We have all heard the rule over and over again: your body needs to have eight glasses of water at least every day in order to stay hydrated and healthy. While there isn’t any study to suggest this rule is anything more than myth, we do know that altitude has effects on our hydration and, the higher we climb, the larger the effects.
So, do you need eight glasses of water a day? Truthfully, our bodies are all different and have different maintenance needs as well. However, in a high altitude area like Colorado Springs, Colorado, sufficient hydration is absolutely required. High altitude is defined as 5,000 and 11,500 feet, very high altitude as between 11,500 and 18,000 feet. So, almost anywhere you travel in Colorado you will need to carry a water bottle!
Although it may seem that it is straight-forward to drink plenty of water, you may be surprised at the amount of information there is to know just to learn to stay hydrated.
High Altitudes Exacerbate Water Loss
So how does all of this translate in Colorado Springs’ high altitude? At 6,000 feet above sea level, you will breathe faster and more deeply. This is because the higher the altitude the lower the air pressure, so you take more breaths for the same amount of oxygen. We don’t have less oxygen at altitude, we have lower air pressures which means the molecules are further apart. This lower pressure also affects the absorption of oxygen from air breathed into our lungs across membranes to our blood.
The oxygen doesn’t cross this membrane as easily as it does at sea level when air pressure is higher. Our bodies compensate with increased rate of breathing and deeper breaths (which we call tidal volumes) at altitude, but the trade off is increased water losses because each breath we take results in body water loss.
The humidity is lower at altitude, so sweat evaporates more rapidly and it can be difficult to recognize how much we have been sweating. Colorado is considered one of the most “outdoorsy“ states in the nation. Locals and visitors spend a lot of time outdoors in any number of fun activities. When you exercise at altitude you may sweat more and it will dry faster, so plan ahead how much you should drink and don’t wait until you are thirsty! Interestingly, altitude can also blunt our detection of thirst and by the time you feel thirsty you may be up to a liter behind on the hydration your body needs.
if you aren’t staying on top of your water intake, dehydration may creep up, and leave you feeling light-headed and nauseated – signs of altitude sickness. However, dehydration can also cause shortness of breath, headaches and fatigue. If you start to feel these symptoms, rest and start sipping water slowly. Gulping may cause more vomiting and ultimately slow your ability to hydrate. The symptoms of dehydration are similar to acute mountain sickness as well. If you are worsening or could have acute mountain sickness you should attempt to get to a lower elevation.
How much water is sufficient?
Fortunately the The Institute of Altitude Medicine has recommendations for staying hydrated at altitude. They suggest drinking 1 to 1.5 liters of water daily when at altitude (over 5000 feet). At altitudes above 10,000 feet, you may also need to increase your intake of carbohydrates, with the recommendation to drink a total of 3 to 4 liters daily of liquids containing 200 to 300 grams of carbohydrate. It is possible to drink too much water, so a good rule of thumb is to hydrate until your urine is a light yellow color. If your urine is dark you are dehydrated and need to drink more.
Given that you will probably want to capitalize on the numerous outdoor activities that are offered in Colorado Springs, proper hydration will help to increase your level of energy.
How about alcohol and caffeine to stay hydrated?
Alcoholic and caffeinated drinks work mostly in reverse of plain water and can actually dehydrate the body. However, in Colorado Springs there are some excellent coffee shops and many pubs that have great tasting microbrews on tap. It is fine to have alcohol and caffeine in moderation. But, to stay properly hydrated, you should drink eight ounces or more of water for every alcoholic or caffeinated beverage that you drink every day.
It can be tempting to enjoy coffee while you admire the beautiful view of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs but avoid making coffee or some other kind of caffeine be the first thing in the morning that you drink. When you start your day by drinking a big glass of water, it will refresh whatever you have lost the night before as well as jump-start your early-morning hydration and help you to stay hydrated. You should also consider avoiding both caffeine and alcohol during your first day when you are adjusting to the altitude if you are visiting our great city.
How can I make staying hydrated easy?
If you are having a hard time fitting in drinking all of the water as part of your daily routine, then try making water an accessory. Try carrying around a stainless steel water bottle with you all of the time, and then sip from it during the day. Have a water bottle inside of your backpack whenever you are walking, hiking or cruising around Colorado Springs. Also, keep one on your work desk and then another one close to when you are at home.
Keep in mind that glass or stainless steel bottles are much safer methods of storage compared to plastic, as many plastics can outgass harmful substances to the water as your bottle is used over time. (Water bottles made out of plastic will have a 2 or 1 symbol on the bottom of the bottle are fine to drink from one time, however, you should recycle them instead of trying to reuse them.)
New To Colorado Springs? Stay Hydrated!
If you’re new to the area or just visiting, the best thing to do is spend one day getting accustomed to the altitude. Throughout the day drink extra water and pay close attention to your body. Make sure to rest if you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy and drink more water and rest.
It is a necessity to keep yourself hydrated at our high altitude for your overall health. When you are visiting Colorado Springs, then it is even more necessary to be aware of your body’s hydration levels. So slow things down and keep your water bottle close by. Your body will thank you!
If you are experiencing symptoms of dehydration or altitude sickness and you can safely come to ER Specialists, we would love to help you. If you are alone or have any doubt about getting to our facility safely, or, believe you are experiencing a medical emergency please call 911.