Water is arguably the second most crucial element after oxygen. The human body (along with every other living thing) requires water to survive. Chances are you can’t survive more than three days without it. Water is present in every single chemical reaction in the body and makes up over half its mass. It carries oxygen to our cells and cushions our joints, among many other things. We find out more about the importance of hydration and how much water you should be drinking daily.
The Role Of Water Within the Body
Did you know water makes up around 85% of the brain, 80% of blood and around 70% of lean muscle? Water is one of the very foundations of life. Our bodies lose water through sweat, digestion and even breathing, so it’s essential to replace these fluids throughout each day.
• Water transports vitamins, minerals and nutrients around the body. It enables macronutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins to be digested properly. It also helps to remove waste from the body.
• Water regulates the body’s cooling system, preventing you from overheating while working out, especially after intense exercise.
• Water removes toxins from the body, especially from the digestive tract.
• Water naturally suppresses your appetite and helps the body metabolise fat (which can result in weight loss).
• Water promotes good heart health. Keeping your body hydrated helps the heart pump blood through the vessels to your muscles.
• Water is critical to healthy digestion and makes vitamins and minerals more accessible by allowing for the breakdown of your food.
• Water keeps airways inflated and effective.
Water affects how you look
Not only is water critical to keeping your insides healthy; hydration shows on the outside too.
• Water helps to maintain proper muscle tone. By preventing dehydration, water gives the muscles the ability to expand and contract healthily.
• Water helps rid the body of fat. Through increasing metabolic function, water plays a crucial role in ridding the body of fat. Similarly, when you're dehydrated, fat deposits increase, causing your body to absorb more fat than required.
• Water promotes healthier skin. Being well hydrated keeps your skin cells juicy and full, reducing the formation and appearance of wrinkles and creating a youthful radiance. Many dermatologists also cite keeping hydrated as a critical way to combat acne and eczema.
Effects Of Dehydration
Now you’re aware of how vital water is for keeping you healthy, you might start to get an idea of what will happen if you don’t drink enough of it!
The most common causes of dehydration are diuretics (caffeine/alcohol), increased stress, hot environments and increased sweating (e.g. when exercising). Even the slightest tip towards dehydration can lead to the reduction of blood volume, decreased skin blood flow, decreased sweat rate, decreased heat dissipation and increased core temperature. Not only can this affect your performance in the gym, but it can cause you problems throughout the day.
• Dehydration is one of the leading causes of common problems such as headaches, fatigue and joint pain.
• Lack of water is the leading cause of daytime fatigue and poor concentration. As little as a 2% drop in your body’s water levels can trigger a fuzzy short-term memory, as well as a variety of other symptoms associated with that spaced out feeling.
• It is estimated that a 2% reduction in body fluids can result in performance decreases of up to 15-20% (1), impeding your strength and endurance and leading to faster fatigue.
• If you don’t drink water immediately following exercise, your body won’t receive its replenishing nutrients as fast and your performance and recovery may be affected in the following days.
• Hormone, chemical and electrolyte imbalance can weaken your immune system.
• Lack of water causes your skin cells to deflate and feel tight, dry and uncomfortable.
How Much Water Do You Need?
Many people have grown up hearing the ‘drink eight glasses of water a day’ myth (how big is the size of said glass? How frequently do I have to consume a glass? What if I drink from different glasses?)
But where did the idea that our bodies need eight glasses of water come from? Most say it started because of a report from the US Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council way back in 1945: ‘A suitable allowance for adults is 2.5 litres daily in most instances. Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.’
An individual’s recommended water intake varies depending on several factors such as their diet (how many diuretics they drink), gender, geographic location, temperature and exercise regime. It’s also important to note that around 20% of an individual’s daily water intake generally comes from food. Remember, it is imperative to hydrate before, during and after exercise.
As individual requirements can vary drastically, it’s not safe to specify a quantity suitable for everyone. However, as a guideline, it is generally accepted that women should drink around 2.2L of water per day and men should drink around 3L daily.
Hydration Practices for Training and Athletic Performance
You must stay hydrated if you want to perform optimally in and out of the gym. Water aids circulation and helps regulate body temperature, which is beneficial during training. Water helps form the structures of protein and glycogen, and our muscles are made mostly of water. Dehydration can prevent muscles from properly contracting, reducing muscle tone. Increasing water intake will help prevent muscle cramps, improve the strength of muscle contractions, and quicken muscle response.
If you are training in a hot environment, you need to continually hydrate during and after your workout to enhance your performance and recovery. Even being slightly dehydrated can result in suboptimal athletic performance. Improper hydration can also result in muscle cramping, decreased strength and reduced endurance. Don’t wait for a signal. By the time you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Instead of relying on a sign, drink water at regular intervals regardless of thirst.
Before extended periods of training or activity, such as long-distance running, it can be useful to take an electrolyte supplement such as True’s Endurance Fuel to maintain salt and sugar levels in the body.
Hydration And Weight Loss
Being adequately hydrated can assist in weight loss. The thirst mechanism is often mistaken for hunger, leading to unnecessary calorie consumption. Water can naturally suppress appetite and increase the body's ability to metabolise stored fat.
Are We Drinking Too Much Or Too Little?
We’re constantly inundated with new studies reporting that we’re dehydrated. While it’s essential to stay wary of our water intake, there’s a fine line at either end of the hydration spectrum. Just as dehydration can be dangerous, over-hydration can be equally as damaging.
It is critical not to drink more water than our bodies can process. Water intoxication is the result of drinking too much water in a short space of time. It is dangerous because it throws out the balance of salts and electrolytes within your body. In extreme cases, water intoxication has even been known to cause death.
By having a general awareness of the amount of water your own body needs and making sure you stick within the recommended realms of consumption, you’re sure to keep safely hydrated.
Tips For Staying Hydrated
How do we know when our body needs more water? By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. If you make an effort to keep up your water intake throughout the day, you’ll avoid feeling any adverse effects from dehydration. A great indicator is the colour of your urine. Clear or pale yellow urine means you’re well-hydrated while dark yellow indicates you should be drinking more water.
• Start the day with a 500ml glass of water. It is important to hydrate after going without water for the 6-8 hours you were asleep. It helps to flush out any toxins in the body and will set your day up with positive and healthy behaviour.
• Have a 250ml glass of water before each meal.
• Use a large water bottle with measurements clearly labelled and set yourself water goals for each hour you are awake.
• Take a water bottle in the car/bus/train with you and keep one with you when you’re at work.
• Set the alarm to remind yourself to drink water every hour you are awake.
• If you struggle to drink plain tap water, you can make it more palatable by adding some sliced fruits, drinking soda water or having a tea.
There’s no exact science to calculate just how much water you should be drinking on any given day. Gender, size, age, environment, health and activity levels all affect how much water we need. The important thing is to listen to your body – it knows what it needs to run itself!
Kleiner, SM. (1999). Water: an essential but overlooked nutrient. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(4), 411.