We all know we’re supposed to drink water, however 60% of the population suffers from some level of dehydration. If you asked 100 people on the street how much water they should be drinking per day, you’re likely to hear “8 glasses” or “1/2 your body weight in ounces” from the majority. So why do only 40% of people actually adhere to this guideline?
Most people tend to neglect their hydration needs due to overly-committed days of business meetings, long car commutes, family obligations, etc. We don’t want to take the time to run to the bathroom or refill our water bottles.
The recommendation of 8 glasses of water per day exists only to stress the importance of water intake, however this recommendation is extremely vague, and individual hydration needs vary greatly from person to person.
Water intake must be sufficient to meet metabolic demands, which is influenced by body size, composition, and physical activity.
Why is water so important?
Our bodies are made up of 70% water, and our brains are made up of 80% water, so you can imagine how not consuming enough of it can impact cellular and cognitive function.
Water is essential for digestion, absorption, and excretion, and for keeping our bodies in balance. Lack of water, better known as dehydration, can lead to digestive issues, poor performance, low testosterone, poor cognitive function, increased hunger, and much more.
Dehydration and constipation:
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. If you’re dehydrated, the large intestine will soak up water from food waste, creating hard stool that is difficult to pass. Constipation then creates toxicity in the body, leading to a whole host of problems in and of itself.
Personally, I suffer from chronic constipation due to my kidney disease. My body does not trigger thirst, and my kidneys pull water from the rest of my body to be able to do their job efficiently, leaving me dehydrated but with no trigger to drink water. I have to be extremely diligent about drinking water because of this.
Food should move through the body in a timely fashion, usually 18-24 hours in total. If this is not happening, then you may be dehydrated and/or lacking sufficient fiber.
Dehydration and physical performance:
Dehydration causes lack of performance in the gym, and increases your rate of perceived exertion. You are likely to tire quicker during your workouts if you are dehydrated, and fluid loss of just 2% can significantly decrease performance.
Dehydration can also hinder the muscle building process by lowering testosterone levels in the body. Immediately following exercise, cortisol (stress hormone) is naturally elevated. When cortisol is elevated, testosterone is suppressed. So if you’re already dehydrated before and during exercise, testosterone will be lowered even more, affecting the body’s ability to build muscle efficiently.
Dehydration and hunger:
Not consuming enough water can mislead our brains to thinking we are hungry, causing us to overeat, and typically we overeat the wrong foods.
The same part of our brain is responsible for hunger and thirst, which can lead to mixed signals. Knowing the difference between thirst and hunger is vitally important. Signs of hunger would be feeling weak, irritable, moody, stomach rumbling or empty feeling, and true hunger comes on gradually not suddenly. If it hasn’t been at least 3 hours since your last meal, chances are you’re thirsty, not hungry.
By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
But thirst isn’t the only symptom of dehydration…there are many signs, some surprising and others very subtle, that you are dehydrated. Signs of thirst would be dry eyes, headache, sluggishness, nausea, dizziness, dry skin, constipation, dark yellow urine, or dry mouth. By the time this happens, you’ve already reached one of these levels of dehydration:
(Source: 2008, Understanding Nutrition, p. 398, Copyright 2008 by Wadsworth Cengage Learning)
1-2% Fluid Loss: thirst, fatigue, vague discomfort. These symptoms are often subtle and with the exception of thirst, are not usually associated with dehydration.
3-4% Fluid Loss: impaired physical performance, dry mouth, reduction in urine, flushed skin, impatience, apathy. This is typically when someone will realize they are dehydrated.
5-6% Fluid Loss: difficulty concentrating, headache, irritability, sleepiness, impaired temperature regulation, increased respiratory rate. Dehydration begins to get dangerous at this point, and if action is not taken, further fluid loss could lead to severe consequences.
7-8% Fluid Loss: dizziness, spastic muscles, loss of balance, delirium, exhaustion, collapse. Very dangerous level of dehydration, medical attention should be sought immediately.
Other symptoms of dehydration include but are not limited to decreased sweat rate, water retention, and dry skin.
On top of not drinking enough water, we are also consuming things that contribute to dehydration. This is a recipe for disaster.
So what are the most common hydration killers?
Chances are you consume one or more of these on a daily basis…and if you do, here’s why it could be a problem.
Coffee, black tea, soda, energy drinks, or other forms of caffeine…
Caffeine acts as a diuretic, which causes us to urinate more frequently and contributes to dehydration. Most of us consume caffeine on a daily basis whether it be a cup of coffee, an energy drink, diet or regular soda, or even black tea. Caffeine has a 1/2 life…so 7 hours after you consume caffeine, 1/2 of it is still in the bloodstream. When caffeine is in the bloodstream, our bodies will try to buffer the pH of our blood, which means it will pull vitamins and minerals out of the bones leading to losses of these essential nutrients.
If you have trouble staying hydrated, and you consume one or more caffeine-containing beverages per day, you may want to cut back and reconsider your fluid intake.
Refined processed foods high in sodium…
Fluid levels and sodium levels work hand in hand, so if there’s too much sodium in the blood, then there’s not enough water in the blood, and vice versa. Consuming a diet high in refined, processed, boxed, and canned foods contributes significantly to high sodium levels in the blood, throwing our water levels out of balance.
Bottled juices and vitamin waters…
These are hydration killers not because they necessarily cause dehydration, but because many people replace their fluid intake with these items. Not to mention, they contribute to blood sugar levels and fat storage.
Juices, along with caffeine, do not provide lasting energy, but water can. You will get a spike in energy from consuming caffeine or sugar, but then crash. You’d be surprised to find that water works very well at boosting energy levels. Our bodies are made almost entirely of water, so drinking enough of it can help us feel and look our best.
So how much water should I be drinking per day?
I’m sure you’ve heard that drinking 8 glasses of water per day is the recommended intake, but where did this recommendation come from? Is it accurate? How much water should you really be drinking?
We lose 3 quarts of water per day through respiration, sweat and urine. We then lose additional water through things like caffeine, alcohol, and exercise. When the body becomes dehydrated, it becomes more acidic than it should be. Acidity helps regulate oxygen levels, however too much acidity causes less oxygen to be available in the body for cells to thrive. Ultimately, this can lead to disease.
To stay hydrated, the recommendation for ½ of your bodyweight in ounces is a good place to start, also making sure to consume and additional 6-12 ounces for every 15-20 minutes of exercise.
Filtered water is the best way to go, as this will help to reduce toxicity.
If you are also drinking herbal teas and eating the recommended 7-9 servings of vegetables per day, you wont need to consume as much water.
Also keep in mind that you will need to consume additional water if you are consuming food and beverage items that dehydrate the body.
What are some tips to staying hydrated?
I understand that drinking plain water all day can get boring. Try infusing your water with cucumber, mint, berries, or citrus fruits to enhance flavor. One of my favorite ways to drink water is to add a flavored green tea bag to my water bottle and just keep it in there as I refill it throughout the day.
Here is a great detox water recipe you can make up and keep in the refrigerator. It will aid in the detoxification process and cleansing of the liver.
Apple Cider Vinegar Detox Water
- 6 cups of filtered water
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 1/2 cup Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2″ inch ginger root, peeled and minced
- 1 scoop organic stevia extract, if desired (I use Trader Joe’s brand)
Combine all ingredients in a large glass pitcher and keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
I challenge you over the next 24-48 hours to measure how much water you’re actually drinking, and then gradually increase your intake by 8oz per day. You want to slowly increase intake to allow the body to adjust appropriately, so we aren’t making those inconvenient trips to the bathroom.
There are a lot of water apps you can get on your smartphones now that will remind you when it’s time to drink water. It’s a fun and interesting way to make sure you are keeping a steady intake during the day. Try the apps “Waterlogged” “Plant Nanny”, or “iHydrate”.
Good luck, and if you have any questions or concerns please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org