We're always being told to "drink more water" but why is it so important? Over half of our bodies are made up of water, so even being a little dehydrated can slow you down, impact your mood, and zap your energy.
Since water is such a big part of our bodies, it’s easy to see that it does a lot. It regulates body temperature, flushes waste and toxins, acts as a shock absorber, prevents and helps with constipation, helps dissolve and transport nutrients, aids red blood cells to deliver oxygen and so much more. Being dehydrated by even 1% can make you fuzzy headed, forgetful and less alert.
And water doesn’t just impact what’s inside us - it also can also help keep skin plump (aka: more youthful) and aid in weight loss. In fact, drinking 2 glasses of water can increases metabolism (one study found by about 25% for an hour) and also reduces the amount of calories eaten when consumed before a meal. This simple tip works in two ways. Thirst can mask itself as hunger, causing you to eat more and water makes you feel fuller, causing you to eat less during a meal.
How much water should you have each day?
The rule is about 8 glasses a day. There’s a more complicated way to calculate this, but in general if you need about 2000 calories a day, 8 glasses is perfect. If you’re on the smaller side or less active you can get away with a bit less, and if you’re active or need more calories you need a bit more.
When should you drink more water?
Every day you lose water while breathing, sweating, and using the loo. It’s best to drink more water when it’s hot outside, you’ve exerted yourself, you’re at a high elevation, you have a fever or diarrhea, or you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
When exercising it’s best to hydrate a couple of hours before and drink 2-3 cups, so you’re not running to the bathroom the second you try to run out the door. If you’re exercising for a long amount of time, and it's hot or you're sweating heavily, try to have a cup of water every 15 minutes or so. Some athletes will weigh themselves before and after exercise, since most weight lost is from fluid, and make up the difference.
Can you drink too much water?
While rare, it is possible to overdo it and drink too much water, since you need to maintain the proper amount of electrolytes, or salts, in your blood. Since most people eat more salt than we need, this usually doesn't happen but hyponatremia, or too little sodium or salt in the blood, is possible if you chug too much water too fast. One study found that 1/6th of marathon runners experience mild hyponatremia but it’s also been found that supplementing salt during a workout isn’t always absorbed, so just keep your intake slow and steady and don’t chug a gallon at once. Signs include dizziness, muscle cramping, and confusion. Severe cases can lead to coma and even death.
How do you know if you’re getting enough water?
Usually, a quick peek in the toilet will tell you all you need to know. In general, the darker the yellow the more you need to drink. This trick doesn’t work if you take some supplements, such as riboflavin, which can change the color. If stools are hard and impossible to pass, you would also benefit from more water (and probably some fiber too!)
Tips to Drink More Water:
Make drinking water a treat by adding flavor. By mixing up your flavors you'll never feel like you're "just" having water. Try adding:
Fresh fruit like a slice of lemon, lime or orange or crush up fresh berries
Veggie slices like cucumber or ginger
Herbs like mint or lavender
Other drinks count too! Make a spritzer with soda water and a splash of juice or reach for a simple herbal tea. Coffee counts too. While caffeine is a diuretic (aka: it dehydrates you), it’s been found that the water in coffee outweighs the loss.
If you drink a glass of water with every meal or snack you'll need only a few more glasses each day to reach your daily goal.
Get a large water bottle and carry it with you. It's much easier to stay hydrated if your bottle is nearby and you'll know exactly how much you've had for the day and can stick to your goals. I recommend buying a 32 ounce water bottle and drinking one by the end of lunchtime and another by bedtime.
Go high tech by either tracking your water intake on your phone or buy a water bottle that will send you a reminder to drink more.
Eat foods with a high water content. About 20% of our daily water intake comes from food. Some fruits and vegetables, like watermelon, cucumbers, zucchini, melons and tomatoes, have high amounts of water. As an added bonus you'll also be ticking off one of your servings of fruits and vegetables for the day, getting some disease fighting antioxidants, and eating fiber which will help fill you up.