Let Thirst Be Your Guide
Drinking water is an incredibly basic human need. Many people use it to jumpstart their weight management program. We’ve all heard that the more water you drink, the less hungry you feel. Despite this fact, there seems to be a staggering amount of confusion and conflicting viewpoints on the subject: Drink eight cups of water; drink half your body weight (in ounces); drink your FULL body weight (in ounces); only drink when you’re thirsty; drink when you’re hungry, because that means you’re really thirsty!
This all is needlessly confusing, which is concerning because your body really does need a good amount of water every day to function properly. About 60% of your body is made of water, which helps lubricate your joints, gets rid of waste through urination, cools the body through perspiration and gives your water bottle something to do besides sit in a cup holder while you sweat it out on the elliptical. Drinking the right amount of water is an important part in everyone’s healthy eating habits.
But even if you’re not very active, you lose water every day through sweat, pee, breathing, bowel movements and crying over chopped onions during meal prep (or let’s be honest, those Sarah McLachlan dog commercials on TV).
Drinking too little water can lead to dehydration — a scary condition exercisers have been cautioned against in every text, handout and presentation on fluid replacement. Dehydration results from a sweat rate that is beyond fluid replenishment. Even a mild amount of dehydration can cause decreased energy and decreased performance. Other symptoms of dehydration include less frequent and dark colored urine, extreme thirst, dizziness and confusion.
While dehydration is a concern, it is important to know that you can also drink too much water, causing hyponatremia. Hyponatremia -- a potentially severe and life-threatening condition -- happens when your sodium levels are too low. A study of 488 Boston Marathon runners published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 13% of runners had hyponatremia at the end of the race. But, hyponatremia is not limited to runners. Anyone who is exercising at a low to moderate intensity for a prolonged period of time while consuming too much water can be at risk, especially if you’re not well experienced with intense exercise. Symptoms of hyponatremia include: Headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, decreased energy, irritability, muscle weakness, cramps, or spasms, seizures and coma.
So, how much water is enough? Recent studies say to let thirst be your guide. If you are thirsty, drink water. If you are not thirsty, you are probably well hydrated. The exceptions to this rule are infants, elderly, people who are sick, high-level athletes and athletes training in extreme temperatures. The old eight-glass-per-day rule is a great start, but it’s not a perfect science.