The brain is a very nutrient demanding organ, but it’s also important to ensure it remains hydrated. Water accounts for around 75% of the brain’s mass, even a 2% decrease in hydration can impact the brain’s function. This can lead to poor focus and attention, irritability, and impact performance in cognitive tasks. Let’s dive into the best ways to stay hydrated to keep your brain functioning at its best.
How much should I be drinking per day?
For optimal hydration, you should aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. There are other drinks that provide hydration, including semi-skimmed/skimmed milk, tea, sugar free squash or flavoured water and juice.
It’s better to space out your drinks throughout the day, this helps to ensure consistent hydration. If you experience any of these symptoms, it may indicate you are a little dehydrated:
- feeling thirsty and lightheaded
- a dry mouth
- having dark coloured, strong-smelling urine
- passing urine less often than usual
What can contribute to dehydration?
The main cause of dehydration caused by not drinking enough fluid to replace what we lose. The body uses water for numerous activities, including aiding digestion, flushing out waste and toxins, and keeping the skin healthy. For the brain, dehydration can cause negative effects on our mood, concentration and performance, including:
- Feeling less alert and difficulty concentrating
- Feeling irritable or tense
- Reduced performance in mental tasks
- Reduced short term memory
- Slower processing of information
With these effects on the brain, this may impact studies, concentration in lessons, or exam performance. Drinking water throughout the school day or revision sessions will ensure you get the most out of your learning and help the brain store information easier.
Remaining hydrated is particularly important in hot weather, during illness and when taking part in physical activity. This is because the body uses more water in these situations, for example sweating to cool down, so it’s important to regularly drink water to ensure you do not become dehydrated.
Top tips for staying hydrated
To ensure you remain hydrated throughout the day, keep a reusable water bottle with you that’s regularly topped up. Some bottles are insulated to keep water cool all day, which is useful on hot days or during physical activity. If you don’t like water you can add fun flavours by using combinations of fruits and herb infusions (e.g. lime and mint leaves). This can provide additional benefits such as antioxidants, which help to prevent oxidative stress in the brain. Try to avoid drinks high in sugar, as this can increase daily intake of added sugars which can lead to tooth decay and may provide sudden spikes in blood glucose. If you are the type of person that forgets to drink water, you can actually get apps that send reminders to you to drink regularly during the day.
You can also increase hydration status by eating foods that have a high water content as a snack, such as tomatoes, watermelon or cucumber. Try to avoid snacking on foods that are high in salt, as the body will draw water from your cells to try and neutralise the sodium concentration in the body. This can cause feelings of thirst and too much salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure in later life.
Keeping hydrating during physical activity
Physical activity, such as being part of a sports team, is an excellent way to keep the body active, release endorphins for feel good emotions and manage stress. However, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout training or matches, as the body uses a lot of fluids to regulate body temperature and replace sweat losses during exercise. As a general guide:
- Keep hydrated throughout the day of a sporting event.
- Aim to consume 400 ml to 600 ml of cold water 2 to 3 hours before a match or heavy training session.
- Try to top up fluids by drinking 150 mL to 300 mL every 15 min to 20 minutes during a match or throughout training.
If you’ll be involved in sporting activities for longer than 1 hour, you may wish to consider topping up your carbohydrate levels and electrolytes with an electrolyte sports drink, or by making your own by combining fruit juice, coconut water and a pinch of salt.