We’ve all heard that you can test your hydration levels by checking your urine color. A bright or dark yellow means grab some water, ASAP. But is judging urine color for hydration levels really accurate, or just a myth?
Turns out there is some truth to that old wives' tale. “If you’re well-hydrated [with water], the excess literally flushes out of the kidneys and makes the urine more clear, like water. If you’re dehydrated, the kidneys will concentrate the urine, trying to hold onto the water, making it darker,” says Lamia Gabal, MD, a urologist based in Southern California.
However, pee color is not a perfect oracle for understanding hydration levels, especially since a lot of other things can impact urine color. For example, too much vitamin B intake in the diet can make your pee dark yellow, says sports nutritionist Marie Spano, RD, CSCS, regardless of how well-hydrated you are. “Excessive intake of beets, as well as blood in the urine, may turn the urine red, and intake of certain supplements also makes the urine darker,” adds Dr. Gabal. Medications, like Rifampin and Pyridium, turn pee orange, for example. “And certain bacteria can also make the urine funky colors, like purple or green,” she says.
While understanding your hydration levels seems like a summertime issue, it's important to keep in mind year-round. Not only is maintaining proper fluid levels essential to healthy functioning, it's harder for a person to notice they're dehydrated in cold, dry winter weather. You might not naturally feel as thirsty as you would during those warmer months when you’re feeling hot and sweaty. That means you’ll need to be extra vigilant during the colder months to drink water throughout the day even when you’re not feeling that thirst—because dehydration will sneak up on you fast without you realizing it.
While you can definitely check before flushing and use it as a handy tool, here are a few other bodily symptoms and indicators to look for when you’re not quite sure how hydrated you are, as you can’t just rely on urine color alone.
Other tell-tale signs of dehydration (besides urine color)
In addition to the color of your urine, there are other signs of dehydration. The most obvious is dry eyes and skin. “Skin turgor, or elasticity, is a marker for hydration status,” Dr. Gabal says. If you lightly pinch a piece of skin on your lower arm and it doesn't quickly spring back into place when released, that's a sign that you've experienced fluid loss (and could use some more water).
“Low blood pressure, especially if dizzy when going from a seated to standing position, is a good marker for dehydration,” adds Dr. Gabal. If you are feeling lightheaded, grab some water and see if you regain balance. (However, dizziness persists and doesn't improve from food and drink, see a doctor immediately, since that can be a sign of something more serious.)
Lastly, you should also consider how much and how often you’re peeing, rather than just the color. “The amount of urine that a person is producing will be higher if well hydrated, and lower if dehydrated, as the body is trying to hold on to the water for proper cell function,” Dr. Gabal explains.
“I ask how often a person urinates. We should have to urinate every two to three hours. So, if it has been several hours [without peeing], you are dehydrated,” adds Spano.
A rule of thumb: Keep a reusable water bottle on hand (we like the Porter Wide Mouth Bottle, $31) to drink water (not seltzer) throughout the day, and don’t go too long without needing to pee. If it’s been a few hours you’re probably dehydrated! Consider this your cue to drink up.
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