Drink more water. Period.
Ok, fine let’s elaborate! Water is fundamental to all life on earth. Without water life wound end in 3-5 days. Water makes up more than 70% of the body’s tissue and plays a role in nearly every body function, from regulating temperature and cushioning joints to bringing oxygen and nutrients to the cells and removing wastes from the body. Without clean water we cannot experience optimal health. Yet most of us fail to get enough of it.
“We are only in our infancy with respect to our scientific comprehension of what water actually is and what it does within and surrounding our cells”*. One thing we know for certain is that it is essential to critical cellular communication on all levels and is the single most important substance for life (along with oxygen).
“Often what may seem like a complex physical or emotional issue is little more than chronic dehydration. Losing as little as 2 percent of your body’s water content through diuresis (peeing/sweating etc) or dehydration can result in noticeable fatigue. A drop of 10 % can cause problems ranging from muscoskeletal issues (ex: joint pain, back pain, cramps) to digestive problems (heartburn, constipation), immune problems or allergies and even cardiovascular symptoms.” **
Replacement is key. But very individual.
All day long you lose water, as you breathe, when you perspire (both of which I hope you are doing a lot of!), and each time you make a trip to the toilet. Folks who lead moderately active lifestyles lose about 6-8 cups (1.5-2 liters) of water each day. For optimal health and well being, at least that much water must be replaced, meaning at least 3 quarts of water needs to be replaced under normal circumstances. Fresh fruits and vegetables can provide up to 1 quart, drinking pure water is the other source of replacement. Caffeinated beverages, such as tea, coffee or colas and alcoholic beverages do not count as water replacement because they act as diuretics in the body, increasing fluid losses from the kidneys. Contaminants and other substances combined with water ultimately make water less hydrating to the cell (meaning the water does not get into the cell in the same way). This is why pure water is always more hydrating than say juice or tea. Sweetened “sports drinks” may enhance water retention (water filling up on the outside of the cell), but they are inefficient at actually rehydrating the inside of your cells, where water is most needed.
Water is the ultimate calorie free and sugar free substance. Regular ol’ water can also play a significant role in losing weight because of the way it revs up metabolism and hydrates cells so that they can process carbohydrates and fats more efficiently. When your body’s cells are adequately hydrated, you accelerate the liver’s ability to convert stored fat into usable energy and help your kidney’s flush out toxins.
Initial weight loss is largely due to a loss of water, and you need to drink an adequate amount of water in order to avoid dehydration. The process of burning calories requires an adequate supply of water in order to function efficiently; dehydration slows down the fat-burning process.
Dehydration causes a reduction in blood volume; a reduction in blood volume causes a reduction in the supply of oxygen to your muscles; and a reduction in the supply of oxygen to your muscles can make you feel tired. It is very important to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Water helps maintain muscle tone by assisting muscles in their ability to contract, and it lubricates your joints. Proper hydration can help reduce muscle and joint soreness when exercising.
A healthy (weight loss) diet includes a good amount of fiber (which we will talk about soon). But while fiber is normally helpful to your digestive system, without adequate fluids it can cause constipation instead of helping to eliminate it. Drinking water 30 minutes before a meal may make you feel full sooner and therefore you may be satisfied eating less. With sufficient water intake, we tend to crave proteins more than carbohydrates….just what we want!
Many folks confuse hunger and thirst, thinking their hungry when they are actually dehydrated. When people reach for water first, they can separate the two sensations, which stops them from overeating.
When you feel thirsty, you are often already dehydrated. Try to avoid this situation by drinking in advance. Be especially careful when participating in activities where you won’t be able to stop to get caught up. If the kidneys are water-deprived, the liver has to do their work along with its own, lowering its total productivity. It then can’t metabolize fat as quickly or efficiently as it could when the kidneys were pulling their own weight. If you allow this to happen, not only are you being unfair to your liver, but you’re also setting yourself up to store fat.
How much water should you be drinking? A general rule of thumb is a half ounce for every pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should aim for drinking 75 ounces of pure water. That is just over 2 quarts and another 1 quart of water replaced through fresh fruits and veggies, providing you are eating plenty. I feel for all of you this is a good amount, considering you are increasing your activity level as well as part of this challenge.
Then again, overconsuming water can lead to something called water intoxication and overdilution of sodium in the body. It’s a little like drowning from the inside out. Anyone who is way overzealous about water consumption can succumb to the ill effects of hydration excess though true water intoxication is rare. Most people really do fail to drink enough water, but just watch out for going to far the other way.
Keep in mind that it is less about how much you drink than how fast you drink it…we can get into trouble when we drink too much all at once…as with anything. The human body (and kidneys) can process only so much water at a time. Listen to your body, it will tell you when you’ve had enough for now.
Water consumption should be spread out throughout the day, one or two glasses upon waking and also about 30 minutes before each meal. Try to pick three or four times a day when you can have a big glass of water, and then sip steadily in between. Don’t let yourself get thirsty. If you feel thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated. Drink when you’re not thirsty yet. If you consume any dehydrating beverages like coffee, all juices, soda or alcohol…be sure to add another 12-16 ounces of pure water for every 8 ounces of diuretic beverages consumed.
Do Not Drink Water With Meals: Avoid drinking water within 30 mins – 1 hour of a larger meal. Drinking with meals leads to a more rapid digestion of the food you are eating and therefore a greater tendency to lose out on proper absorption of crucial vitamins and minerals in your foods. Drinking water with meals can greatly contribute to heartburn and acid reflux (as can eating fruits with other foods). Try to change the habits you may have been brought up with that we know are not beneficial. If you experience heartburn or reflux regularly….this is super important and will greatly help…cut the water and fruit with meals.
Basic Water and Rehydration “Rules’:
- Drink when you are thirsty….listen to your body
- Drink more when in higher altitudes (increase work of breathing) or much dryer climates
- Drink more if sweating profusely
- Drink a bit more as you age
- Drink more when very ill or fighting disease
- Drink more if pregnant or nursing
- Do not drink with meals
Our individual need for water depends on numerous factors: Activity level, body size, environment (humidity level and altitude, most significantly), quality of health, age, and pregnancy/breastfeeding.
Be conscious of over hydration (rare but can and does happen), which is often more dangerous than dehydration.
While specific fluid recommendations aren’t possible due to individual variability, most athletes can use the following guidelines as a starting point, and modify their fluid needs accordingly.
Hydration Before Exercise
- Drink about 15-20 fl oz, 2-3 hours before exercise
- Drink 8-10 fl oz 10-15 min before exercise
Hydration During Exercise
- Drink 8 fl oz every 20 min during exercise if greater than 1 hour (don’t worry if your workout is less than 30-45 mins)
- If exercising longer than 90 minutes, drink 8-10 fl oz of a sports drink or replacement (with no more than 8 percent carbohydrate) every 20 – 30 minutes….sipping so as to avoid the stomach upset
Hydration After Exercise: focus here!
- Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replace fluid losses.
- Drink 15-20 fl oz water for every 1 lb lost.
- Consume a 4:1 ratio of carb to protein within the 2 hours after extended exercise to replenish glycogen stores.
1) Short workouts don’t usually require water – If you’re doing a quick 20-45 minute run or strength training routine, you can simply drink 20-24 ounces of water after you finish. Unless it’s very hot or you’re beginning the workout in a dehydrated state, you’re not going to “lose performance” by not drinking.
2) Long workouts require water – By the time you get thirsty during a sweaty, long workout, such as a 10 mile run, you may have already lost 2% body weight. Dehydration can occur when you reach just 3%. So if you’re waiting to get really thirsty before you drink, you could be dehydrating and limiting your performance or recovery. For long workouts, try to consume 5-10 ounces of water every 20 minutes (choose the higher range for hotter conditions).
Tips to meet your water quota throughout the day:
- Make it a habit to carry water with you at all times. I have a stainless steel water bottle with lots of stickers on it to make it more personal!
- Keep a bottle or pitcher of water near your desk at work. If it’s there you’ll drink it, if it’s not you won’t!
- Always order water with whatever other beverage you get when dining out.
- Drink extra water before, during and after physical exercise.
- Non-caffeinated tea and milk alternative still count to some degree….for every cup (8 oz’s) of each of these, count it as 1/2 cup. (water is preferred though esp for weight loss!)
- Squeeze fresh lemon or lime into your water to make it more refreshing!
Health benefits of drinking water
- regulate appetite
- increase metabolism
- boost energy levels
- less water retention
- alleviate some headaches
- help reduce blood pressure
- help reduce high cholesterol
- ease joint pain
- decrease in risk of some cancers
- less chance developing kidney stones
- release toxic waste products
- improves skin
* Gerald Pollack, Ph.D, Univ of Washington professor of bioengineering and author of the book Cells, Gels and Engines of Life
** Nora Gedgaudes, CNS, CNT