What's the one thing you can do to improve your work performance?
Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash
It’s 3pm on a workday and your energy is flagging. Work is really dragging and you are starting to crave chocolate, coffee, cake or all three. You’ve promised yourself that today you won’t give into the cravings. You started your day well with, perhaps fruit and nuts for breakfast and then a healthy salad for lunch. But the workload today is intense and that deadline is fast approaching. You’ve been given two days to complete that project when really you need two weeks. The pressure is mounting. You are starting to feel the strain across your forehead. The call of the caffeine and sugar kick gets louder and louder. You know it’s a temporary fix but you need it now to keep you going, to just get you over this difficult patch and then you will be fine.
Whoa, wait a minute. You are forgetting something. Maybe it’s not caffeine, chocolate or sugar that you need; maybe it’s something else. What was it that you read the other day in someone’s online blog? It’s there, it’s right on the tip of your tongue but what is it? What is it? Your mind is going into overdrive as you search your memory banks for that one nugget of information that will help you feel better right now and stop you from falling into that unhealthy binge cycle…again! You can actually hear cogs in your brain going around, like a cranky repetitive click sound. Suddenly, it comes to you and you realise the simplicity of it all…….WATER!! Of course, why didn’t you think of that before? So simple, yet so effective. Well that’s what you read. But why? Why would water make you feel better?
Well, let’s dig a little deeper…….
The Elixir of Life
Without water we will die! SIMPLE. Its importance to sustaining life is reflected in the amount found in the human body: approximately 60%[i] - though it can range from 55% to 75% depending upon your body size[ii] and fat tissue content. The more muscular your body, the less will be the water content. Within the body, water performs multiple functions. It is critical to all metabolic processes; carries nutrients and wastes around the body; acts as a solvent for the dissolution of molecules; lubricates joints, the spine and the brain; and regulates temperature through sweating. Because the metabolic processes are central to energy generation, water is an integral part of energy production. So that afternoon energy slump is often an indication of dehydration and the need for water to enable the energy generation process to continue optimally. Hunger and thirst signals sometimes get confused. If you feel hungry, always think of drinking water first. You may have misread the signal.
Aside from feelings of hunger or fatigue, cognitive function can be significantly impaired.[iii] This is when your ability to focus and concentrate starts to wain. You may also experience other symptoms, such as increased urination and sweating; constipation dry skin; joint pain; dry mouth and eyes; and fluid retention. The more dehydrated you are, the more symptoms you will experience. Being dehydrated by as little as 2-3% will impair exercise performance; whilst a 6-7% reduction can lead to a life-threatening situation.[iv] So, you can see that just a small percentage reduction in body water content can lead to significant health consequences.
The amount of water required per day varies from individual to individual and will depend upon various factors, including the type of environment, how much energy is exerted during the day and whether you are male or female. In general the amount required per day by the average sedentary adult is: [v]
Males - 2.9 L per day
Females – 2.2 L per day
These amounts would generally come from solid foods, which contribute approximately 1 L, with the remainder coming from decaffeinated and non-alcoholic drinks.[vi] Caffeinated drinks are not as effective as they can exert a minor diuretic effect (although less so than was previously thought).[vii] However, if you are exposed to a hot environment or physical exercise, then you will require more fluids because you will have increased water loss through sweating. Runners, for example, can lose in their sweat between 1.0-2.5 L/hr of fluid (or more in hot environments). Be aware also, that water is lost daily through the production of urine, faeces and the breath, so regular replenishment is necessary.
Quick Guide to Dehydration
A quick and easy way to tell if you are dehydrated is to check the colour of your urine - the darker your urine colour, the greater your dehydration. Here’s an easy chart to determine your hydration status:
When you think of water quality, most of us think of natural bottled spring water being superior to regular tap water. But you may wish to re-think that in the light of the research carried out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)[viii] in the US. It analysed the company websites and product labels of over 170 varieties of bottled water to see if the companies disclosed information on where their water came from, how the water was treated and whether the results of tests to ensure the purity of the water was revealed. The researchers also called the bottled water companies to see if they would willingly give information to consumers. More than half of the bottled water products failed the transparency test. Almost 20% didn’t say where their water comes from, whilst 21% did not disclose any information on treatment or purity of water. It’s estimated that 25% or more comes from a municipal water supply, so you could in fact just be drinking bottled tap water.
Only three brands earned a good transparency rating from the EWG:
As these brands are US brands, they are not generally available in the UK. In the absence of any similar UK research, a good guide for choosing bottled water would be from the list compiled by industry professionals who have worked in the water industry for decades.
The brands chosen were based on input gathered from those familiar with the highest quality bottled water, as well as distribution experts who have been involved in brand development. Both quantitative and qualitative statistics were used, such as online review, taste testing and social medial input.
As another caveat to the bottled vs tap water debate, evidence suggests that plastic bottles are not such a healthy option because they contain PCBs (polychlorinated diphenyls), phthalates and xenoestrogens, which often leak into the water. These are common environmental toxins that are harmful to your body and can disrupt hormone function and mitochondrial function (your cellular energy batteries). Hence, plastic bottles may not be as safe as we are led to believe. Using glass bottles may be a healthier option as glass does not contain these contaminants and is far more stable.
So, if you choose to drink bottled water, the three bottles that I would recommend for UK consumption from the industry ranked list are:
Now, you remember why you should drink water. Time to get up off your chair, go to the kitchen and drink a big glass of water. And, if you’ve got time, a quick 5 minutes walk around the block to clear you head. Then back to your desk with renewed focus and concentration.
Enjoy your day with renewed vigour.
All the best.
[i] Benelam B & Wyness L (2010) Hydration and Health: a review. British Nutrition Foundation Bulletin. 35: 3-25.
[ii] Utz J, M.D. What percentage of the human body is composed of water? The MadSci Network.
[iii] Von Duvillard S P et al. Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Nutrition 2004; 20 (7-8): 651-6.
[iv] Maughan R J & Shirreffs S M (1997). Factors influencing the restoration of fluid and electrolyte balance after exercise in the heat. Br J Sports Med, 31: 175-182.
[v] Kleiner S M (1999) Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient. J Am Dietetic Assoc, 99(2): 200-206.
[vi] Kleiner S M (1999) Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient. J Am Dietetic Assoc, 99(2): 200-206.
[vii] Zhang Y et al (2014). Cafeeine and diuresis during rest and exercise: A meta-analysis. J Sci Med Sport, S1440-2440(14): 00143-1.