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How much water do you really need to stay hydrated?


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Calah Alexander - published on 06/24/20

Probably more -- but water isn't the only thing you need.

Summer is in full swing and y’all, it is hot here in Texas … and I mean, hot. Time for your yearly reminder—hydrate or diedrate!

I know, it’s the best pun ever. I love repeating it to my children and clients just to watch them roll their eyes. But seriously, the principle is important. Most Americans spend the majority of our lives dehydrated, which can cause a host of health problems on its own, in addition to compounding effects on preexisting health conditions. The question everyone asks, though, is the same: how much water should I really be drinking?

The answer is pretty simple: more. That’s the easy part of the question of hydration. But drinking more water in itself is no guarantee of proper hydration. You also have to take into account how  you’re drinking that water, plus electrolyte loss and potential imbalance. 

1Drink this much water

We’ve all heard the old 8-cups-of-water-a-day rule, but all you have to do is open your kitchen cabinet to realize how impractical that guideline is. Is a cup a literal measuring cup? Is it a tumbler? What does an 8-ounce glass look like exactly? 8 glasses a day for me could be half the amount of water 8 glasses a day is for you, so let’s just throw that one out. A better rule of thumb is this: you should be drinking half your body weight in fluid ounces of water every day to stay properly hydrated.

I weigh 134 pounds, so I need to drink 67 ounces of water every day to maintain a baseline of good hydration. However, I drink significantly more water every day because this rule does not take into account fluid loss from sweat, exercise, sunlight, or dehydrating beverages and medications. As an outdoor personal trainer, I spend the majority of my day is outside in the sun. I sweat a lot. Plus it’s allergy season in Texas pretty much year-round, so I constantly take Zyrtec, which is dehydrating. Combined, these two things could easily lead to dehydration, so I generally drink at least double that amount of water every day. When calculating your baseline water intake, make sure you account for things like coffee, sweat, and sun exposure, and the effects of any medication you take. 

2Don't gulp

Making sure you’re getting enough water is only the starting point – the next thing you need to think about is the way you’re drinking that water. Gulping down 16 ounces every hour is actually counterproductive – your body can’t absorb and utilize fluid that you intake at a rapid pace, which is why in 45 minutes you’ll have to run for the bathroom where your clear urine will probably give you a false sense of hydration accomplishment. Clear urine isn’t actually a sign of good hydration – it’s a sign that the water you’re drinking is literally going right through you. Your urine should be light yellow, which means your body is absorbing and utilizing the water you drink to get rid of waste. The best way to accomplish this is to take a sip of water every few minutes – if you have trouble remembering this, set a timer on your phone or watch for five-minute intervals. Once you get into the habit of this, your body will naturally adjust and self-regulate by initiating a thirst reflex at regular intervals. 

3Don't forget electrolytes

This last point is often overlooked but it is key, especially in the summertime. Water alone is not enough to keep you properly hydrated if you’re sweating a lot — or even a little. When you sweat or cry, you lose electrolytes in the form of salt. This is why your tears are salty and so is your sweat (not that I recommend licking it to test that theory). Electrolytes are not found in water — they’re found mostly in the foods we eat, especially salt-rich foods.

This is a doubly important point to be aware of if you’re on a low sodium diet, because you may have an electrolyte imbalance and drinking more water actually makes this worse. The more water in your system, the greater the imbalance of electrolytes – which is why it is absolutely essential to replace those lost electrolytes. But don’t worry, you don’t have to dump a ton of salt on your food or drink sugar-laden Gatorade to accomplish this. Coconut water and salted chicken broth are both excellent sources of electrolytes (and many other important nutrients your body needs). Other good low-sugar choices include electrolyte tablets that you can add to water, pickle juice, and if you’re desperate, grab that bottle of Pedialyte that’s been languishing in your fridge and take a swig! Then go ahead and apologize to your kids for not taking their cries of protest seriously. 

Now that you’re properly hydrated, go outside and enjoy the summer sunshine!

family reading

Read more:
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Read more:
The crazy idea that might make this the best summer of your life

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