Seeing as 60-70% of our body is made up of water, there is a lot we must do in order to keep ourselves hydrated. It has been commonly stated that we need to drink (8) eight ounce glasses of water each day if we are to stay hydrated. This has been debated over and over again making it hard to know how much water we really should drink. Some say that there is enough water in our food to keep us hydrated while others say that we actually need more than 8 glasses a day. Which one is it?! Our suggestion; watch your urine. If your urine is dark, drink more water, if your urine is clear, slow down your intake.
What does this have to do with soda and alcohol dehydrating me? Great question! If we are in a constant battle every-day to keep ourselves hydrated then we really need to pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies. We don’t want to be dehydrating ourselves with fluids that we think are hydrating us. With that in mind, let’s talk about the different substances that will either hydrate or dehydrate us and how we can manage those.
Soda, does it really dehydrate you?
The answer to this question is no, but this is not to say that it is healthy. In order to fully answer this question we need to take a look at the ingredients inside of the sodas and how they affect your body.
Soda contains various ingredients but most important are the sweeteners, flavoring and carbon dioxide gas. These added artificial sweeteners and flavoring syrups are full of sugars and other toxins. Those sugars and toxins increase the toxic burden on your body. This increase of toxic burden can cause stress to your kidneys which is constantly trying to rid the body of excess acid. This added stress plays a small role in your body's use of water to help dispel the excess acid.
The largest amount of ingredient found in soda is actually water. Yes you read that last sentence right, soda is made up of water and lots of it. Believe it or not, most sodas contain levels of water up to almost 95%. That is a lot of water, but does the other 5% of additives affect you enough to counteract the hydrating power of 95% water? The simple answer is no.
Soda that does not contain caffeine does not dehydrate you, in fact it does a pretty good job at keeping you hydrated. This is not to say that the levels of sugar and carbon dioxide are healthy and good for you. They in fact do slow you down and are not a good replacement for water during any fitness activity. The bottom line is, drinking non caffeinated soda will not dehydrate you.
Wait… so do caffeinated sodas dehydrate you?
The answer to this is slightly more complicated; yes it will dehydrate you, but within degrees. The important factor to look at here is the caffeine found in most sodas and how it affects the body. This makes a significant difference for the impact of dehydration.
The caffeine that can be found in sodas, coffee and tea are a diuretic. When your body needs to conserve on water, your kidneys will send a signal to your brain and tell it to release antidiuretic hormones. These hormones are what help you retain water. With caffeine acting as a diuretic, it is doing the opposite, it causes your body to release water rather than retain it.
How does caffeine cause you to release water? Well caffeine is a stimulant right, and stimulants increase your heart rate. As your heart rate increases your body begins sending more blood to your kidneys which then causes larger amounts of urine leaving the body. This can slowly dehydrate you if not careful.
Sometimes people may be drinking plenty of water but can become dehydrated because their body is not properly balancing it. It takes a certain balance of minerals, electrolytes and essential fatty acids in order to keep water hydrating your bloodstream, cells and tissues. In order for you to remain healthy, water must be able to get inside and surround the outside of your cells. This proper balance plays a big role in your health.
Caffeine acts as a diuretic and then causes the water to pass through the body too quickly. As a result the water is not able to get into and surround the outside of the cells properly. This can result in dehydration, nausea, mood swings and headaches. Simply put, caffeinated drinks have the potential to cause dehydration if not properly managed.
What about alcohol?
Alcohol is the king of all dehydrating liquids. The chemical makeup of alcohol screams dehydration. You may have experienced or know someone who has experienced a hangover; that is not a fun feeling. You wake up after a long night of one too many shots at the bar and you are feeling nauseous, have an intense headache, diarrhea, achy muscles and you avoid lights like a vampire. What causes this to happen? Dehydration!
Alcohol is also another liquid that makes you urinate more frequently, it is a diuretic. The difference between alcohol and caffeine is that alcohol suppresses the release of the antidiuretic hormone. Not only does alcohol suppress your ability to function or grasp reality, it is suppressing the release of the hormone that helps you retain water. This again leads to dehydration but at an even faster rate than caffeine.
Brain tissues require a lot of water, in fact they are mostly made up of water. This means that as you drink alcohol, you begin to lose water more frequently and then your brain tissue shrinks from the lack of water. This causes intense pressure inside your head which causes a headache. Now does that blinding light, nauseous feeling and horrible headache make more sense when you are hungover? You are dehydrated!
There are multiple ways to counteract this dehydrating effect from alcohol. The best way is to not drink alcohol; but obviously that just won’t work for some. The next best thing would be to match your alcohol intake 1 to 1 with water. In between each shot take a shot of water. This won’t change or dilute how drunk you will get but it will allow your body to get the water needed and limit the effects of a hangover.
So to tackle the question of if soda and alcohol dehydrate you; no, kind of and yes. Any sort of soda without caffeine will not have any effect on dehydrating you. Caffeinated beverages do have the potential of dehydrating you and they certainly aren’t helping you stay hydrated; but they are not as bad as alcohol. Alcohol is a sure dehydrator. If you plan on hitting the bar or spending a night drinking with friends, be sure to match your intake with water.