It might seem like a simple question, but in reality, how much water you should be drinking can be more complicated than you think. Exactly how much water you need per day depends on many factors, such as the climate, your daily activities, metabolic function, and other variables. To make it more straightforward, we've gathered the latest research from experts and outlined some useful tips into this comprehensive, easy to use guide. (As always, you should consult a licensed dietitian or healthcare practitioner whenever making decisions about your everyday water intake).
Health Benefits of H2O
Let’s start with the benefits of water and why you should be drinking it. Making up between 60–70% of your body weight and serving as your body's main chemical component, water is essential for survival. In fact, your body needs water in order for every cell, organ, and tissue to function properly. According to the Mayo Clinic, water is essential for maintaining normal body temperature as well as detoxing the body through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements. As Mayo Clinic experts point out, water also lubricates and cushions joints, while also protecting sensitive tissues from damage.
Keep It Balanced
Whatever your lifestyle and unique needs of your body, one thing you should keep in mind is the importance of maintaining a healthy balance with your daily hydration. For example, dehydration can cause disorientation, dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, and even death in extreme circumstances. According to the Mayo Clinic, even mild dehydration can make you feel tired and drained.
Although very rare for healthy adults, over-hydration can be just as problematic, especially with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, and changes in mental state. Additionally, mild symptoms of over-hydration such as distractibility and fatigue might not be as serious but can still be a nuisance.
So how much water should you drink per day? As a general rule, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend about 15.5 cups or 3.7 liters of fluids for men and approximately 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters of fluids a day for women. This amount includes all types of fluids, including water, other beverages, and food. As nutrition experts at the Mayo Clinic point out, "About 20% of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks."
Factors That Affect Your Water Needs
When deciding on a healthy amount of water to drink per day, you should consider your environment. In hot and humid climates, for instance, you're likely to sweat more, which will cause your body to lose fluids. In this type of climate, you'll need more water to stay hydrated since you'll need to replace your fluid loss. Excessive sun exposure can also dry out the body and make you feel thirsty, a sure-fire sign of mild dehydration.
In contrast, staying hydrated in cold, high-altitude climates should also be on your radar. You might not feel as thirsty in cold weather, but the combination of dry air from the high altitude, plus the additional loss of carbs from the body acclimating to more frigid temperatures can cause a substantial amount of fluid loss. Further complicating matters, dehydration in cold environments also puts you at a higher risk for hypothermia, a serious condition that can be easily prevented by drinking enough water.
You should also consider your daily activities and amount of exercise, especially since you can lose fluids through urination and sweat. As the experts from the Mayo Clinic explain, “If you do any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to cover the fluid loss." In fact, to feel your best and maintain optimal energy levels, it's important to prehydrate about two hours before any activity.
Of course, you should always drink throughout your exercise routine to stay properly hydrated, as well. After an intense workout that lasts more than an hour, you also burn carbs and lose sodium, which is why sports scientists from Triathlete.com recommend a sports drink with a balanced amount of electrolytes.
Your body also loses fluids if you're feeling under the weather. If you have a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, make sure you drink more water than usual or other doctor-recommended rehydration drinks. Drinking more fluids also applies to bladder infections and urinary tract stones.
Women that are pregnant or breastfeeding also need extra fluids to maintain healthy hydration. According to the Office On Women's Health, pregnant women should drink about 10 cups or 2.4 liters of fluids daily and breastfeeding mothers should drink approximately 13 cups or 3.1 liters of fluids per day.
Water Quality & Flavor
Now that you have a better idea of how much water you need every day, the quality of your H2O is also worth considering. Water easily takes on the characteristics of other substances, which is why you should invest in a high-quality insulated water bottle. Look for one made with premium stainless steel and no added BPA chemicals, which can leach into your body over time. Water also doesn't have much flavor, which can be boring for the taste buds. You can easily enhance the flavor with slices of cucumber, strawberries, muddled mint leaves, or other varieties of your favorite fruits and herbs.
For a healthy, anytime pick-me-up, ginger tea with honey and lemon can be quickly made at home with a few basic ingredients. Simply place a few slices of fresh ginger in your mug, plus the juice of one lemon wedge, and then add boiling water. Sweeten with honey to your liking and allow it to steep for several minutes. The combination of the stimulating ginger and lemon makes this soothing drink an excellent liver detox that naturally uplifts your energy. If the weather is hot and humid, you can also pour this energizing tea over a glass of ice.
Signs of Healthy Hydration
There are several simple ways to test if your body is properly hydrated. For one, you should rarely feel thirsty. Your urine should also be either colorless or a light yellow color. To make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day, experts recommend drinking a glass of water or another type of low-calorie drink with each meal and also in between meals.
Armed with a few expert tips and your own intuition, staying hydrated is as easy as keeping your water bottle full!