Your body needs water. Your body is made up of 75 percent water and constantly needs more of it. We lose water through breathing (water expelled from lungs), urination, defecation and sweat. If your body does not have the right amount of water you will feel it. The common signs and symptoms of not having enough water in your body (dehydration) are:
- Thirst, excessive thirst
- Fatigue, tired
- Dry mouth
- Little or no urination
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
Many individuals wait until they feel thirsty to drink water. Thirst may or may not be a reliable gauge of your water needs. Many people are not very good at sensing thirst and sometimes confuse thirst with hunger which causes them to eat instead of drink water.
Although not used as a diagnostic tool, the color of your urine may provide some guidance about water intake. Typically if urine is a bright highlighter yellow, or is a dark yellow, you may need to drink more water. Colorless urine may indicate over-hydration or other medical conditions. Please be aware that many things affect the color of urine — foods, medications, medical conditions, etc. Consult with your doctor if you have any concerns.
So, how much water do we really need to drink?
Research indicates that our need for water is dependent on many things such as age, gender, fitness level, health status, etc. According to the Institute of Medicine, water recommendations range from 9 cups for women to 13 cups for men a day. Most adults lose about 2 liters of fluid a day which is roughly equivalent to 64 fluid ounces of water. Perhaps this is why the popular 8 by 8 recommendation (eight, eight ounce cups of water) is often followed. However, please be aware that 8 cups of water a day simply replaces typical, minimum fluid losses. Aiming for 8 -10 cups of water a day might be a good start. Beverages are mostly water and any, including those that contain caffeine, count toward the daily fluid intake. However beverages other than water may contain calories or other substances that may affect our health (or our waistline). Consult with your doctor if you have any medical conditions or are taking any medications that affect water or fluid intake.
Other factors may increase your need for water
Exercise or any kind of physical activity that makes you sweat will increase your need for water. To avoid dehydration while exercising, try to keep well hydrated days prior to your physical activity event (race, etc.) and drink up to two cups of water about two hours prior to exercising. You can try drinking water closer to your event but you run the risk of needing to use the bathroom just prior to the event. In general, sipping water every 15 to 20 minutes during strenuous exercise should help as well.
If your exercise is very vigorous and long lasting (marathon, etc.) replenish fluids at regular intervals. If significant sweating occurs, or if you are participating in a longer exercise event, sodium may also be lost through the fluids. In addition, in longer lasting events, or during long and vigorous activity the body’s fuel supply (glycogen) can be depleted. Commercial sports drinks that contain sodium (and other electrolytes) and carbohydrate from various sugar sources may be warranted. However, sports drinks are usually not necessary for short bursts of exercise or moderate exercise lasting less than 90 minutes. The primary goal for water intake during exercise is to prevent dehydration; however you also don’t want to overdo it.
Your surroundings may also influence how much water you need. In hot or humid weather you may need to drink more to help lower your body’s core temperature and replace what you lose through sweating. In cold weather you may need to drink water due to water losses as a result of hot indoor air or perspiration through insulated clothing. If you find yourself at high altitudes, you may also need to drink more.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding will increase the need for water as well as illnesses or other health conditions.
Ways to drink more water:
Often times all we need are small reminders to drink more water. Here are a few strategies that might work to help you hydrate:
- Start your day and drink one or two cups of water in the morning.
- Take your medications or vitamin supplements (if any) with a big glass of water, unless otherwise indicated by your doctor.
- Keep a water bottle in your car.
- Keep a water bottle at your work desk.
- Keep a water bottle on your night stand.
- If you prefer cold water, freeze some freezer safe water bottles and carry those throughout the day.
- Program your computer or digital watch to beep every hour as a reminder to drink water. If you drink a cup each time it beeps (every hour) you could consume 8 cups during a typical eight hour work day.
- Add lemons, limes, cucumbers or mint to your water for some extra flavor. If adding other supplements to your water, don’t forget to read the label for sugars, calories that may affect your weight, health, etc.
- Take a sip of water every time you see a water fountain.
- Herbal tea may also be an option.