guy drinking from water bottle while working

Hydrate Fast the Right Way (Hint: It Isn’t Just H20)

Essential minerals are key to eliminating dehydration.

Fast Facts

  • Key signs of dehydration include fatigue, extreme thirst, and muscle cramps.
  • Fluids are essential to hydrate fast.
  • Mild dehydration can be relieved in as little as 10 minutes.
  • You need to hydrate fast to restore lost fluids and minerals.

We all want a quick fix and hydration is no exception. A nasty headache, tight muscles, and brutal fatigue are unfortunate signs of dehydration–but you don’t need to suffer. Not for long, anyway.

For ending your dehydration nightmare, you want the fastest solution, that golden ticket to relief. It’s out there and it’s not magic—here’s how to hydrate fast, the smart way.

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than your body takes in. Replacing those lost fluids becomes key. Losing as little as 1.5 percent of your body’s water can kick symptoms into gear and, depending on how dehydrated you are, these range from mild, to moderate, to more severe.

For mild dehydration, drinking water and electrolytes will alleviate symptoms after 5 to 10 minutes, according to the Cleveland Clinic. For moderate symptoms, drinking fluids can help, but you may need medical assistance and an IV (intravenous hydration) if it’s more severe.

“Severe dehydration sufferers should seek emergency help quickly,” says Susan Greene, ACE certified Nutrition Specialist, health coach, and personal trainer. “With proper medical attention, it can take 45 minutes to an hour for your body’s systems to regenerate and return to normal function. This eliminates the risk of failure and serious health complications.”

It can still take up to several hours after that point to return to a feeling of normalcy, but extreme fatigue will remain, Greene adds, with complete fluid loss restored after 24 to 36 hours.

man dehydrated leaning on a wall

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

Darker-Colored Urine

Urine is a good indicator of your hydration levels. The preferred urine color for a well-hydrated person ranges from pale straw to dark yellow. As your urine becomes a brown-ish color, that is a clear sign of dehydration. Conversely, if your pee is clear, you could be overhydrated which may be lowering your salt and electrolyte levels. In that case, pump the breaks and stick to the basic rule of thumb of 64 fluid ounces of water a day.

Fatigue

Fatigue sets in when the body system functions don’t work properly, per Greene. “This results from the body’s water level being too low. As the body becomes distressed, your energy depletes since your body uses water for fuel. The result is extreme lethargy.”

Fatigue from dehydration versus a general tired state differs in that when you are dehydrated, you lack the power to move, you feel jittery and anxious, and your muscles are so tired all you want to do is sit down, according to Greene.

Extreme Thirst

While it may be a myth to say you’re already dehydrated if you’re thirsty, when your mouth is bone dry it’s cause for concern. Excessive thirst is a key symptom of dehydration that lets your body know it’s low on water.

Decreased Cognitive Functioning

When you feel fatigue kick in, don’t be surprised if cognitive function dips as well. Dehydration is linked to deficits in short-term memory, vigor, attention, and reaction, all of which improve with hydration supplementation (1).

Muscle Cramps

Despite what you’ve heard about bananas as the anti-cramp remedy given their potassium levels, fluids can help avoid unwanted spasms better than this fruit.

“Individuals suffering from mild dehydration will feel a tightness in their lower extremities for around 10 to 30 seconds,” says Greene, likening it to a Charley Horse. “Light stretching and plenty of fluids can help to eliminate the cramp, but it can last longer with more severe dehydration.”

Why You Should Hydrate Fast

You need to replace the fluids and minerals quickly. Particularly the latter.

“These minerals, better known as electrolytes, are the most effective way to get your fluid balance in check,” says Greene. “A healthy balance is important for digestion, optimal sodium levels, and reduced cramping.”

Electrolytes help to balance fluids as well as successfully transport nutrients around. Three important electrolytes are sodium (fluid balance), potassium (cramping), and magnesium (muscle relaxer). When put to the test, an oral rehydration solution will keep your electrolyte levels balanced and you hydrated while also helping with injury prevention and proper organ function (2).

Oral Rehydration Solutions

Oral rehydration solutions are the most effective way to hydrate fast since they contain electrolytes your body has been deprived of, according to Greene.

One study of healthy male cyclists compared the fluid balance efficacy of an oral rehydration solution against sports drinks and water: Oral rehydration solutions were more effective at restoring fluid balance during recovery than the others (3).

“There are two electrolyte products I recommend to optimize hydration,” Greene says. “First, Smartwater, which is simply distilled water mixed with electrolytes. But my favorite option is Nuun, a tablet packed with key electrolytes which mixes easily into 16 ounces of water.”

Other Ways to Hydrate Quickly

Sports Drinks

Gatorade and Powerade are popular hydrating options. “They are great for athletes because they contain electrolytes and other key ingredients that help you recover from the physical demand of strenuous activity,” says Greene.

However, for those who live less active lifestyles, the amount of sugar isn’t recommended for daily use. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and inflammation. While Gatorade did pivot with their latest product, Gatorade Fit, those less active individuals are better off with an oral rehydration solution that delivers the same electrolytes minus the sugar.

Plain Water

Regular water, without electrolytes, is a cheap and easy option for those suffering from mild dehydration. If you are suffering from moderate to severe dehydration, plain water doesn’t have the minerals needed to overcome the fluid loss.

Coconut Water

“Coconut water replenishes electrolytes since it contains those vital minerals, but has less overall amount than an oral rehydration solution,” says Greene. “Since the amount of electrolytes varies, it’s inconsistent for hydrating effectively.”

Evidence also suggests coconut water is no more hydrating than regular water, according to the Mayo Clinic

man drinking water on the beach

How Much Water Do You Need Daily?

Drinking 8 ounces of water is an old myth. “Aim to drink about half your bodyweight in ounces per day,” says Greene. “If you weigh 200 pounds, you need roughly 100 ounces of water per day, or about 12 to 13 cups of water.” If you’re 150 pounds, that drops to about 9 to 10 cups.

Can You Hydrate Overnight?

Not unless you wake up every hour to sip water. “It’s ideal to keep up with your recommended amount of hydration throughout the day in order to avoid excessive drinking right before bed,” says Greene. “While there isn’t a miracle to immediately hydrate overnight, being efficient with your water intake will work.”

Go to bed well hydrated, your morning urine should be that straw-dark yellow color, according to Greene.

The Bottom Line

The fastest way to hydrate is with an oral rehydration solution. These products are packed with electrolytes which are minerals found in your body that balance fluid levels and maintain optimal hydration. While you can hydrate fast with regular water, focus on electrolytes.

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