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Common Scuba Questions: Staying Hydrated
Common Scuba Questions: Staying Hydrated

Staying Hydrated - Is it really that important?

hydrateFrom the time we first took a dive course, are reminded to stay hydrated as a preventive measure, not the least of which is to not contribute to DCS.

Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that we are divers, and being hydrated is important. First, let’s look at some very basic facts that will help to understand the how and why we need to stay hydrated and what comprises Dehydration. Simply put, dehydration is a condition in which we lose body fluid, mostly water, and that loss exceeds the amount of water we take in.

How do we lose water? Merely by living, we lose water through exhalation, urinating and sweating. Then add to this exercise or activity (diving), and we lose even more. Should we be ill with fever or diarrhea (as in “don’t drink the water”), the deficit grows substantially. How can we recognize dehydration? Some of the signs and symptoms of mild dehydration include, obviously, being thirsty (more on this in a bit), perhaps feeling tired and darker yellow tinted urine would be an indicator as well. It’s estimated that these signs and symptoms occur with only around a 1-1 ½ % loss. That isn’t much. While it really is outside the scope of our discussion here, losses that approach 4-5% become very serious and require immediate attention.

One of the negative aspects of being dehydrated, especially as divers, is that it can be a contributing factor to decompression sickness. When we consider that traveling divers spend time on airplanes, which is an extremely dry environment and the possibility of increased alcohol intake, which leads to dehydration, it doesn’t take too much thought to realize that one must increase the fluid intake to compensate for fluid loss. Keep in mind that improper fluids, such as alcoholic beverages, do not hydrate the body very well. It has been often said in the past that coffee and tea….or caffeinated beverages were considered diuretics and contributed to fluid loss. The debate is still ongoing in regards to this.

Signs and symptoms of mild dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepy or tired during daytime
  • Decreased urination

And of course, being thirsty. If you find yourself at this point, being extremely thirsty, you’ve waited too long for that drink of water.

How do we become dehydrated? In addition to not drinking enough water, other contributing factors include increased activity, climate change, such as traveling to warm water diving locations, increased alcohol intake and illness such as vomiting or diarrhea, perhaps from food or water while traveling.

So, how do we hydrate? Well, yeah… drink some water. How much? As mentioned previously, if you’re extremely thirsty, you’ve waited too long to rehydrate. The best water intake is gradual over time, sustaining a nice balance with an increase of water intake with increased activity (diving). We’ve often heard of the “8 by 8” rule which suggests the average adult drink 8 eight ounce glasses of water per day, for a total of 64 ounces of water intake. Recently however, the Mayo Clinic is advocating an intake of 3 liters/101 ounces for men and 2.2 liters/74 ounces for women. Environment, as well as activity, will also impact how much water you should be drinking.

Another source of fluids can be so-called sports drinks, keeping in mind that we should take notice of the nutritional information label to avoid excessive sugar and sodium. In addition to liquids, we also derive hydration from the foods we eat. Fruits and vegetables can contribute up to 35% of daily fluid intake.

Staying hydrated as we enjoy diving is easy, makes sense and will contribute to having a great experience. In fact, why not throw your drinking bottle in your gear bag and make it part of your equipment check list as you prepare for the next dive or dive trip?

(SDI - January 2013)