Every so often I get asked if water is really that important and the answer is a resounding YES! Water makes up 60% of our body, 70% of the brain and heart, 90% of our blood, and even 30% of our bones. Every cell in our body, every organ, every system, needs adequate water to function properly. We can survive a few weeks without food but only a few days without water. Even mild dehydration can impact our appetite, mood, and energy.
Water also keeps our skin hydrated and elastic, improves brain function, and regulates both blood pressure and body temperature. There isn’t a cell in our body that doesn’t rely on water to function properly!
Here’s a small sampling of all the ways fluids is used in the body.
Let’s start with the most motivating reason to drink more water. A few studies have demonstrated increased metabolic rate with adequate water intake. Increased metabolic rate means an easier time with loss. One study found that drinking 16oz of water before each meal could improve metabolic rate by up to 30%. It’s not the key to weight loss but it certainly helps!
Elimination of wastes and toxins
One of the main functions of water in the human body is a way to rid ourselves of waste and toxins. When we drink fluids, it is filtered by our kidneys. Excess fluid is combined with toxins and sent to our urinary tract so we can get rid of it when we urinate. In addition to urine, adequate water is needed to form bowel movements which also removes waste and toxins from the body. Water is again required for the third pathway of toxin removal via sweating.
Lubricate and cushions joints
Yes, if you struggle with joint pain and aren’t drinking enough water, this can be an easy fix to try! Inadequate water means inadequate lubrication around joints which can cause more pain. Fluids also act as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord.
Water is used in the digestion and absorption of the food we eat. Once we break down our food into small nutrients, we also need adequate water to be able to transport the nutrients into the cells that need them. Additionally, many vitamins are known as “water soluble” meaning they need to dissolve into water to be effective in our bodies.
How much water do I need in a day?
So, we know water is vital but just how much water is adequate? Water needs are very individualized based on your age, height, weight, activity level, geographic location, and job. At minimum we recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 120 pounds you would want to consume at the bare minimum 60oz of fluid per day.
The newest fluid recommendations from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for ADEQUATE hydration is 15.5 cups (124 oz) for men, and 11.5 cups (92 oz) for women. Quite a bit more than the 8 cups per day we are used to hearing! Keep in mind this is for optimal fluid intake, meaning your body is thriving versus just getting by.
The easiest way to know if you are adequately hydrated is to consistently look at the color of your urine. If it is pale yellow to clear you are good to go. This means there isn’t many toxins or waste present in your urine because you are filtering them out on a regular basis. Any darker means you are at least mildly dehydrated, and if you have dark yellow to brown urine you are reaching moderate to severe levels of dehydration.
Even losing 2% of our body’s water volume starts to cause symptoms of dehydration. Other signs of dehydration include not needing to urinate on a regular basis, constipation, dry mouth, fatigue, confusion, headaches, dizziness, and inability to produce sweat or tears.
Do I have to drink plain water? What counts as fluids?
Drinking plain water for at least half of your fluid intake is a great habit to get into. It’s free, it’s perfectly designed for human bodies, and has no additives or sugar. However, nearly any fluid counts toward this goal including caffeinated beverages. If you need to add Mio drops or crystal light, or depend on bubbly water, it still counts towards total fluid intake!
It’s winter and the last thing you want to do is drink ice cold water all day! Switch to room temperature water or even sip on hot water with lemon, or herbal tea instead.
You can also try infused water to get a little more nutrients and flavor in naturally. Some fun combinations to try: lemon and mint, strawberry and basil, and pineapple and lime.
Can I drink too much water?
Most people do not need to worry about drinking too much water, especially if urinating on a regular basis when needed. There is a very rare condition called hyponatremia that can occur when you drink too much water too fast, but this is from gallons of water at a time. Please keep in mind that with certain conditions like kidney disease and congestive heart failure you may be advised to follow fluid restrictions and it is very important to listen to what your doctor and registered dietitian suggest.
I can’t afford to pee every hour with my job.
Besides water being a basic human necessity, dehydration affects our cognitive and physical abilities meaning it will affect job performance. Sometimes we need to have a conversation with coworkers or management to allow for adequate water intake, or put up boundaries with clients, or build water or bathroom breaks into our schedule. Occasionally it just isn’t feasible with certain jobs and that’s ok. You can make up for it when you get home and try to chug at least 8-16oz every hour (stop 2-3 hours before bedtime so you’re not up all night). Room temperature water is easiest to chug!
Adequate hydration is so important for total body health. I can tell you from person experience that the more water you drink, the more you crave! Talk to your coach if you think water intake is something you need to work on so you can make a plan.