The great water debate! Are you confused as to how much water you should drink each day? Don’t worry…you are not alone. The amount of water the human body needs vary from person to person depending on physical activity levels, your environment, percentage of body fat, and your age. Although there are no one size fits all category in regards to how much you need, knowing more about your body’s specific needs will help you estimate how much water you should drink each day.
The human body is made up of about 60% water and your blood is about 90% water. Water is essential and serves many functions in the body, such as flushing toxins from vital organs, carrying nutrients in and out of cells, providing moisture for tissues, and regulating body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. We expel water every day through breathing, urine, sweat, and bowel movements therefore providing sufficient amounts of H2O is necessary to avoid dehydration. We obtain water from beverages (preferably water) and from foods that contain water, such as fruits and vegetables. So, how much do you need? The Institute of Medicine has determined that men need at least 13 cups (3 liters) and women should consume at least 9 cups (2.2 liters) of water per day.
I mentioned earlier that the amount of water we need varies depending on physical activity, your surroundings, etc., so let’s dive a bit further into how body utilizes water.
- If you exercise, you will sweat! This means you need to replenish water lost during physical activity. An additional 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of water should be a sufficient amount of water for low to moderate levels of exercise. However, if you exercise vigorously and continuously for more than one hour, you will need to replenish water and electrolytes with a sports drink containing sodium.
- Your environment plays an important role. I live in sunny south Florida therefore the higher temperatures mean that I sweat more than my family living in Connecticut. Hot and humid weather increases body temperature and perspiration. Higher altitudes, greater than 8200 feet, requires additional fluid intake due to increased water lost for breathing and urination.
- An illness resulting in fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea increases fluid loss therefore it is extremely important to stay hydrated during bouts of illness. An electrolyte drink is usually necessary to replenish water and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding require more water due to increased blood volume and increased fluid needs. The Institute of Medicine recommends pregnant women drink at least 10 cups of water daily and 13 cups of water per day during lactation.
As a nutritionist I suggest drinking good ole water. However, there are other sources of fluids that do a great job keeping us adequately hydrated. Any liquid provides fluids however some are better than others. Here is what I recommend:
- Tea and herbal teas
- Fresh squeezed fruit juice
- Fruit flavored water
- Coffee (limit to 2 cups per day)
- Electrolyte drinks such as Coconut Water
- And, of course, WATER
Drinks that you should avoid, or have in moderation include:
- Soft drinks
Some foods are a great source of fluids, such as:
- Soups and broths
In summary, make sure you are adequately hydrated by drinking 9-13 cups of water per day. Make sure to increase your consumption of water if you are physically active, live in a hot and humid climate, are pregnant or nursing, and if you are experiencing an illness.