Water is one of the essential components of wellness. Humans are mostly made of water, at about 60% of our total body weight. But the question of just how much water you should drink a day to maintain and support your body’s vital cellular functions is not an easy one to answer. But we aren’t shying away from the challenge!
How much water is best
How much water should you drink a day? Let’s talk averages
Health benefits of drinking water
When do you need to drink more water?
Alternative sources of water
A caution for water intoxication
Over the years various studies have often produced contradictory evidence on an “exact” amount of water or a standard guideline. Instead, your water intake is mostly an individual requirement based on many factors, including how physically active you are, the temperatures of your physical location, and your current health.
How much water is best is not a one-size-fits-all answer, but if you can assess how much water your body needs for your specific energy output and health requirements, then you can, in theory, estimate precisely how much water you should drink a day.
We are always losing water through regular activity by way of breathing, sweating, and urine and bowel movements. To keep our bodies functioning normally you need to continuously replenish the water in your body by consuming beverages and foods full of water.
But how much water should the average, healthy adult consume?
It’s often recommended that people stick to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day. In theory, this is a helpful number to keep you on target, but in reality, the number is a bit more specific based on additional factors including your gender and the climate where you live.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, researchers determined that if you live in a temperate climate and have a relatively average weight and height your daily fluid intake should be around 15.5 cups for men, and 11.5 cups for women.
Our bodies depend on water to survive. In fact, the average person can live up to three weeks without food in some extreme examples (such as Gandhi’s famous hunger strike). But, according to an article in Scientific American, depending on the temperatures the average human can only survive for about 100 hours to a week without water.
Water is essential to the maintenance and performance of every organ, tissue, muscle, and cell in your body. A lack of sufficient water can cause dehydration, which limits your body’s ability to maintain normal functions. Even the slightest dip in dehydration can leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
The human body is sophisticated enough to send the right signals at the right time to let you know when it’s time to get more fluids. If you drink when you’re thirsty, the odds are good you’re maintaining an adequate amount of water intake to help you stay hydrated and alert.
There are a lot of factors that can influence how much water you need to drink, including the environment, your exercise intensity and frequency, your general health, and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Exercise: If you are performing a high-intensity exercise that breaks a sweat, you’ll need to replenish the water lost. Drink before, during, and after your workout to maximize fluid replenishment. If your exercise is particularly intense (think a HIIT workout or a two-hour mountain bike ride), then consider electrolyte-loaded sports drinks to replenish any minerals lost through your sweat as well.
- Overall health: If you are sick, have a fever, a urinary tract or bladder infection, or are vomiting or have diarrhea, you are at risk for dehydration. Drink more fluids during any times of sickness or high stress and consult with a doctor or medical professional regarding the best ways to replenish your water supply.
- Where you live: Depending on the humidity, you could lose more fluid by merely walking outside. Higher altitudes can also promote dehydration.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding: Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant need additional fluids to help maintain the health of mom and baby. It’s recommended that women drink about 10 cups of fluids a day if they are pregnant, and 13 cups if they are breastfeeding.
You don’t need to drink water to get enough fluids to keep your body functioning. What you eat can also have a significant impact on providing important hydration. Several fruits and vegetables are mostly made of water, including watermelon and cucumber.
Beverages, including tea, coffee, and juice, can also contribute to your daily water needs. (Yes, the myth that coffee and tea are dehydrating has been debunked!) But don’t merely rely on these alternatives to get you to your ideal number of ounces. Water is calorie free and readily available.
For those who exercise regularly and especially those who exercise with high intensity, it’s a great idea to consider adding an electrolyte drink after your workouts to help replenish minerals and nutrients lost through sweat.
While it’s essential that you drink enough water for your health and overall well-being, it’s also possible to overdo it. While extremely rare, drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication, which can disrupt your brain function as a result of decreasing the sodium levels within your bloodstream.
Drinking too much water can dilute the minerals and electrolytes in your bloodstream, particularly sodium. Sodium is responsible for balancing the fluid inside and outside your cells. When your bloodstream and cells are flooded with too much water, it causes the cells to swell. When this occurs to brain cells, it can be life-threatening.
Unfortunately, how much water you need is not an exact science and is dependent on the individual. Consider testing out different quantities of water to see where you feel your best. You may require more water than the average daily recommended amounts. Or, perhaps, more water may mean more trips to the bathroom and is not as necessary.
In the meantime, keep it simple: Stay hydrated throughout the day. Always drink when you’re thirsty. And drink more during extreme heat or after intense workouts. The rest is ultimately up to you.