There is a school of thought within the natural health community that we should only drink water when we are thirsty.
While it’s a nice idea, the fact is that many of us are so disconnected from our thirst and hunger signals that we can’t be trusted to get enough fluid into our system without being consciously aware of the amount of water we drink.
Many people struggle with these cues, thinking they are hungry when they are really thirsty or thinking they are hungry when they are really tired.
While some water is contained in our food, especially in fresh fruits and vegetables, about 80% of our water supply comes directly from drinking water itself.
That means we need to properly hydrate throughout the day to make sure we don’t develop dehydration, even if we are eating fruits and vegetables.
How much water is enough for each person depends a lot on their lifestyle. In general, the average person needs 9-13 cups of water a day, a bit more for men than women.
In athletes and people who do heavy exercise, some general guidelines should help you figure out your optimal fluid intake.
About 30 minutes to an hour before exercise, it’s smart to drink about 16 oz. or 2 cups of water. Then, every 20-30 minutes during exercise it’s a good idea to drink another 8-10 oz.
While water is a good choice, athletes should consider using an electrolyte balancing drink during games or runs to help conserve water. This is because electrolytes, particularly sodium, help water absorb into the body and reduce losses through urine and sweat.
Also, when consuming very large amounts of water and sweating heavily, it is possible to lose too much sodium through sweat and we need to consider not only replenishing water, but replenishing important sodium.
Traditional sports drinks are what most people have, but I don’t like them because of the artificial colors and all the sugar. Instead, I recommend an electrolyte sports drink that’s unsweetened or sweetened with a natural sweetener like stevia.
People are often concerned about caffeine’s effect on water absorption, since caffeine is a diuretic and wonder whether they can include their morning coffee or tea in their 9-13 cups of fluid.
While caffeine is a diuretic and does cause some moderate water loss, the difference appears to typically be made up in most people throughout the rest of the day.
So yes, you can include caffeinated beverages in your daily water intake. However, if most of your water intake is made up of caffeinated beverages, it might be worth considering switching to more water, since excessive caffeine is not healthy.
At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any issue counting artificially sweetened beverages either. Again, however, if most of the fluid taken in is artificially sweetened, a change in lifestyle might be important.
The vast majority of what we drink should be pure water, no additives or flavorings.
While it’s very common in pop health to encourage people to drink as much water as possible, this is dangerous advice.
Drinking too much water can cause serious damage to the body, including a condition called hypokalemia in which potassium levels become too low.
Too much water just before, during, or after meals can also cause issues with food digestion because of its interaction with stomach acid.
While most people probably need to drink more water than they do now, it’s not necessary or even advised to drink gallons of water during the day.
When losing weight, I recommend drinking 2 liters of water a day because a little extra water is helpful for the detoxing process. If you get light headed or dizzy though, it’s a good idea to add some salt or an electrolyte supplement to your day.