Fitness endeavor, or optimal health, water plays an important role.
It’s a basic thing, and although it seems pretty straightforward to just drink when we are thirsty, it isn’t made out to be that simple…
It could be simpler, but there are so many dietary recommendations out there when it comes to how much water we should be drinking it will make your head spin. Drinking enough water can absolutely pay off for health and weight loss, but all the questions can make the noise around this unbearable.
How much should I be drinking for health and longevity?
How much for weight loss? Bodybuilding? Strength? Boxing? Running?
How much for “this” diet or “that” diet?
You will find an answer for all of them if you look around the internet long enough…
The obstacle people run into here is not that they aren’t getting the right answer for any one of their questions about how much water to drink for their given purpose, but rather that they haven’t taken the time to figure out which questions are even relevant to water intake. We need to first identify the concerns that can even be addressed through adjustments in water intake.
Water is VERY Important for Sustained life, and Health
The human body is composed largely of water, anywhere from 45-75%, and we all know consuming water is a requirement… this is common sense, but why do we need water?
- Water is a lubricant for joints and eyes.
- It keeps our mouth moist and helps us swallow.
- Water is the medium in which physiological processes in the body occur.
- It helps us get rid of toxins and waste.
- Water helps regulate core body temperature.
It’s also a pretty well-known fact what happens when we stop getting water.
We get dehydrated. Then things get worse. Then we die…
Hydration is Key
The logic is pretty clear on this one. The most important thing about water intake is that we get enough, so that we may go on living. Dehydration is a very serious thing. A loss of 15-20% body weight as water is fatal and even a mere 2% can result in impaired philological responses1.
Now, most people won’t let things get so bad that they end up dying, and tend to notice symptoms of dehydration. Here are some that you would do well to watch out for.
- Increased thirst
- Change in mood
- Lack of energy
- Weak muscles
- Dry mouth and swollen tongue
- Dizziness and confusion
- Inability to sweat
- Decreased urine output
Some of this is pretty bad stuff.
Avoiding the negative effects of even mild dehydration should be your first priority. In order to do this you must first understand how our bodies receive water, and how it is lost or used.
What is Water Balance?
This relationship between water entering and leaving the body is referred to as water balance.
Water balance is determined by the total amount of water intake, endogenous water production (that’s right your body can actually make water) and the total amount of water loss.
Water intake comes from three sources.
- Water content of the food we eat.
- Water content of the liquids we drink.
- The water produced by the body. (metabolic water)
Water loss from the body happens mainly through the kidneys (urine) and through sweat. The loss of water varies widely from person to person and variables like activity, body temperature, diet and intake can impact the loss of water. There are also other losses from other sources like evaporation from the skin and lungs and in feces.
The British Nutrition Foundation published some tables1 that represent the average water balance of a sedentary person (table 1), and that lend some insight on what to expect in terms of average water losses per day (table 2).
Most often when we speak about water intake the conversation stops at beverages. Without even taking into account the other sources. When looking at dietary protocols some tend to get even narrower and form the belief that we must have a strict requirement for pure water alone. All sources must be considered when assessing water intake, the higher the water content of the foods you eat make an impact and can vary significantly. Someone who consumes more fruits and vegetables for example, may have a lower requirement of water to be received from beverages.
This last table sheds some light on how much water content can vary between different types of beverages and solid food (table 3).
There are many guidelines for how much fluid to consume daily, but whatever the guidelines are the fact that these are only guidelines must be kept in view. Many are meant for populations and don’t take into account the varied needs of different individuals. Recommendations vary based on factors like age, sex, pregnancy and breastfeeding status2.
A cubical worker and a football player may be within the same population, but their individual needs for water consumption are drastically different.
This inter-individual variation makes it exceedingly difficult for any general recommendation to be developed. For example, The European Food Safety Authority based their recommendations on data from population studies from 13 different countries. The guidelines for intake ranged from about 24-88oz per day, and this diversity can’t be explained by environmental differences alone.
Guidelines for Total Water Intake
If you ask most any health professional or dietitian you usually get a recommendation of something like eight 8 ounce glasses of fluid per day. When you compare this to many guidelines set forth by different countries and associations it falls near the same, and the general population tends to commonly believe something similar.
It’s clear that a recommendation for total water intake (from beverages and solid food) makes more sense. In Fact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention goes right out in saying that there is no recommendation for plain water intake.3
As far as recommendations for total water intake The Institute of Medicine released a publication stating that the vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their first guide, and set a recommendation based on detailed national data, which showed the average intake for men and women who appeared to be adequately hydrated.4
- Approximately 2.7 liters (91 ounces) of total water from all beverages and food for women each day.
- Approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces) of total water from all beverages and food for men each day
I agree with the statement that thirst should be your first guide, but taking some time to look closely at your total water intake and see how it stacks up against these recommendations is worthwhile.
Ultimately giving attention to how the activities you engage in may affect water loss is of great importance. High body temperature and perspiration are definitely common culprits among athletes. Paying attention to thirst and keeping an eye out for any signs of dehydration are your best bet, and if you exercise you should ensure that you replace all the water you lose through sweating.
But you don’t want to overdo it…
Drinking too much water can also be problematic.
Consuming far too much water can result in water intoxication. This is associated with a potentially life threatening condition called hyponatraemia. In severe cases this can result in lung congestion, brain swelling, seizures and coma5. Overconsumption of water is particularly associated with athletes and marathon runners and it is definitely not a common occurrence amongst the rest of us, but it has happened and it could be an issue if you get some questionable advice from some fad diet or ill-advised detox regimen that tells you to consume excessive amounts of water.
These two concerns should be the basis of your concern with total water intake; ensuring you get enough water to avoid dehydration, and avoiding the extreme scenario of consuming very excessive amounts of water so that you do not cause water intoxication.
However, when we set our sights on a new dietary plan and visualize our body composition goal, or new level of health, the question that remains on everyone’s mind about water intake is….
Can I get an edge from drinking more water?
First off, if you aren’t currently drinking enough water for adequate hydration increasing your intake to fix this will make a world of difference.
There is no magic in extra water past the amount required for sufficient hydration, but I can lend a helping hand, and if you are not getting enough water it could be holding you back in terms of workout performance and weight loss.
Let me explain…
Some of those effects of mild dehydration are quite minor like the sluggishness, fatigue, weakness, or mood changes. Often we don’t even notice these things are going on or spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out why it’s happening without even thinking about the fact that we may just need a drink.
These things can slow you down, hurt workout performance, or kill your calorie deficit.
Research shows that mere 3% dehydration can cause impaired resistance exercise performance, decreased repetitions, increase perceived exertion, and hinder heart rate recovery.6
They may even cause you to eat unnecessary calories thinking “maybe I just need food”. Food may fix the problem if it contains enough water, but plain water has zero calories, and would have done the trick.
When it comes to weight loss, water intake can change the game quickly if you aren’t hydrated well currently, but even if that’s not the case, it may still help you further.
Drinking before meals can make you less hungry
This is a very safe and effective way to help with appetite suppression.
A study conducted in 2010 showed that people drinking only 500ml (16 ounces) of water prior to their meal consumed 75-90 fewer calories7.
Another study in 2011 concluded that adults who consumed 500ml (16 ounces) of water before meals 3x daily for 12 weeks lost 2 kg (4.4 pounds) of body weight compared to the control group who did not8.
I’ve taken to this habit for some time, and it’s been a very useful tool for me, plus I enjoy having water before and during a meal because I find it to be very refreshing. Especially with a splash of lime juice and some stevia extract.
Don’t drink away all your Calories
The wrong way to go about this would be to opt for a beverage other than water that has calories…
Drinking before a meal is a good idea, because it can cause you to eat fewer calories, which helps with weight loss, but not when the beverage you drink replaces the calories you would have eaten. Or worse, you end up consuming even more calories from the added beverage.
For a calorie deficit to be maintained, we need all the satiety we can get. While drinking before meals may help with appetite, Research9 shows that drinking caloric beverages with the meal or as a snack simply doesn’t give the same level of fullness and hunger reduction that solid food does.
If you try this one for yourself, no research study will be needed to convince you that when calories are matched actual food is much more filling than a beverage, and the satiety typically lasts a lot longer as well.
I can drink a 900 calorie shake and then find myself hungry a half hour later…
By all means if you’ve got a tasty beverage you just can’t live without that contains calories, just work it into your macros. Don’t be afraid to compromise though, skipping the sweet drinks and opting for solid food instead can lead to huge victories on the hunger front.
Drink clean pure water.
Living in the 21st century is great. Long gone are the days when humans drank directly from bodies of water in the land and holes in the ground.
I’m grateful for sure, but having running water in every household around town has its drawbacks as well.
Tap water is an option but…
Big industry, agriculture, water treatment, storage and distribution have created an incredible amount of pollution, contaminants, bacteria and chemicals. Tap water seems safe enough to drink but unless you regularly send samples off for testing, you just can know. There’s one study10 that gives an idea of how many of these things actually have been exposed to public water supplies, including chemicals that aren’t even regulated.
It’s not pretty.
Our first response to data like this is to go out and buy bottle water, but the problem with that is some of the water you get in bottles isn’t much better.
Bottled water is better, unless it isn’t…
It’s super trendy to drink all the fancy bottled water brands. Some water is supposed to be smart, some has useful things added to them like electrolytes, and some of it comes from half way around the globe.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some bottled water brands that I just really like the taste of, and if you do also that’s okay.
But it’s what’s on the inside that counts right?
One study11 showed that the majority of bottled water products contain tens of thousands of chemicals. Before you go and pay the extra premium for water that’s been bottled for you, do some homework on the brand.
As with anything, your best judgment can be a very useful tool here. If you know the source of the water to be questionable, don’t drink it. If something about the water you’re drinking tastes a little off and you can’t explain it, stop.
Some people go all out with reverse osmosis systems, ultraviolet sterilization filters, or carbon filters. These are all fine and dandy, I just want to stress the importance that you put some thought into the quality of your water and have a system in place so that you’re not stuck trusting tap water. The filters built into the water bottles are even a neat solution.
I personally go for a quality filtration system because I believe it to be an economical solution compared to buying purified water, and there’s something nice about knowing I’ve got clean pure water coming right out of my faucet.
Sum and Substance
Getting into the habit of drinking enough water may be a challenge at first, especially if you work out a lot, but once you get the habits in place the return on your investment is worth it.
Take with you the answers to the questions that matter most about how much water you should be getting, and tune out the rest of the noise.
- Hydration matters most for health and life.
- Even mild dehydration will put a cramp on your style fast, especially in the gym.
- Don’t consume excessive amounts of water baselessly, and watch out for bad advice.
- Determine your own water requirements based on your activities and lifestyle, rather than just following population guidelines.
- Replace water lost during exercise.
- Strategic water consumption can help win the war on hunger when losing weight.
- Drinking your calories can crash your energy deficit, and doesn’t stack up against real food.
- Put effort where effort is due and make sure you are drinking quality water.
Taking all this into account here’s what it looks like for me currently.
I live in Texas where it can get pretty warm in the summer, weighing around 176 lbs. with a higher amount of muscle than your average guy, I lift weights four days a week, do cardio three days a week outdoors and I have found my personal needs to be much higher than the standard guidelines. Using thirst as my primary guide, surrounding my meals and workouts with 16-32 ounces of water, my daily water intake from all sources clocks in around 5.6-7.5 liters (192-256 ounces) and this has worked very well for me.
From here the task is simple. Hydrate well and be merry my friends.
Thanks for reading!
If you like my take on this, have questions or something to add to it, comment below or feel free to reach out to me via email or social media.
I’ll always do my best to help 🙂
- Lunn, J., & Foxen, R. (2008). How much water do we really need?. Nutrition Bulletin, 33(4),
- Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Institute of Medicine Panel on Dietary Reference Intakes for Electrolytes and Water, Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes Washington, D.C. National Academies Press 2005.
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/plain-water-the-healthier-choice.html
- INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE Food and Nutrition Board. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=10925
- O’Brien et al. 2001
- Kraft JA1,Green JM, Bishop PA, Richardson MT, Neggers YH, Leeper JD. Impact of dehydration on a full body resistance exercise protocol. Missouri Western State University, 4525 Downs Drive, 214 Looney Complex, St Joseph, USA https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20066432
- Kraft JA1,Green JM, Bishop PA, Richardson MT, Neggers YH, Leeper JD. Missouri Western State University, 4525 Downs Drive, 214 Looney Complex, St Joseph, USA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20066432
- Elizabeth A. Dennis,1Ana Laura Dengo,1 Dana L. Comber,1 Kyle D. Flack,2 Jyoti Savla,3 Kevin P. Davy,1 and Brenda M. Davy Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-aged and Older adults https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2859815/ 1 Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA
- Mattes RD1,Campbell WW. Effects of food form and timing of ingestion on appetite and energy intake in lean young adults and in young adults with obesity. Department of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, 212 Stone Hall, 700 W State St, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2059, USA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19248858
- Environmental Working Group. Drinking water has many sources. December 2009 http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/sourcesofwaterpollution.php
- Martin Wagner , Michael P. Schlüsener, Thomas A. Ternes, Jörg Oehlmann Identification of Putative Steroid Receptor Antagonists in Bottled Water: Combining Bioassays and High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0072472