Before we chat about recovery time, let's talk about optimal hydration. You've probably heard that everyone should drink eight glasses of water each day, but there isn't a universal hydration rule, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Instead, there's a daily fluid intake recommendation based on the foods and beverages you consume, and these guidelines depend on personal factors like age, gender, activity level, and environment, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Your rough hydration goal should be around 125-130 ounces (or 16 cups) a day for men and 91-95 ounces (12 cups) for women—but they can come from both a mix of food and beverages, the NASM says.
Dehydration, however, occurs when "you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions," the Mayo Clinic says. Thirst isn't necessarily an early indicator of your body's need for water, the Mayo Clinic explains. "The goal is to avoid feeling thirsty, which means the body is already dehydrated," says Paula Montana De La Cadena, MD, a cardiologist for Baptist Health's Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute.
Another tell-tale sign is darker pee and reduced output, the Mayo Clinic says. "Most of our daily water loss occurs through the kidneys and therefore the urine. Dehydration triggers the release of anti-diuretic hormone, stimulating the kidney to keep more of the water, which would otherwise be excreted in the urine. When there is less volume of water excreted through the kidneys, our urine becomes more concentrated, and the color becomes darker," says Barbara Bergin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Austin, Texas. Other dehydration symptoms include light-headedness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, heatstroke, and even kidney issues, the Mayo Clinic says.
It's also helpful to remember that your body is working to retain optimal hydration, Taylor Graber, MD, says. "Your body has many natural defenses to help maintain water level around neutral," she explains, adding that sodium level and your anti-diuretic hormone levels in your body help keep things in balance. "When your outputs are high, then your sodium and AHD levels are high, helping your body tell itself to retain water," she says. "The AHD acts mainly on your kidneys to tell them to keep water rather than urinating, which will lower your sodium level and bring you back into balance."
So ensuring you're consistently eating and drinking for hydration are important lines of defense, says Dr. De La Cadena. This becomes increasingly important in hot weather, cold weather, or when you're exerting yourself. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic says that adults can experience dehydration when they're sick, so if you're dealing with diarrhea and vomiting, it's essential to make sure you're replenishing fluids and electrolytes, which are minerals—like sodium, calcium, and potassium—that are vital to many functions in the body.
So how long does mild dehydration last
In many cases, you can resolve dehydration by replenishing fluids yourself, the Mayo Clinic says, but sometimes your dehydration is so severe that you need to see a doctor who will evaluate you. "Depending on the level of dehydration, it can take up to 36 hours," says Mahmud Kara, MD, the creator of KaraMD. "Mild dehydration typically requires a few hours of generous water consumption. For example, after a tough exercise during a hot day or a 24-hour stomach virus, you should continue to drink water as much as possible to rehydrate the body," he says, adding that low-sugar sports drinks can help rebalance the electrolytes in your body.
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