Eight glasses of water a day is what we’ve been told for years. But is that actually the case? Here’s what the science says about how much water you actually need.
Is lemon water better than plain water? And what about alkaline water? Read on for my two cents on these topics and a closer look at what the experts say.
How Does Your Body Regulate Hydration?
Let’s first talk about how hydration is regulated. Our bodies are pretty smart: go figure. As it turns out, a healthy body maintains a pretty tight balance through mechanisms like thirst response and hormone secretion, such as antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which decreases the amount of fluid excreted by your kidneys. Note that hydration needs can vary depending on your state of health and life stage: the recommendations below are meant as a general guide and should never replace the advice of your healthcare provider! That goes for anything you read on the internet;)
What Does Water Do For the Body?
Let’s be clear, water plays a very important role in our bodies. Our bodies are 55-70% water – so it’s clear that it’s important. Drinking adequate water helps lubricate our joints, maintain a healthy digestive system and energy levels, hydrate our skin, decrease the risk of kidney stones and more. In fact, drinking a glass of water with a meal may help buffer the immediate increase in blood pressure associated with eating that specific meal. Water is a good thing. I saw some awful article months ago suggesting that drinking water was a BAD thing – that is ridiculous.
How Does Food Impact Hydration?
A lot. It’s estimated that 20% of our water consumption comes in the form of food. Clearly this depends on what, and how much, you eat. Here is a rough idea of which foods are high in water naturally.
Does Coffee and Caffeine Dehydrate Your Body?
Caffeine does have a diuretic effect. However, drinks such as coffee, tea and soda (not that I recommend soda for the record) do not have a NET dehydration effect on the body. While caffeine does cause your body to excrete extra fluids it doesn’t dehydrate you. For instance, in a cup of standard coffee you would lose about half of the fluid consumed (ie: coffee would be approximately 50% as hydrating as the same volume of water). This is rough math that depends on the caffeine content, but all to say that these beverages do still count toward your daily total.
Does Alcohol Count Toward Hydration?
Alcohol is a different story. Thirst and hydration systems, regulated by hormones (ADH), are negatively impacted by alcohol, leading to an increase in the fluid expelled. In fact, a typical alcoholic drink will leave you in a fluid deficit. The degree to which it is dehydrating really depends on the concentration of alcohol in your drink. So yes, alcohol is dehydrating.
Are You Dehydrated by the Time You’re Thirsty?
Not necessarily. Thirst is a signal to drink water, and happens before our bodies are technically dehydrated. While thirst is a trigger for the body to consume more water, it is early to the party when it comes to our hydration status. It is there to help us prevent dehydration. There we go, those bodies of ours being all smart and stuff again.
Is Lemon Water Better?
Short version? Nope. I mean, you get a tiny bit of extra vitamin C but not enough to make a real difference. Drink it if you enjoy it, but don’t expect it to transform you!
What About Alkaline Water?
There has been a lot of hype over alkaline water – is it worth shucking out the bucks for? Alkaline water is water that has an altered (higher) pH with ridiculous health claims. Long story short, our bodies are ninjas at regulating pH within a tight range, and there is no evidence to support drinking alkaline water. Go spend your money elsewhere my friends (same goes for the rubbish claims about ionized water).
Tips to Drink More Water
I am still a big supporter of drinking enough water – it really is important.
- Keep water nearby! Try to keep a gallon jug or large bottle at your desk, by the bed, in your car, or on the counter as a constant reminder to drink up. The more you have to look at that water jug, the more you’ll remember to fill it and drink it.
- Add some flavour! Make water more exciting by adding fresh fruit, veggie slices (try cucumber, ginger or celery), and herbs (basil or mint) into your water. See below for more ideas!
- Keep that jug full! Make a rule that as soon as you finish a container you have to fill it back up again. You’re just more likely to keep drinking if the glass is full.
- Have a tea party (for one!). I love making tea during the day because it gives me a “mini” break. It’s the perfect warm, gentle beverage that always seems to make me feel a little calmer. A hot mug of tea on a winter afternoon or an ice cold glass in the summer are just about the best two things ever. It’s another way to ensure i’m staying hydrated.
- Use a (reusable) straw. Drinking through a straw helps you drink larger amounts in a shorter period of time. Don’t believe me? Try it, and you’ll be surprised at how much more water you can down.
Infused Water Ideas
I mentioned above how a great tip for drinking more water is by adding exciting flavours like fresh fruit and herbs. Adding flavour can help you get more excited about drinking water – not to mention my kids love the fun additions. While there are limitless variations of things to add to your water, I have a sweet spot for a couple combinations to keep me hydrated.
Cucumber and mint is so refreshing and makes me think I am at a spa even when I am very clearly not (mom life in the world of social distancing lol!). Lemon and orange water is another go-to that tastes great and is super refreshing. Okay you have to hear me out on this last one… strawberry and basil! Don’t knock it until you try it people. Another refreshing way to get that water in.
Can You Drink Too Much Water?
Yes. Water Intoxication is a real thing. Drinking too much water can dilute the electrolytes in the body, and can be dangerous. Water intoxication provokes disturbances in electrolyte balance, resulting in a rapid decrease in serum sodium concentration and eventual death. While there appears to be no firm guidelines on this matter, experts tend to recommend no more than 1 L of fluids per hour.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
Eating a healthy balanced diet and drinking when thirsty should be all that you need. While the “8 glasses a day” guideline may help encourage us to stay hydrated, there is little science to back up the recommendation. Many factors impact how much water you need, including your age, gender, activity level, pregnancy and overall health.
As per usual, I recommend listening to your body (something we need to do more of). In addition, a good indication of hydration status is the colour of your urine which should be very pale yellow. If it is a dark yellow, it is a good indication that you need more water. Note that some supplements may change the colour of your urine.
This information is not intended to provide individualized recommendations. Please consult a healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet.