Stay Hydrated With High Water Content Foods

17 09 2011

By Chrissy Wellington M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., C.P.T

Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water. Water regulates body temperatures, eliminates toxins, carries nutrients and oxygen to the cells, and provides a moist environment for body tissues and joints.
An appropriate water and electrolyte balance are critical for the function of all body systems. Water provides the medium for biochemical reactions within cell tissues and is essential for maintaining an adequate blood volume and the integrity of the cardiovascular system.

According to the Institute of Medicine, 20 percent of your water intake comes from food sources. Many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, broccoli and tomatoes, contain 90 percent or higher water content by weight.

It is important for athletes to be well-nourished and well-hydrated before going to a workout or competition. During exercise, body temperature rises and the body sweats. Your body loses water and electrolytes. Dehydration can cause blood volume to drop, which lowers the body’s ability to transfer heat and forces the heart to beat faster, making it difficult for the body to meet aerobic demands.

During exercise, especially in the heat, individuals can sweat as much as 2.5 liters of water per hour. It is very important to avoid dehydration. Always try to match fluid consumption with sweat loss. This can be extremely challenging especially if using thirst as your guide. Thirst, unfortunately, is usually perceived too late. Individuals may not feel thirsty until they have lost approximately 3 pounds of body/water weight.

Virtually all food has some water in it. Natural, whole foods have the highest water content. Fruit and vegetables contain 80 to 98 percent water. Eating dense vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, jicama, beets, carrots or celery with a meal or snack is one of the easiest ways to improve your hydration.


Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that play a role in muscle contraction and various other physiological processes. The right balance of electrolytes in the body is vital to maintaining proper body function. Electrolyte imbalances occur when the amount of water in your body fluctuates.

Hydrating Foods

Drink eight to 10 glasses of clear fluids daily and eat one to two juicy fruits and veggies per meal to stay hydrated.  The list below contains the most hydrating foods. Water-rich fruit and vegetables act like an “all in one” meal and beverage, providing essential minerals, natural sugars, amino acids and vitamins that are all lost in exercise.

Watermelon contains 92 percent water, 8 percent natural sugar, and essential electrolytes such as, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Watermelon is rich in Vitamin C, beta carotene and lycopene which will give the body protection from UV light.

Grapefruit contains only 30 calories and is comprised of 90 percent water. Phytonutrients called limonoids, found in grapefruits, can be detoxifying and may inhibit tumor formation of cancers.

Coconut water is comprised of 95 percent water. It is one of the most popular ways to hydrate the moderate intensity athlete. Coconut water differs from coconut milk because it is found in young coconuts only. It may be a poor choice for high intensity or endurance athletes because of its relatively low carbohydrate and low sodium content.

Avocado is comprised of not only healthy monounsaturated fats but also 81 percent water by weight! Results from a 2010 NHANES study show that the absorption of two key carotenoids, lycopene and beta-carotene, where increased by 200 to 400 percent when fresh avocado was added to meals. This is important to athletes in an effort to decrease recovery time.

Cucumbers have a 96 percent water content and a good balance of electrolytes such as, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.  The mineral, silica, also found in cucumber is essential for healthy, lubricated connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone.

Yogurt contains live bacterial cultures that may improve the immune system. Research has shown that increased yogurt consumption, may enhance the immune response. With yogurt’s balance of milk sugar and protein yogurt can viewed as the “perfect recovery food for athletes.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also published a study that showed those who ate a high calcium diet after one year had fat oxidation 20 times greater compared to those in the low calcium diet control group. This is just another bonus for athletes looking for an edge.

Hydrating Potassium Foods

Potassium is the predominant positively charged electrolyte in body cells.  The flow of potassium and sodium in and out of cells maintains the normal functioning of the heart, brain, kidney and skeletal muscles.  Potassium is important for muscle contraction and the rhythm of the heart. The majority of potassium in the body is stored within the cells, so small changes in the concentration of potassium in the bloodstream can have serious health consequences. The most hydrating potassium rich foods are:

Cantaloupe which provides 29 calories and is made up of 89 percent water. Cantaloupe is an exceptionally good fruit for supporting energy production through its efficient carbohydrate metabolism and ability to keep the blood sugar stable.

Strawberries contain 23 calories and are made up of approximately 92 percent water. Strawberries rank as the fourth strongest antioxidant rich fruit.  The polyphenols found in strawberries aid in regulating the blood sugar response in active individuals.

Hydrating Sodium Foods

Sodium is a required element for normal body functions. It is lost in sweat and urine and is replaced by diet. The body has a remarkable ability to maintain sodium and water balance throughout a variety of conditions. During exercise, especially in hot weather, more salt is lost in sweat per hour than can be replaced by food or even sport drinks. The body can tolerate a slight degree of imbalance, but only for a short period of time. Hydrating through sodium-rich foods such as celery can be a powerful addition to diet.

Celery is considered to be a powerful electrolyte food. As little as two to three mineral-rich stalks of celery can replenish an athlete’s sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc levels after intense exercise.

Soups: Whole fruits and veggies are the most hydrating way to “eat your fluid”, but if you’re looking for substance that you can chew on, choose a soup that may contribute to your daily fluid needs! Look for low-sodium brands of stock, or even better, make your own. Flavor your soup with plenty of herbs, and spices and sea salt to taste. Fill your soup with many vegetables for a bowl full of hydration.

Hydrating Magnesium Foods

Magnesium is an essential mineral which acts as a cofactor for over 300 enzyme systems, including those that control the metabolism of glucose.  Magnesium has a strong independent role in controlling blood pressure and is thought to be an important factor in preventing heart attacks. The most hydrating magnesium rich food is broccoli.

Broccoli is part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It contains 90 percent water and many health supporting compounds which are anti-inflammatory, others protect DNA with their antioxidant capacity, anti-cancer nutrients are found in broccoli and those that help to detoxify the vast number of potential toxins that we encounter each day.

Performance Fluids

Aerobic exercise may be enhanced when a person is hydrated, especially with cold beverages. A 2008 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise stated that, “cyclists who drank cold beverages before and during their workout exercised nearly 12 minutes longer than those who drank warm beverages.” Also a recent study published this year stated that, “runners who had an ice slushy ran about 10 minutes longer than when they had a cold drink.” In both cases, the drink that was colder lowered body temperature and perceived effort, allowing participants to exercise longer. To mimic this at home blend up some brightly colored frozen berries, all natural juice, and a splash of honey, then pour over some shaved ice.

Sport Drinks

Choose a drink that is contains approximately 6 percent carbohydrates, 30 mg of potassium and 100mg of sodium. Make your own flavored, zero-calorie water by filling a water infuser with basil, mint, lavender, citrus, strawberries, or cucumber. Drop into a pitcher of water. Chill 30 minutes to allow the flavors to disperse.

Chrissy Wellington is co-author of Navigating the Supermarket: A Nutritious Guide to Shopping Well. To pick up a copy of her book, please visit




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