Water, food and shelter the three basic human needs for survival. We often pay a lot of attention to how our living space looks and feels. Most people, I would like to think, try to eat regularly throughout the day to stay nourished. However, talking to clients, friends and family I notice that water intake is far too often overlooked or is thought of as not being of the up most importance. We need that to change. Water is so important to all of our biological processes and allows your body to run efficiently and optimally.
In this post I will discuss the reasons why consuming enough water is important, what the best sources are, how much water you should be drinking and what increases your need for water.
What does water do in our bodies?
Your body is about 65-75% water and your brain is said to consist of about 85% water.1 Seems like a lot, but if our body is that much water then it must be pretty darn important in order to keep us alive and functioning optimally.
We are constantly losing water through sweat, urination, and breathing.2 We need to replenish this lost water consistently in order to keep ourselves hydrated. Dehydration means the amount of water in the body is below optimal and as little as 2% dehydration results in impaired physiological responses.3
Our body is made up of billions of cells that perform a variety of tasks in order to keep us alive. Water is essential for the health of our cells, it helps to usher in nutrients in and helps to flush cellular waste (toxins) out of our cells. Without enough water this processes doesn’t work effectively and our cells can die and degrade due to their inability to get nutrients and expel waste.2
Adequate water is also needed for: temperature regulation in the body, proper digestive processes, to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (aka “rest and digest”), to keep joints well lubricated, and to help with energy production. That 2% dehydration (discussed above) can also lead to a 30% drop in energy.4 Therefore, your tiredness may be due to dehydration. These are just some of the many things water helps to do within our bodies. If you want to learn more about what water does in the body check out a fantastic book called Your Body’s Many Cries for Water.
Best sources of water?
This is a whole blog post in and of itself but I will briefly discuss it here.
Try to avoid bottled water because the plastic can and will often leach into the water, putting strain on your liver and can also impact your hormones. Plus, I believe it is a massive waste of resources and we should all do our part to help the environment.
Top sources (in order of preferance):
– Fresh spring water: filled with lots of good minerals and devoid of toxins
– Filtered water: a great option to remove any impurities from your tap water. Some good options are a reverse osmosis system with a remineralizer, a Berky Water filter and a Santevia water filter. A Brita water filter does not remove as many impurities as the other filters mentioned but it is still a step up from tap water and a cheaper option.
– Tap water: most municipal water systems are not well equipped to remove some of the toxins that come into our water supply, leaving it in our water to consume. Also, some places (like here in Toronto) still add chlorine and fluoride to our water which can have a number of negative impacts on health (more to come on this in another post). However, it is still clean, inexpensive drinking water that we should be thankful for as there are many places on this earth that do not have this luxury.
How to monitor your hydration levels?
There are a couple of options but I think simply looking at the colour of your urine is the easiest way by far. The ideal colour of urine should be a clear light hay colour. This means you are adequately hydrated. However, this has the possibility to be misleading especially if you are taking a multi-vitamin or a B-complex since vitamin B2 (riboflavin) will often turn your pee a bright yellow.
When the thirst sensation kicks in it means you are already dehydrated. As we age our thirst sensation can become delayed meaning you may be dehydrated but not feel thirsty.5 Therefore, trying to rely on thirst sensation alone is flawed. Consistently sipping water throughout the day is the best way to mitigate this.
It has also been shown that sometimes when we feel hungry we are actually thirsty. That is because our hunger and thirst signals are very similar. Next time you are hungry drink a big glass of room temperature water slowly and wait 10-15 minutes to see if you are still hungry.
How much water do you need everyday?
There are many recommendations out there for how much water you should consume on a daily basis. My favorite is the following calculation as it is more personalized (since a 250lb NFL linebacker and a 150lb office worker will have different needs).
Take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2, that equals the number of ounces you should be consuming a day. Ex. I weight 166lbs therefore 166/2 = 83oz. That’s about 2.5 liters of water per day. I’m talking about water here, pure water, not teas, coffee, soda, juice, etc all of which can actually dehydrate you. You need more water than this on days you exercise.
What increases your need for water?
Many drinks can contribute to dehydration, including tea, coffee, soads and alcohol. Below is how much water is needed to replace what is lost from drinking one cup of the following beverages.
Coffee – 2 cups
Alcohol – 2 cups
Soda water – 1 cup
Soft drinks – 2 cups
Juice – 1 cup
Tea (Black) – 1 cup
Exercise is another big thing that can increase your need for water. I see this often with my athletes when I am coaching, they don’t drink enough water during the day or during exercise and their performance suffers. A lot of the time they feel drained or lethargic halfway through. That is because your bodies demand for water increases substantially during exercise, you sweat more and breathe a lot heavier meaning more water is lost. A good rule of thumb I go with is try to consume an additional cup (250mL) of water for every 10-15 minutes of exercise. Then continue to hydrate afterwards as it will help to speed up the recovery process.
Tips and tricks for water consumption
– Drink 500mL – 1L of room temperature or warm water as soon as you wake up. It will help to get your body moving and working for the day ahead.
– Take a water bottle with you at all times
– Try to take sips all throughout the day
– Pick a trigger and every time that trigger happens have a drink of water (ie every time you look at your phone or look outside)
– Try to avoid drinking too much water with meals as it can dilute the digestive juices and food pushing it through your system too fast, causing a lack of absorption
– Keep looking at your pee and see how your body feels throughout the day to determine if you should be increasing your intake
– At first you may find as you increase your water consumption you are peeing all the time (this happened to me too!). After a week or so your uriniation levels will normalize as your cells adjust to the new levels of water intake. Beware as a couple days of poor water intake may take you back to square one, so try to keep it up!
- Your bodies many cries for water by: F. Batmanghelidj
- The Encylcopedia of Natural Medicine by Michael Murray & Joseph Pizzorno
- Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient. By: Kleiner SM http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9972188
- Sport Nutrition By: Asker Jeukendrup
- Advanced Sports Nutrition By: Dan Benardot