Daily water intake is crucial for regular bodily function, including digestion, nutrient absorption, and temperature regulation. The adult human body consists of anywhere from 50-70 percent water, and similarly, 71 percent of the planet we live on. Adequate hydration is essential for maintaining blood pressure, brain function, and healthy body weight, but many of us are not drinking enough.
So how should a person determine what their daily water intake should be? Are the "glasses of water" suggestions valid? And why is good hydration so important for overall health and physical fitness?
Let's consider the benefits of water and proper hydration first. Then I'll expand on what happens to the body with dehydration.
The Biggest Benefits of Drinking Water
Because it's easy for people to justify skipping water with dinner or to substitute a glass of water for a soft drink or other sugar-sweetened beverage, I'll present the most significant benefits of proper hydration upfront.
It delivers oxygen throughout the body
Water acts as a solvent for many important nutrients and micronutrients
It's a major component of blood and other body fluids
It helps remove waste from the body
It helps transport nutrients throughout the body
It helps lubricate tissues
Water helps regulate body temperature
Water plays a major role in digestive health
It's a catalyst for many of the body's chemical reactions
It's necessary for proper brain function
It helps aid in nutrient absorption
The truth is, water is absolutely crucial to most of the body's systems and processes, and ignoring that might not mean much to you now, but it will undoubtedly take a toll if inadequate hydration becomes a pattern.
The Complexities of Hydration: How We Meet Daily Intake Needs
While there is no set rule for the amount of water you should consume on a daily basis, scientists currently agree that adequate water intake is somewhere around 11.5 cups per day for women and 15.5 cups per day for men.
So why have we always been taught to drink "8 cups per day" for good health?
For starters, that 8-cup guideline does not include the water you're already getting from your food and other beverages. Some of the water you drink comes from food sources like fruit, vegetables, milk, and broths. Here's a list of some water-rich foods and the amount of hydration they provide from the NIH.
It's always important to remember that our nutritional and behavioral patterns are more relevant to overall health than individual actions or days. You don't need to reform your water consumption in a single day. Small sustainable changes are the key to improving your health for the rest of your life.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Not consuming enough water per day or losing water through sweat and urine that isn't appropriately replenished can lead to dehydration. In most cases, if you're feeling thirsty, you're already at least mildly dehydrated, so drinking plenty of water before you think you need it is important.
Caffeinated drinks can remove more water from the body than they provide because they act as a diuretic. Physical activity causes water loss through perspiration, which you should begin replacing either during or immediately following your workout. Water also aids in regulating your blood chemistry and body temperature post-exercise, and always.
Not consuming enough water regularly can lead to dehydration. As little as 2% dehydration can affect physical performance. Chronic dehydration can affect kidney function, metabolism, cognitive ability, and the amount of work your circulatory system has to do to keep your body functioning correctly.
So what does dehydration look like?
Tiredness or fatigue
Dark-colored urine (What should my urine look like?)
Dizziness, lightheadedness, or weakness
Elevated heart rate and lowered blood pressure
Monitor your urine color throughout the day, and remember to drink water before you're thirsty to avoid dehydration. If you know you'll be completing an intense workout, hike, or run soon, begin hydrating a day or two prior. Don't overload the body with water because it can create an electrolytic imbalance. Instead, drink water gradually throughout the day.
Is It Possible To Drink Too Much Water?
Drinking water is vital for the many reasons and functions mentioned above. But excess water consumption can put your body at risk. Hyponatremia is often the result of overconsumption of water and can lead to severe conditions, like coma and death.
This is a semi-common condition for new soldiers in basic training programs. I remember drill instructors frequently warning us about the dangers of overconsuming water post-exercise instead of consuming water often throughout the day, and repeating horror stories about new soldiers who tried to make up for water loss with excess consumption in a short period of time. Don't be that guy.
Extra water in the intercellular fluids of the body can mean an inadequate amount of minerals and electrolytes that the body needs. Like all things health-related, it's about healthy patterns and proactive self-care, not overwhelming the body with too much (of anything) and expecting it to respond in a linear way.
Have you ever been dehydrated? How do you stay hydrated now? Let me know in the comments!