Raza Ahmad, MD, discusses the question of how much water to drink on a given day. Dr. Ahmad practices at Delancey Internal Medicine, located at Penn Medicine Washington Square.
We all know the human body is predominantly made up of water. We also know that the body thrives when it is properly hydrated. But what is "proper hydration?" Do we really need to be running to the water cooler every 15 minutes to fill up our water bottle? And, do we really need to drink so much water? Can we drink other liquids instead? The answer is…well, a bit fluid.
Why Water is So Important
Water is a vital part of your body’s overall health — because it affects every cell of your body. It is a huge component of muscle and helps you produce energy. This is why you’ll often get a cramp when you work out without proper hydration.
Water also helps the body to maintain its temperature, remove waste and lubricate joints.
“Hydration has the greatest impact on training, performance and recovery," says Dr. Ahmad. "Dehydration, even at the lowest level, can result in impaired performance.”
How do I know if I am hydrated enough?
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids, mostly water, than it is taking in. With dehydration, more water is moving out of our cells and body than what we take in through drinking.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe. Increased thirst, dry mouth, weakness, dizziness, confusion and fatigue are all signs that an individual may be lacking the proper amount of water.
Many think that dry mouth is one of the first signs of dehydration. If you are experiencing dry mouth, though, your body is likely already craving water. If you are concerned that you may be dehydrated, a good way to check is to check the color of your urine.
If your urine is anything but clear, you are lacking the water your body needs. Yellow and orange are not the colors of healthy urine. If your urine is brown, you need to speak with your physician.
Should I only drink water?
It is rare, but you can actually drink too much water.
As much as you need water, too much in your system can create an imbalance between water and electrolytes. When you sweat or lose water through other ways, you lose electrolytes. Replenishing your body with just water can dilute the electrolytes that are already low in your system. This could lead to your sodium levels becoming very low. When this occurs, you could become very ill. Although this is rare, it does occur.
During intense physical activity where you are sweating quite a bit, you may want to grab a sports drink or coconut water rather than plain water. This will help to better replace sodium lost in sweat.
"For slower athletes, it is recommend to drink according to thirst," said Dr. Ahmad. "Elite level athletes should follow a recovery plan, which includes drinking water and carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks."
How much water do I need each day?
This is last for a reason. Although the question is rather simple, the answer is much more complicated.
Unfortunately, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to the amount of water you should consume on a daily basis.
As a general rule of thumb, you should try to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, it is recommended you drink 100 ounces of water if you are performing non-strenuous activities.
If you are going to be working out or hiking, you definitely should add to those 100 ounces. It is recommended that you drink 12 ounces of water a couple hours before your activity and then another 12 ounces about 30 minutes prior to the start. Be sure to also drink throughout the activity.
Other factors to keep in mind when thinking about your daily water consumption include the environment and any illnesses or health conditions. Hot or humid air makes you sweat more and will require additional intake of fluid. If you are sick and vomiting or have a fever, you will again be losing fluid more quickly and need to replenish.
As you can tell, being properly hydrated is important but not a perfect science. The best approach is to listen to your body and look for the feedback signs.
"I can not emphasize enough the importance of hydration," says Dr. Ahmad. "It has the greatest impact on training performance and recovery. Lack of hydration can lead to severe problems, including muscle breakdown, kidney injury and electrolyte imbalances."
Keep Calm and Hydrate on!
Have additional questions or concerns?