Signs of dehydration: How to check hydration levels

Jul 22, 2022 BY AWE365 Team

With the recent heatwave in the UK we thought it apt to look at the signs of dehydration. Anyone who does action sports and outdoor activities can become dehydrated which is very dangerous. To hopefully avoid this we’ve discussed how to check hydration levels to ensure you stay in top shape.

water purification in the forest

Why hydrate?

When it comes to health and performance, optimum hydration is critical for athletes and adventurers to stay in the game. Whether you are trekking in Tanzania or kitesurfing in the Caribbean not taking on enough fluid will result in dehydration. Which can make you feel ill and impact performance.

If you lose just 2% of body weight through sweat that is not replaced you output and endurance is reduced. Furthermore, strength and power losses of up to 5% to 6% might occur in cases of severe dehydration.

To keep their performance levels high, athletes regularly check hydration levels or take a dehydration test. While laboratory-based testing with blood or urine samples is most accurate, it isn’t always practical if you are on a beach in central America, or cycling across a mountain range.

As a result, despite limits in accuracy or dependability, many athletes and adventurers adopt simpler testing procedures. Subjective pee color charts, weigh-ins, perspiration rate, and relative thirst levels are the main methods used.

Signs of dehydration: How to check hydration levels Pixabay royalty free image of running

Signs of dehydration

These are the main signs that you are dehydrated:


You may feel more weary than normal if you are dehydrated. This is because dehydration affects many aspects of health, including your sleep-wake cycles.

Research has found that poor hydration is related to lower sleep duration. And that people who are well hydrated sleep longer than those who are not.

Dehydration might also make you feel more tired during intense exercise. Research on 14 male athletes discovered that acute dehydration of 3.2% body mass enhanced perceived tiredness and negatively influenced endurance.

Signs of dehydration: How to check hydration levels Flickr CC image by 2017 Canada Games - Jeux du Canada 2017

Dark urine or not urinating

Checking the color of your pee is an easy technique to detect if you’re dehydrated. Normal urine should have a pale yellow tint, similar to straw or lemonade. If your urine has a deeper hue, comparable to apple juice, it may indicate moderate to severe dehydration.

What about not urinating at all? You’re probably severely dehydrated already!

Decreased skin elasticity and cracked lips

Dry skin and lips and reduced skin suppleness are some of the most typical indicators of dehydration. Dehydration may contribute to symptoms such as dry mouth, cracked lips and reduced skin elasticity.

Remember that dry skin and cracked lips can be symptoms of various health issues. So it’s critical to receive the appropriate diagnosis, especially if you’re suffering from dry skin or cracked lips while drinking plenty of water.

Chapped lips are one of the Signs of dehydration Wikimeida CC image by Anuj.Lamichhane

Healthcare practitioners frequently use the skin turgor test to check hydration levels. The test includes gripping the skin of the lower arm or abdomen between two fingers for a few seconds and then releasing it.

Hydrated skin returns to its original position, but dry skin remains “tented” and takes significantly longer to recover. Reduced skin turgor is often indicative of moderate to severe dehydration.

Headache, dizziness or light-headedness

Your brain is 80% water. That is why drinking water and eating water-rich meals can improve brain function. On the other hand, insufficient fluid intake can have negative impact and can be one of the signs of dehydration.

So if you feel like you may pass out at any minute or are unsure where you are, how you got there, or what you’re doing, you may be very dehydrated. The key is noticing these effects before they get so serious that you are incapable of recognising them.

people drinking water How to check hydration levels pxhere royalty free image

With this in mind one of the earlier signs of dehydration is a headache or fuzziness. If you’ve ever had a hangover the headache or fuzziness is often brought on by a dehydrated brain. Of course these symptoms can indicate something else, but drink water at the first sign of a headache or fuzziness and often it subsides showing you were probably mildly dehydrated.

How to check hydration levels

If you wish to stay hydrated then you need to know how to check your hydration level. Have a read of the methods below that will help you to monitor your fluid levels:

Weigh-in (pre- and post-exercise)

Weighing in before and after exercise is an excellent indicator of sweat loss and hydration status, and can be done every day throughout the week. When combined with fluid intake and urine loss you can calculate the sweat rate and replenish lost fluids and adjust your hydration plans for next time. Click here for more information on how to rehydrate as an athlete.

However, because of variations in clothing and time of day, the weigh-ins can be very varied and aren’t always the most consistent and dependable. The sweat rate can also vary greatly depending on conditions and exertion levels. Furthermore, collecting and weighing urine and body fluids is both messy and time-consuming.

Signs of dehydration excessive weight loss through sweat pxhere royalty free image

Saliva testing

Saliva osmolality appears to correlate well with hydration state and may be delivered on a near daily basis without invasive procedures. Simple saliva testing can occasionally be used as a proxy for subjective thirst levels.

Saliva testing necessitates the collection of saliva for analysis, necessitating the need for safety/protective health equipment for handling and disposal. Furthermore, the timing of the saliva testing and any hydration intake, such as a 10-second water mouth rinse, can skew findings and provide a deceptive measure of hydration.

Thirst assessment

Measured on a one to nine scale where a nine is very very thirsty and this is used as a proxy for how hydrated you are. But given the delay in onset of thirst and the subjective nature of thirst levels, this is often regarded as a “too little, too late” method for monitoring hydration.

Urine colour

This is a simple way to check hydration levels that anyone can apply every time they urinate. Some athletes use urine color charts to help them visually examine the color of their pee. Darker pee suggests  dehydration, whereas lighter urine may indicate more healthy hydration.

man drinking water How to check hydration levels pxhere royalty free image

Urine color assessment is very subjective and can be impacted by the person’s bias, toilet illumination, and the quality of the appropriate colors on urine charts. There can also be confusion regarding the influence of the athlete’s colour perception and the degree of hydration that indicates.

Blood/plasma osmolality

Used in medical and scientific contexts, blood and plasma osmolality are regarded as the closest thing to a “Gold Standard” in hydration measurement. Because osmolality testing relies on evaluating the concentration of a solution such as plasma or urine, they are regarded as a close proxy for hydration state.

However, collecting blood and performing a blood test is highly intrusive, sometimes unpleasant, and certainly not something most of us want to do regularly. This strategy is mainly used in a professional sports capacity and even then it is the least frequently method used.

Dehydrated conclusions

Dehydration is a frequent problem. It can be very dangerous particularly if you are alone in the wilderness with no-one to help you. When doing types of extreme sport that requires concentration dehydration makes it more likely you’ll have an accident. Furthermore, reduced strength and performance makes injury more likely.

athlete body bodybuilder exercise fitness pxhere royalty free image

Dehydration is not just caused by strenuous activity and/or a lack of fluid consumption but by many other factors. Hot weather, consumption of diuretic drinks (soda, anything with caffeine, alcohol), eating very salty and sugary food, illness and medication use can all cause dehydration.

Dehydration symptoms include dark urine, reduced urination, headaches, weariness, decreased skin turgor, and impaired focus. The answer is drinking water or other fluids throughout the day and especially if doing anything strenuous. If you suspect that you or a loved one is severely dehydrated seek immediate medical attention.

We hope that these signs of dehydration help you to avoid the dangers of not taking on enough water.  And the tips on how to check hydration levels are useful for you. Check out this bladder hydration backpack by Camelbak to help ensure you stay hydrated.


eBiking, Multi Activity
Dehydration, Hydration, water

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