When it comes to low-carb diets and dehydration we will need to get into the nitty gritty about how the kidneys, insulin, and our intake of carbohydrates all work together to either make us feel amazing or on the flip side make us feel parched and thirsty all the time. - But don’t worry once you’re aware of the changes in your diet this is something that can be short lived or easily avoided.
So let's talk about ketosis and dehydration.
The keto diet & dehydration: The basics
Now there are various reasons as to why dehydration can occur on the keto diet, but we don’t need to go into elaborate details to properly understand how this occurs.
All you need to know is that when you consume carbohydrates, you typically end up spiking your insulin levels.
Now, you may be wondering, what is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is responsible for handling sugar (or glucose) and sodium in your body.
What exactly does insulin do?
In a way insulin communicates with your kidneys; on the keto diet your insulin levels are saying, ‘hey, I want to hold onto this sodium!’ - This is often related to electrolyte balancing and the additional water that is required for internal leverage with that glycogen. We would love to discuss electrolytes in this blog but keto and electrolytes is another blog for another day!
When you’re on a low carb or ketogenic diet, our insulin levels drop and our glycogen stores slowly start to reduce. Then, the kidneys struggle to send the signal for insulin to hold onto sodium and water.
This is when your kidneys start allowing the body to excrete sodium and water.
This is a natural process and the first stage of the dehydration phase, it's one of the reasons why when you first start a ketogenic diet you feel so much better!
You’ll notice you’re losing some of that edema: the inflammation that's associated with higher sodium consumption.
This is very common as we all tend to consume a lot of sodium from processed foods. When we get rid of the body’s ability to hold onto all that sodium, we feel a lot better, look a lot better and we might even notice a lower number on the scales!
Why am I feeling dehydrated?
This process starts to become a problem when the kidneys completely stop telling the body to hold onto sodium and water. The body then keeps secreting all this sodium and water - You might be thinking...Why do I need to pee so much?!
However, you’re not just losing water, you're losing sodium too.
Here, it’s easy to enter a vicious cycle:
Figure 1: A cycle of dehydration that is easy to enter when on the keto diet
- You're dehydrated because of the lack of water in your system
- You’re also losing sodium - so any little chance that your body could have to hold onto water is fading away.
- If you're not countering this loss of sodium by consuming more sodium, then you run into another problem: there are some ketogenic foods that people eat, including bacon and cheese, which can have very low-quality sodium in them. This means a lot of iodized salt, table salt, and some foods that lack a variety of minerals that typically help keep a nice balance of minerals.
- Now, if you don’t do anything about it your body will have worryingly low levels of water, sodium and good minerals.
Dehydration also impacts our hormones, here’s how:
The hormones that usually increase appetite are all suppressed. In turn, when your appetite for food decreases, your appetite for water also decreases.
This means that even though you need to be drinking more water, your body won’t tell you that you need to drink more!
How to prevent dehydration
- Add some high quality sodium to your diet!
This includes things like:
- Himalayan pink salt (1 tsp of himalayan salt is equivalent to about 2g of sodium)
- Truffle salt
- Brazilian sea salt
In other words, anything that has a range of minerals, aka. not iodized table salt.
About 3-5g of sodium per day can help decrease the risk of dehydration and constipation. Keep hydrated and keep your mineral balance where it needs to be.
2. Consume sodium in the morning!
If you consume some sodium in the morning it will allow your body to utilize the kidneys and adrenals a little bit better!
This is because the adrenals and kidneys function a little bit more efficiently in a slightly different way in the morning. This is an easy way of preventing the negative implications of a low-carb diet and dehydration later on in the day
3. Treat yourself to extra sodium before physical activity.
On days when you know you will be exerting a lot of energy, it would be beneficial to top up on sodium before physical activity.
Otherwise you’ll have to actively replenish any sodium lost through sweating after you finish your physical activity.
It’s much better to consume sodium beforehand as this way, you’ll get an energy boost that will help you perform even better when being active.
Dehydration is common amongst us keto-ers, and it’s important to make sure you know how to counteract it! We hope you now understand that taking care to closely monitor sodium levels is key to living a healthier, hydrated keto lifestyle.
We would love to hear more about your keto journey. Comment down below your experiences with dehydration and any steps you’ve been taking to preventing it!