Water! It’s essential to life, yet so many of us think it’s boring, don’t drink enough, or worry we don’t drink enough.
Why We Need Water
Our bodies are roughly 60 percent water. You lose water constantly through breathing, sweating, urinating and other vital functions. Heat and humidity, exercise, fever, diarrhea or vomiting, pregnancy and breastfeeding can all increase the speed at which you lose it.
Your body gets replenished by drinking water and other hydrating beverages, and through the food you eat each day. Keeping properly hydrated can help you avoid constipation, urinary tract infections and kidney stones.
How Much Hydration is Needed?
So, how much hydration is enough? It varies greatly from person to person. Everyone should have at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Men need more than women. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine recommend that women drink 11.5 cups per day and men 15.5.
It’s rare for people to over-hydrate. However, losing a lot of electrolytes through sweating, vomiting or diarrhea and then drinking only water can cause blood sodium levels to drop—a condition known as hyponatremia. Water-drinking “challenges” can also cause hyponatremia by diluting sodium levels, which is also known as water intoxication.
Should you drink sports drinks to make up for lost electrolytes? That depends. If you are sick, with vomiting and dehydration, sports drinks may be helpful—especially if you can’t eat much. Sports drinks are suitable for sweaty workouts that last longer than one hour. For less intense workouts, water and snacks or meals are sufficient to replace lost electrolytes.
To determine if you are properly hydrated, check the color of your urine. If it looks like lemonade or lighter (more diluted), that’s a good indicator you’re hydrated. If your urine looks darker, it’s time to drink a glass of water.
Choose Well When Hydrating
- Choose low- or no-calorie beverages. Best choices include water, seltzer with natural flavor (great for those trying to break the soda habit—diet or regular), tea or coffee. Though not calorie-free, coconut water and kombucha (fermented tea) provide nutrition and are lower calorie than most sweetened drinks.
- Limit diuretics. Diuretics are substances that increase urine output, which can be dehydrating. Tea and coffee, if caffeinated, can have a diuretic effect in large amounts, and should be drunk in moderation. Alcohol is very dehydrating, so drink extra water when consuming alcoholic beverages.
- Choose fruit over juice. Though it is made from fruit, the fiber in juice has been removed in the processing. As a result, drinking juice causes your blood sugar to rise rapidly, just like with sugary soda. If you love juice, add water to dilute it, and gradually wean yourself. A piece of fruit and water is a better choice. A smoothie made from fruits and vegetables is also a healthy choice, providing hydration and nutrients.
- Pay attention to what you eat. Salty food attracts and retains water. Ever notice how your weight goes up the day after a salty meal? To ensure your body is hydrated, drink more water to compensate for the extra salt. Fruits, veggies and soups contain lots of water and contribute to hydration.
- Add flavor to water. If you don’t like plain water, try infusing it with citrus; lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit all add kick and amazing flavor to entice you to drink more. Herbs like mint, basil and rosemary add a powerful flavor punch. Try combinations of your favorite fruit and herbs. Pop them in the fridge the night before and the next day you’ll have a load of flavor in your chilled water. For those who like bubbles, try flavored seltzer or add a squeeze of citrus to plain seltzer or mineral water.
Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day
When you drink water throughout the day, your energy stays elevated and your body is able to work optimally. When you’re dehydrated, your energy may fluctuate and you might experience headaches, fatigue, loss of focus and impaired mood. Don’t wait until you feel poorly to begin drinking. Here are tips for staying hydrated:
- Find a water bottle that suits you. Some people like a half-gallon or gallon-size bottle they can drink from top to bottom and see their progress throughout the day. Others like an insulated bottle that keeps their water cold. Some bottles are designed to infuse herbs or fruit into water; others are “smart” and tell your phone how much you drank throughout the day. Some even have Bluetooth speakers.
- Start out strong. Begin your day with a glass of water before drinking anything else.
- Sip throughout the day. This may help you avoid that “gotta go now” feeling from drinking a lot at one time.
- Keep track. Try keeping a tally of 8-ounce cups and see what is typical for you. If you aren’t at your goal, aim to fit more into your day.
- Drink with meals. Sip throughout the meal and wash down your meal with water. This can help you feel slightly fuller and realize you’ve had enough to eat.
- Stop before bedtime. Reach your hydration goal an hour or two before bedtime, so you aren’t awakened by the need to use the bathroom.
Like with most habit changes, it’s best to gradually alter behavior over time. If you’re currently drinking well under the recommendation, slowly increase your water intake to eight cups per day and see if you can build beyond that over time.