so it's necessary to drink two water bottles (equivalent to 32 oz.) of water each hour. A simple rule of thumb: drink half of a water bottle (8 oz.) every 15 minutes to replace lost fluid from sweat. This is the fastest rate at which the body can absorb water.
To quickly gauge your hydration level, observe the color of your urine. If you are staying hydrated, your urine will have a pale yellow color. If your urine is a darker yellow/orange, you likely need to drink more water. Frequency of urination also is a good indicator of hydration. A person urinates every four hours when properly hydrated.
Avoid the following:
Skipping Meals. Skipping meals prior to strenuous activity in the heat can be dangerous.
Energy Drinks. Energy drinks pack a big punch of caffeine (more than standard coffee, tea, or caffeinated soft drinks). Drinking one or more energy drinks daily may place an undue strain on your heart, especially when exerting oneself in the heat.
Alcohol. Consuming alcohol within 24 hours of exertion in the heat can increase the risk of heat-related illness. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body.
Salt Tablets. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) does not recommend taking salt tablets as they can disrupt normal body function, complicating hydration. Eating regular meals and snacks is preferred.
Note: If your length of exposure to heat is going to be less than two hours, drinking water is sufficient for hydration and electrolyte balance. Sports drinks with electrolytes should be incorporated with water regimen when heat exposure is more than two hours and level of exertion is moderate to heavy.
Worker Safety Net and Concentra Occupational Health have teamed up to provide a full range of occupational safety support services to employers and employees. Worker Safety Net provides safety training, inspections and consultations and Concentra Occupational Health provides medical services related to workplace medical issues to include physicals, hearing tests, respirator physicals and drug testing.