Staying hydrated is a simple but essential element of fitness that often gets overlooked. While serious dehydration is usually an issue among young children, the elderly, or those who are sick, anyone can become mildly or even severely dehydrated. One common cause of dehydration is sweating during intense exercise or in hot conditions, making dehydration a common and serious concern for firefighters. The protective gear worn by firefighters alone can result in significant sweating and fluid loss, even without the strenuous exertion or hot environments firefighters deal with on a regular basis.
You might not always feel thirsty if you are becoming dehydrated, so it is important to drink plenty of fluid, whether or not you feel thirsty.
In addition to drinking water and fluids, watch out for these signs of dehydration:
Short Term Signs of Early Dehydration
- Dry mouth or chapped lips
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Decreased urine or darker yellow urine
- Decreased or no tears
Short Term Signs of Severe Dehydration
- Inability to walk or stand easily
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Confusion or lethargy
- Dark yellow or amber colored urine or no urine output
If you or someone you observe has signs of early dehydration, replenish fluids immediately and watch out for continued or worsening signs of dehydration. If you or someone you observe experiences signs of severe dehydration, seek medical attention immediately.
In addition to short term dehydration, not having enough fluid intake can have a chronic effect on your health and fitness. Signs of chronic dehydration include fatigue, muscle weakness, constipation, darker urine, dry or flaky skin, and headaches. Early manifestations of these symptoms may resolve with increased fluid intake; however, if any of these symptoms persist or become severe, it is important to see a doctor.
If dehydration is a persistent challenge, these tips may help you stay caught up on your fluid intake:
- Eat foods high in water. In addition to their high nutritional value, fruits and vegetables usually have high water content that can count towards your overall liquid intake. Some high-water fruits are watermelon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries and peaches. Some high-water vegetables are celery, cucumbers, cabbage, and zucchini.
- Keep a water bottle on hand. It’s much easier to drink subconsciously and continuously throughout the day when you have water within easy reach. Just having a bottle with you throughout the day can have a big impact on your total fluid intake.
- Drink first if you feel hungry. Thirst can manifest itself as hunger. If you feel hunger, try drinking first; you may find that you were thirsty after all, and if not, drinking before eating will help you keep up on liquids and help with digestion.
- Swallow, don’t sip. Sipping may relieve thirst temporarily, but it won’t rehydrate you adequately. If you feel thirsty, be sure to drink generously and in full swallows, rather than staying off thirst by sipping.
- Air off when you exercise. This won’t hydrate you, but it can prevent you from losing fluid through sweating. When you exercise, a fan or other type of air circulation can help prevent excessive sweating.
There are many important elements of nutrition for firefighters and athletes, but hydration is essential. Most importantly, staying hydrated can prevent short and long term health problems. In addition to preventing health problems, staying hydrated can help firefighters and athletes get more out of exercise and a healthy diet, as well as more out of body building and nutrition supplements. Your body is much more able to absorb nutrients and supplements when it has plenty of water.