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Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

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When working onsite, it’s essential to keep your fluids up but there’s more to hydration than just drinking the usual eight glasses a day. Nutrition and health experts explain how to keep your hard-working team well-quenched.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

You’re working onsite on a muggy afternoon. It’s been a long day, and the sound of tools is accompanied by the hum of cicadas. Before long, you start to get the unmistakable itch in the back of your throat. You try to push aside the urge to stop and drink water. You start craving salty foods, you find yourself distracted, then the headache starts. This scenario is a common occurrence for many in the building industry. So, how can you make sure your team members are well hydrated?

Working up a thirst.

Put simply, feeling thirsty may be the first sign that you’re dehydrated. Joel Feren, dietician and nutrition consultant says: ‘When water levels are less than ideal, blood volume decreases. This decline places extra strain on the heart to maintain blood pressure and blood flow to the body’s organs. A fluid shortfall above two per cent can be dangerous. So, it doesn’t take much to be running a little low and experiencing negative consequences.’

Dr Amy Carmichael, Nutritional Lifestyle’s Medical Doctor, explains that apart from thirst, other signs of the onset of dehydration include dizziness, poor concentration, fatigue, headaches and dry mouth and lips. ‘Numerous case studies highlight the dangers of severe dehydration, including heat stroke and renal failure, particularly in physically demanding jobs.’

Joel explains the risks of dehydration. ‘Dizziness and lack of coordination can have serious risks on the worksite. Being dehydrated can impact our mental state, concentration, performance and decision-making, leading to slower reaction times.

Dehydration can even lead to a mood drop. These things are critical on the worksite. So, there’s even more reason to quench your thirst.’

Dr Amy Carmichael: Nutritional Lifestyle Medical Doctor.

Amy adds: ‘I’ve seen many patients come with complaints of dizziness and fainting due to dehydration and also nausea and vomiting. This is a severe sign when their sodium is very high and have not been having enough water to counterbalance it. Often these patients require IV hydration and replacement of electrolytes.

‘Always prioritise hydration, especially in physically demanding jobs and hot climates. Listen to your body’s cues and respond promptly to signs of dehydration.’

How much is enough?

The human body is made up of 50 to 75 per cent water. It forms the basis of our blood, our digestive juices, urine and perspiration. It also forms part of our lean muscles, fat and bones. Major organs such as the brain, heart and lungs are made up of more than 70 per cent water.

Water flushes toxins from our body and support gastrointestinal health.

Water lubricates our cushion joints, protects our spinal cord, transports nutrients in our body and maintains our body temperature. That’s a lot of work – luckily 71 per cent of the earth’s surface is made up of the magic H20. So, how do you make sure you have adequate aqua?

According to Joel Feren, there’s no one-size- fits-all to hydration. ‘While the eight glasses of water is a guide, our fluid requirements vary. For tradies working in the harsh Australian summer, the standard eight glasses of water won’t cut it.’

Dr Amy Carmichael agrees that the general recommendation may not be sufficient for everyone. ‘The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests around 3.7 litres daily for men and 2.7 litres for women. Those working in hot climates or engaging in physical labour may need more to compensate for fluid loss through sweat,’ she says,

She also adds that you should avoid excessive consumption of diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol, along with sugary carbonated drinks.

Joel Feren: Nutrition Guy

Joel reiterates that gender, age, ambient temperature and the level of activity all play a role. ‘It’s important to note that all fluids count, such as water, milk, tea and juice.

‘Water should always be the gold standard, and sugary drinks should be limited but there’s often a net gain in fluid when you drink tea and coffee. So, you gain more than you lose. A good way to check your hydration status is to assess the colour of your urine. If it’s yellow, you need to hydrate, but if it’s clear, you’re in the clear,’ he says.

So, what’s the best practice for staying hydrated? According to Amy, drink water regularly throughout the day, not just when thirsty. ‘Try a self-check-in approach. Set a timer every three hours to prompt you to drink or at least check in if you’re feeling thirsty.’

Joel adds that sipping fluids regularly over the day is best practice. ‘Ensure you keep your water bottle nearby and stop for regular fluid breaks. And be sure to top up at mealtimes and with snacks too.’

Hydration is not just about fluids – foods you consume also have an impact. ‘Salty foods can make us crave more fluid to balance out our blood pressure,’ says Joel. ‘While a little bit of salt in the diet may be important to offset any losses through sweat, it’s a fine balance. So, go easy on salty foods and just add a pinch of salt if you’re a habitual salt user.’

Electrolytes, like sodium, potassium and magnesium, are crucial for bodily functions.

The hype with electrolytes

In simple terms, electrolytes help our bodies regulate chemical reactions, maintaining fluids inside and outside our cells.

Electrolytes, like sodium, potassium and magnesium, are crucial for bodily functions. They help regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, and balance blood acidity and pressure.

‘An imbalance can lead to symptoms such as cramps, fatigue and irregular heartbeat,’ says Joel.

Amy agrees: ‘Eating well and maintaining proper hydration can ensure we maintain electrolyte balance.’

Health and safety

According to Zoran Durdev, HIA’s National Safety Manager, ‘Good hydration should go hand in hand with good nutrition. Generally, the holy trinity – good hydration, good nutrition and good sleep hygiene are key contributors to prevention of inattentiveness at work. As we know, inattention is the leading cause of all workplace incidents.
To find out how to help keep your team safe, go to HIA managing your safety.

First published on 15 March 2024

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