H2O: How Much Water Do You Actually Need?
Helloooo humidity! Summer is here in the STL and we are still under a heat advisory so I thought we'd start with an easy way to nourish yourself this week. Drink your water, àgua, or H2O. No matter what you call it, you should drink it. But how do you know how much to drink? Eight 8oz. glasses of water a day...right? So does that mean if you're a 150 lb. female or a 280 lb. male you both need the same amount? What about an endurance athlete and a sedentary couch potato? Hmmm...makes you wonder where that recommendation came from right?
Why do you need water?
An adult body is made up of 60-70% water, children 75%. Water is found inside and outside of all cells, tissues and organs and in your blood vessels. The body eliminates approximately 2.5 liters of water or over 84 ounces of water per day through urine, sweat, intestines and respiration. It's imperative to replenish that lost water because your body is made of trillions of cells and every single one of them requires water to function properly. Pretty important if you ask me. Here are just a few ways your body uses water to function.
regulates body temperature
acts as a solvent to dissolve nutrients for absorption in the body
reduces the burden on your kidneys and liver by flushing wastes
maintains blood pressure
lubricates joints and organs
carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells
Benefits of staying hydrated
Weight Loss: Increasing water intake replaces sugar-laden drinks like soda, juice, sweetened coffee and tea, sports drinks and energy drinks. Also, many people mistake hunger for thirst.
Improves Energy Levels: Adequate water intake reduces the energy needed by your organs to flush toxins from the body and prevents enzymatic slow down. Enzymes are necessary for many biochemical functions like digesting food, transporting nutrients to your cells and absorption.
Reduces Allergy Symptoms: The body releases histamine, as a normal immune response to microbes or allergens. Histamine is also a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, vascular dilation and thirst. This means histamine will be released to correct a shortage of water or electrolyte imbalance in an effort to bring the body back to homeostasis when dehydrated. It also means that allergy symptoms like inflammation, mucus and swelling will be present. Staying hydrated can reduce the amount of histamine released in the body and reduce your allergy symptoms.
Lubricates Joints and Organs: Water lubricates the joint spaces and helps prevent arthritis and back pain. It's also prevents clogging of arteries in the heart and brain to reduce the risks of heart disease and strokes.
Prevents Osteoporosis: Water helps regulate our blood pH eliminating the need to steal minerals form our bone storage.
Regulates Blood Pressure: Reduced water in the blood causes it to become thick and difficult to move through the body causing an increase in blood pressure. Also, remember histamine is responsible for regulating vascular dilation. Histamine activates Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH) signaling the body to retain water in the body. Anytime the kidneys are signaled to retain water, sodium is also retained and will result in increased blood pressure and edema. Dehydration may also cause low blood pressure if the vessels are weak and unable to constrict to compensate for the reduced blood volume.
Regulates Cholesterol Production: Only one-third of the cholesterol found in our body is from food and the body produces the remaining two-thirds. One of the main functions of cholesterol is to reduce permeability of the cellular membrane. When dehydrated the body produces more cholesterol to prevent the loss of water from the cells.
Skin Health: Hydrated skin improves the appearance and elasticity of your skin, reducing wrinkles and giving you a healthy glow.
Can I get my water from coffee, Soda or energy drinks?
Unfortunately, no. Caffeinated drinks are diuretics and are actually another reason you may need to increase your intake. Diuretics encourage your body to eliminate water through the kidneys which causes you to urinate more frequently. However, if you're drinking herbal tea, then yes, this should count toward your water intake. Chamomile, peppermint, licorice root, and raspberry leaf teas are just a few that I enjoy regularly. It is important to note that some herbs such as dandelion, ginger, hawthorn, juniper, horsetail and stinging nettle do also act as a diuretic. So again, these will not count toward your daily intake.
Another note worthy topic is how much water intake you get from your diet. If you eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit and minimal processed foods then you're not only getting water from these foods, but you don't need to increase your intake to digest the processed foods. Most processed foods are high in sodium and require more water to dissolve and eliminate the excess salts. Additionally, dry processed foods such as bread, cereal or floury foods require more water to be digested.
So how much do you actually need?
Like so many other things...it depends. Every body is unique and the needs differ from one person to another so there is no one size fits all answer. A good place to start is to drink half your body weight in ounces. So if you are a 200 lb. individual you would drink 100 oz. of water per day. This is a general recommendation and you need to consider other lifestyle factors before you settle in on a specific number.
Are you an athlete? Do you have a physically demanding job? Do you work outside in the heat? Do you drink a lot of coffee? These are just a few things to consider when deciding how much water you need. This is why the needs vary not only from person to person, but maybe day to day. Other factors to be considered are:
pregnancy or breastfeeding
Do you smoke or drink alcohol regularly? Do you clean with toxic chemical cleaners for a living? Are you stressed often? Not to mention if you're sick and have fever, are vomiting or have diarrhea you can become dehydrated very quickly. These are all reasons you may need to consider drinking more than the general recommendation of half your body weight in ounces. How much more? You guessed it! It depends.
If you're not currently drinking water or adequate water this probably sounds impossible. And I'm telling you your beloved caffeinated beverage doesn't count to boot. But don't stop reading just yet! There is more you should know about this very important nutrient.
When I'm thirsty, nothing cools me down or quenches my thirst like a big glass of cold water. However, I know many, many people who say "YUCK!". They would much rather drink a bottle of soda or a sports drink. These, however, are not good sources to replenish your body with water. Not only are they laden with sugar, but they contain toxins your body has to work to eliminate. Plain Jane, fresh water is the best way to rehydrate and should be the majority of your daily intake. If you need more excitement in your life add some flavor like citrus, cucumber, berries, etc.
Like everything in life, more isn't always better. There is a downside to too much water. Hyponatremia occurs when your electrolytes are too low in the body. This can be caused by many things, but one reason this can occur is due to replenishing water rapidly without also taking in electrolytes. Mild symptoms include a decreased ability to think, headaches, nausea, and poor balance. More severe symptoms can include confusion, seizures and coma.
If you are sweating excessively or are losing a lot of water rapidly due to being sick then it's important to replenish your electrolytes along with water. Electrolytes are salts or ions in the body that are responsible for carrying electrical impulses all over the body. These impulses are responsible for muscle contractions, such as the heart beating, and nerve impulses between the brain and body. A few common electrolytes are:
The body does absorb electrolytes more easily when a small amount of sugar is present. But I'm not talking high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I'm talking the natural kind of sugar, fructose, that is present in watermelon, coconut, or citrus. Nature has already prepackaged this goodness for you! Adding citrus to your water or drinking some coconut water is a great way to replenish your water and electrolytes. Just make sure your coconut water ingredients say "coconut water" and contains no other junky artificial flavorings, etc. Another simple option is to add a pinch of sea salt to your water bottle. This bottle is my favorite. Fun colors, multiple types of caps and sizes and it keeps my water cold for hours since it's double walled.
If you do become dehydrated you should rehydrate by taking in water in regular intervals throughout the day versus guzzling a liter of water all at once.
Tips for improving your water intake
drink a full glass of water upon waking
avoid processed foods
carry a water bottle with you throughout the day
refill your bottle immediately when you finish it
substitute a cup of hot herbal tea for your morning coffee
increase your intake of fresh produce
set a timer to remind you to drink throughout the day
order water with your meal when dining out (budget friendly too!)
add citrus or berries to your water to change up the flavor
reduce your intake of dry foods like crackers, pretzels or bread
The absolute best way to know if you're getting enough water is to monitor your urine output and color. Your urine should be a pale yellow or straw colored yellow. Clear output means you're taking in too much water. On the other hand, if your output is dark yellow you're not taking in enough water. Listen to your body and drink to thirst. Thirst is the first sign of dehydration and is your signal to drink up.
Also, consider not drinking a large amount of water before, during or immediately after your meals to prevent diluting your digestive juices. Lastly, starting your day by drinking a full glass of water upon wakening is great way to start your day. Not only does it replace the water you lost overnight, but also encourages a nice toxin flush in the liver.
Are you thirsty yet?