Water- How Much do We Really Need?
I recently evaluated this question for myself. I found that every afternoon I was getting a headache. Of course, I initially blamed it on stress or lack of sleep. And, well, I am a dietitian, of course I drink water! I drink a 32 ounce bottle at work every day. When I get home, I drink another 32 ounce bottle during my workout. After weeks of headaches, it dawned on me… this was not enough water! I thought- it’s the middle of summer and I do vigorous workouts- What are you thinking? So, I started drinking more and like magic, (dietitians have a magic wand…you knew that, right?) my headaches disappeared. Could I be wrong? Possibly. Then again, I don’t have headaches anymore and I am drinking the proper amount of water for my activity level and body needs. So my conclusion is- it’s the water.
So the simple question is- how much water do we need? The answer; however, is not so simple. Water makes up 60% of our body and all of our body systems need it to work properly. We need water to transport nutrients, remove waste from our body, regulate our body temperature, and provide lubrication for our joints. We lose water every day through our breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. Many factors affect how much water we should drink each day: health status, activity level and the weather, to name a few.
Exercise requires that you consume 1.5-2.5 additional cups a day. If you participate in intense exercise, you would require even more water. Certain illnesses from which you lose additional fluids, like fever, vomiting and diarrhea would require that you drink more water. Please note- some diseased states require limiting your fluid intake (Congestive Heart Failure and some types of kidney and liver diseases). Lastly, hot and humid weather causes you to sweat more, increasing your daily fluid needs.
Insufficient water intake can lead to dehydration, even mildly. Some symptoms of this could be lack of energy, headaches or feeling tired. It is recommended that adult men and women should drink about 3.7 and 2.7 Liters of water each day, respectively.
Drinks like milk and juice also contain some water, even caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea can contribute to your overall daily fluid needs. However, it is ideal to get most of your daily fluid needs from water.
If you have a hard time drinking water, here are a few tricks: try it ice cold, top it with a lemon, add a splash of cranberry juice, fresh fruit (blueberries or orange slices) or drink it carbonated. If you struggle with drinking water, start slow. Give yourself a daily goal. Use a water bottle to help guide your daily goals. Slowly add more ounces, bottles or glasses each day. Start each meal with a glass of water as a way to ensure you get a minimum of 3 glasses each day and even put it in a fancy glass to entice you! Bottoms up!
Dietary reference intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride and sulfate. Institute of Medicine. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/DRI//DRI_Water/73-185.pdf. Accessed Aug. 3, 2015.
Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Mayo Clinic. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256. Accessed Aug. 3, 2015.
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Feb;64(2):115-23. Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Jequier E, Constant F.