How Much Water Should You Really Drink Every Day?

You may have heard the common suggestion that we should consume eight glasses of water a day, but individual needs aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all. Knowing more about your body’s fluid needs will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.

Brittney Bearden, Sports Dietitian

Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine, says that while necessary daily water intake will vary from person to person, you may need more than you think — and we all may have been following an outdated suggestion for many years.

“There is no scientific evidence to support the theory that eight 8-ounce glasses of water are needed per day,” she says. “The actual recommendation from the Institute of Medicine is higher than eight cups per day. Their general fluid recommendation for women is 91 ounces and for men 125 ounces. Roughly 20 percent of water intake comes from food, so 80 percent comes to approximately 73 ounces for women and approximately 100 ounces for men. However, it’s important to remember that fluid needs vary between individuals, as age, body weight, muscle mass and activity level influence needs.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), water plays a crucial part in helping our bodies regulate temperature, lubricating and cushioning joints, protecting the spinal cord and other tissues, and eliminating waste via perspiration, urination and bowel movements. Adequate daily water consumption also prevents dehydration, a condition that can lead to confusion, mood change, constipation, kidney stones and overheating.

Daily water recommendations

Because our bodies are almost 60 percent water, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated. Bearden recommends an easy way to figure out how much water to drink and provides an easy way to judge hydration.

“A general guideline is to drink half your weight (in pounds) in ounces and adjust based on factors like physical activity, climate, and sweat rate.” she says. “Individuals with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease or heart failure, should check with their primary doctor or cardiologist to determine their hydration needs.

“The color of a person’s urine can also be a rough indicator of hydration status but is not an absolute. Urine should be pale yellow, like the color of lemonade, with an adequate fluid intake,” she continues. “Urine that is as dark as apple juice could indicate inadequate intake or another condition.”

The CDC recommends increasing your water intake if you live in a hot climate, are breastfeeding, running a fever, or experiencing diarrhea or vomiting. While we absorb water from both food and drinks, plain water is the best way to consume plenty of H2O, as it is calorie-free.

Bearden says physically active individuals need to pay particular attention to fluid intake, as they will lose more fluids through sweat.

“It’s important to hydrate properly and consistently throughout the day and continue hydrating throughout exercise,” she explains. “Fluid needs are influenced by activity level and individual sweat rate. One way to monitor fluid losses during activity is to weigh in before and after activity and drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.

“Electrolyte-containing sports drinks are wise to incorporate for exercise lasting longer than one hour. Carry a filled water bottle throughout the day to promote consistent water intake and monitor urine color for hydration status.”

The CDC reports the majority of Americans don’t consume enough water each day, and that daily intake varies by age and other factors. Between 2005 and 2010, American youth drank only an average of 15 ounces of water a day, while adults consumed around 39 ounces. Daily water intake is also lower in older adults, lower-income adults and those with a lower education level.

How to know when enough is enough

While it’s clear that most of us likely need to increase our daily water consumption, it is possible to drink too much water.

“While it’s uncommon, you can drink too much water ― which can lead to negative health effects,” Bearden explains. “Over-hydration can lead to nausea, vomiting and changes in mental function such as confusion and disorientation. It can also lead to dangerously low sodium levels, which cause more severe symptoms. To avoid over-hydration, spread your water consumption out throughout the day and avoid drinking large amounts of water in a short period of time.”

Bearden further explains that when a person consumes too much water, the sodium content in the body is diluted and the kidneys can’t excrete the surplus of water. This leads to a life-threatening condition called hyponatremia.

Now that you know the facts, the CDC provides the following tips for increasing your daily water intake. Check with your doctor regarding water/fluid needs as well:

  • Carry a water bottle to make it simple to consume water all day long.
  • If you find it easier to drink cold water, freeze water bottles and sip on them all day long as the ice melts.
  • Add wedges of lemon, lime or other fruits or even cucumber, to add flavor to your water and encourage increased consumption.
  • When you’re at home, at work or at a restaurant, choose water over sugar-sweetened beverages, and encourage your children to do so as well. This will also eliminate unnecessary calories and promote weight management.

To learn more about sports medicine and sports nutrition through Texas Health, visit TexasHealth.org/SportsMedicine.

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