You know water’s good for you and that dehydration is bad. Beyond that, however, the topic of hydration leaves many people with more questions than answers. Luckily, we’re ready to quench your thirst for the truth about water and hydration, and some of our answers may surprise you!
The “eight 8-ounce glasses” recommendation gets thrown around all of the time, but how accurate is it, really? And why has this become the standard recommendation?
Every day your body loses some water through urine, sweat, respiration (breathing), and other necessary metabolic processes. So if you don't consume enough water, you can become dehydrated, and experience symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating. Chronic dehydration can also disrupt normal, healthy bodily functions and contribute to a number of issues such as constipation and kidney stones—and who has time for that?
Water makes up about two thirds of your body, with high concentrations in our muscles (about 70 percent of our muscles’ weight comes from water) and in our blood. In women, water makes up about 50 percent of our total body weight. However, since fat cells are devoid of water, in both lean women and men (who typically carry less body fat than women) water will make up an even greater percentage of total body weight.
What’s more, water is important for the regulation of body temperature (thermoregulation) and ideal exercise performance. When you experience exercise-induced dehydration (that is, you lose two percent or more of your body weight from sweating and inadequate water intake during exercise), it will very negatively affect your ability to exercise to your full potential, and can have serious health consequences (1). Therefore, drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to make sure you can put forth your best effort at each exercise session.
The oft-repeated recommendation for eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day equates to 64 ounces, or about two liters, daily. However, more specific recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, suggest you should be drinking even more. These experts state that healthy adults, between the age of 31 and 70, living in temperate climates, should consume the following amounts each day:
Just like most nutrition recommendations, however, these recommendations are made for the average population, and they’re not individualized for you, or me.
Every body is different, so of course, our specific needs will usually vary.
This is where individualization comes in. Recently, a very well-controlled study conducted at the University of Connecticut, by one of the foremost experts on hydration, looked at normal fluid intake and hydration in healthy women (3,4). The study found that the average 24-hour fluid intake volumes was quite large, spanning 0.89 to 4.40 liters per day. Low fluid intake did not always mean that a woman was dehydrated. Some women simply have a lower water requirement.
One big correlation is urine output. It’s no surprise that the more fluids you drink, the more you’ll pee. You may not require a lot of water compared to your training partner, but how do you know if you’re properly hydrated or not? The best things you can do are:
Also keep in mind that if you have recently take a multivitamin, the B-vitamin content may turn your urine bright yellow. There’s nothing to be alarmed about, and it’s not related to dehydration, in that case.
What’s more, these recommendations are for people living in temperate climates. So when temperatures soar, you will need more water than this. On hot days, aim to consume at least eight extra ounces, and make sure to drink a fluid that contains electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride)—though not necessarily one that contains added sugar—to aid in nutrient absorption. Including electrolytes can help you avoid hyponatremia. Hyponatremia can happen when you drink too much water and throw off your electrolyte balance, which lowers your blood sodium levels. In serious cases this can lead to death.
If you tend to sweat excessively during exercise, you might want to measure your body weight before and after your workout. Rehydrate properly by drinking 16 ounces of water for every pound of weight you lost during your training session (or one liter of water for every kilogram).
It’s possible that your water intake is greatly related to your mood state. Don’t believe it? There’s science to support this.
In a 2015 study conducted at the University of Connecticut, it was shown that adequate fluid intake led to improved mood (2). The researchers recorded total dietary water intake and mood states in 120 healthy young women over a five-day period. All the women in the study were on oral contraceptives to ensure hormonal homogeneity among participants. The researchers accounted for known mood influencers such as macronutrients, exercise, and caffeine. They also accounted for other mood variables such as illness, use of prescription drugs, alcohol intake, and family medical history.
Overall, they found that water intake predicted total mood disturbance more than any of the other known mood influencers. Women who habitually drank more water had more favorable mood states. Specifically, total water intake related to lower or higher levels of tension, depression, and confusion (i.e., the better the water intake, the less tension, depression, and confusion experienced).
As stated by the researchers, “These findings, however, are not able to distinguish improved mood state as a function of (1) upbeat/positive women tending to consume more water, or (2) if drinking water enhanced mood state in these women.” So, although the results are highly statistically significant, it’s possible that they may not be clinically significant, even though previous research does support that reductions in body water and dehydration are associated with more pronounced fatigue, tension, and confusion.
Overall, it can’t hurt to drink more water and consume more water-rich foods/beverages (more on that below), and it might even improve your mood!
It’s not uncommon for some women to feel sick to their stomach just thinking about drinking the recommended amount of water. If you’re one of these women, consider that your total water intake comes from all of the following sources:
So, if you don’t like drinking tons of water straight up, you can still meet some of your water needs through other beverages like coffee, and high water-containing foods like fruits and vegetables. Food provides about 20 percent of your total water requirement each day (and more if you eat a lot of vegetables and fruits).
That means that you’ll need to drink at least two to three liters (about 64 ounces) each day of some type of water-containing beverage. Thus, the general recommendation of eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid is pretty close to being correct. Keep in mind, too, that some women naturally drink more water than others, especially active women.
Yes! In fact, coffee is a reasonable way to get in your fluids. Think about it: What is coffee made up of? You guessed it: Water!
And no, though the myth persists, coffee is not a diuretic (meaning it does not cause you to become dehydrated). In fact, Dr. Lawrence Armstrong from the University of Connecticut was the first researcher to disprove this dehydrating myth in a research setting (5). In this controlled, 11-day study, he showed:
If water isn’t your thing, coffee can help you meet much of your water needs. (Just go easy on the sugar and sweetened flavor add-ins!)
To meet your daily hydration needs, these are the beverages I highly recommend, with amount listed beside each one. First and foremost, water is at the top of the list. If you don’t like the taste of your normal plain water, try filtered water or add a touch of lemon to make it a little more palatable.
These beverages can replace an equivalent amount of water. Consume up to 40 ounces per day.
These beverages also can replace an equivalent amount of water, but try to limit your intake of caffeine to no more than 250 mg per day (one eight-ounce cup of coffee contains about 80 to 140 mg of caffeine: http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm)
These contain about 80 percent water content. Consume 0 to 16 ounces per day.
Consume up to eight ounces of these types of beverages per day if desired. Ideally, limit these types of beverages due to their high simple carbohydrate (sugar) content, which can lead to excess energy intake and blood sugar fluctuations.
I hope this article has cleared up some of the most common misconceptions about water and hydration that you might hear and read everywhere. If you know someone thirsting for this information, pass them the link and share the knowledge!
And if you want more guidance about good nutrition strategies for women, you’ll love The Modern Woman’s Guide To Good Nutrition manual I wrote for Girls Gone Strong. It’s included in the gold and platinum packages of The Modern Woman’s Guide To Strength Training, which you’ll learn more about below.
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