Updated: May 15, 2019
Water is essential for life. You can only survive a few days without it. And being hydrated is essential for health. I could argue that water is the most essential nutrient of them all. In fact, when I do nutrition talks with kids, I often call it the “forgotten food group.”
You see, water is needed for every cell and function in your body.
Water helps reduce inflammation. Water is a huge part of your blood. It cushions your joints and helps decrease swelling, aches, pains. It aids digestion and reduces constiption. It helps stabilize your blood pressure and heart beat. It helps to regulate your body temperature and maintain electrolyte (mineral) balance. If you are taking medication, have an allergy, or are managing a disease, water helps flush metabolic waste so the immune system can balance.
What about weight loss? Water increases calorie burning – that’s right. Water is a calorie burning machine because it metabolizes fat and carboydrates (either from food and drink OR stored fat stores). And drinking 500ML can increase your metabolic rate by 30% within half an hour of drinking.
And that's just a few of its roles.
Dehydration can impair mood and concentration. Dehydration contributes to headaches and dizziness. It amplifies symptoms of inflammation. It can reduce your physical endurance, and increase the risk for kidney stones and constipation. Extreme dehydration can cause heat stroke.
So, water is critical for life and health.
But, just as way too little water is life-threatening, so is way too much. As with most things in health and wellness, there is a healthy balance to be reached.
There are conflicting opinions as to how much water to drink. Is there a magic number for everyone? What counts toward water intake?
Let’s dive right in.
How much water do I need?
Once upon a time, there was a magic number called "8 x 8." This was the recommendation to drink eight 8 oz glasses of water every day; that's about 2 liters of water.
Over time, we've realized that imposing this external "one size fits all" rule may not be the best approach. I mean someone who weighs 100 pounds soaking weight has very different hydration needs than someone who is 250 pounds. That’s just common sense.
Today, many health professionals recommend drinking according to thirst. The approach? You don’t need to go overboard forcing down glasses of water when you’re not thirsty. Just pay attention to your thirst mechanism. We have complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring how hydrated we are. And for healthy adults, this system is very reliable.
They also tell you to pay attention to how dark and concentrated your urine is. The darker your urine, the more effort your body is making to hold on to the water it has. Urine is still getting rid of the waste, but in a smaller volume of water, so it looks darker.
These recommendations are accurate. Unfortunately, many people are out of touch with this system.
I mean, do you know the difference between a thirst signal or hunger signal? Many don't. In fact, when you are "thirsty", you are already dehydrated.
And many people confuse thirst for hunger. You reach for a sweet drink, coffee or tea out of habit or for a pick-me-up because you feel tired, sluggish or have a headache. You know you will get a quick response despite the fact that there are all signs of dehydration.
There are a few other things to consider when evaluating your hydration status:
If you sweat a lot or live in a hot/humid climate, you need to drink more.
If you’re a heavy exerciser, you absolutely need to drink more (and replace elctrolytes, but that’s another blog). I typically recommend that you drink 250mL for every 15 minutes of intense exercise, followed by 1L immediately afterward and then another 1 – 2L throughout the day. If this is a regular routine, you may need to consider a glucose and electrolyte supplement for your physical activities.
Breastfeeding moms, elderly people, and people at risk of kidney stones need to drink more water too.
Periods of vomiting and/or diarrhea can quickly dehydrate your body.
Constipation – if you’re not having at least one daily bowel movement, you may be dehyrated and your body is having difficulty removing waste.
Heart burn can also be a sign of dehydration. The body steals water from lesser organs (like your stomach and intestines) to feed important organs like your brain, lungs and heart.
So what do you do? How do you get enough? And how much is right for you?
I often recommend people set a water target based on their weight and level of activity. Here's my method.
Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2. That’s how many ounces of water you need for MAINTENANCE. So, if you weight 150lbs, you would need approximately 75 ounces. Divide that by 8 (there are 8 ounces in a cup) and you would require 9.3 cups of water daily. Remember, a cup is 250mL and there are 4 cups in 1L.
Next, you need to consider when/how to get that water into you. I often recommend the following:
Have a glass of warm water with the juice of half a lemon on rising (first thing in the am). There are many benefits to this practice. It's ideal to actually drink lots of water first thing in the am. Remember, you are waking up from a fast - your body is in a state of dehydration. Replenish your body with pure water so it can flush metabolic waste produced while you slept (your body builds and repairs while you sleep). You wouldn't go 8-10 hours without drinking during the day, would you? No, you need to drink water on waking.
The same applies to children. They often want juice or perhaps a glass of milk on waking. Again, they have been "detoxing" over night. Support their bodies by encouraging them to drink first thing.
Drink one cup (not a giant bottle) every hour or so. This improves absorption - you won't be running to the bathroom as you would if you chugged back a litre in 30 minutes.
Use rubber bands around your water bottle to keep track of how many cups you've had to drink. You can also schedule water consumption into your phone alarm, with each meeting or scheduled activity.
What counts toward my water intake?
All fluids and foods containing water contribute to your daily needs.
Water is usually the best choice. If you're not drinking pure water, consider the effects that the other ingredients have on your body.
Drinks containing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine will have effects besides hydration. Sugar can mess with your blood sugar balance. Alcohol can make you feel "buzzed." And caffeine can keep you awake. Let's talk a bit more about caffeine for a second.
Caffeine is the infamous "dehydrator," right? Well, not so much. If you take high dose caffeine pills, then sure, they cause fluid loss. But the idea that coffee and tea don't count toward your water intake is an old myth.
This was HARD for me to get over, but many of you will be jumping for joy.
While caffeine may make you have to go to the bathroom more, that effect isn't strong enough to negate the hydrating effects of its water. Coffee is only a mild diuretic. Plus, if you're tolerant to it (i.e., regularly drink it), then the dehydrating effect is even smaller. Yet, coffee can have other negative impacts on the body and can impact inflammation in other ways.
Also, many foods contain significant amounts of water. Especially fruits and vegetables like cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, celery, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, carrots, and pineapple. These foods are over 80% water, so they are good sources of hydration.
So, you don’t need to count your plain water intake as your only source of hydration. All fluids and foods with water count.
There is no magic number of the amount of water you need. Everyone is different. Children, pregnant women, elderly people need more. Episodes of vomiting or diarrhea will also increase your short-term need for more water.
The most important thing is to pay attention to your thirst – and recognize your thirst. Try a glass of water BEFORE reaching for a snack.
Other signs you need more water are dark urine, sweating, constipation, and kidney stones. Water is your best source of fluids. But other liquids, including caffeinated ones, help too. Just consider the effects the other ingredients have on your health as well. And many fruits and vegetables are over 80% water so don't forget about them.
Let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to hydrate?
(Recipe): Tasty Hydrating Teas
You may not love the taste (or lack thereof) of plain water. One thing you can do is add some sliced or frozen fruit to your water. Since we learned that you could hydrate just as well with other water-containing beverages, here are some delicious herbal teas you can drink hot or cold.
Hot tea - Place tea bags in a pot (1 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey and slice of lemon, if desired. Serve.
Iced tea - Place tea bags in a pot (2 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey, if desired. Chill. Add ice to a glass and fill with cold tea.
Tip: Freeze berries in your ice cubes to make your iced tea more beautiful and nutritious.
Serve & enjoy!