Water doesn’t get the same attention as green tea, antioxidant drinks, and the latest fad diets. Yet it plays a much more critical role in our daily lives and our bodies. Cells need adequate hydration to optimize the production of energy from food. If you don’t have adequate hydration in the cells, your ability to produce energy is reduced and you feel fatigued. Water comprises from 75% body weight in infants to 55% in the elderly and is essential for life on a cellular level. Every system depends on water. Adequate water intake is often overlooked, and often with severe repercussions. The human body needs water for all functions, including digestion, regulating body temperature, removing waste from the body, lubricating joints, maintaining heart rate and blood pressure, protecting tissues and healthy skin, hair and nails.
The amount of water an individual should consume depends on several factors, including:
Activity levels– any sweating requires fluid consumption to replace lost water. Maintain hydration throughout activity.
Climate- hot and humid environments put people at higher risk of dehydration. Read our post here on the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke for more information.
Existing health concerns/conditions– Health concerns such as diabetes, bladder infections, and even colds/flu require more hydration than normal. Women who are pregnant or nursing should also increase fluid intake.
Certain medications require maintaining adequate hydration, check with your healthcare provider.
Thirst is the body’s way of alarming you to dehydration, so keep on top of water intake to avoid it. Other signs of dehydration are:
- Infrequent urinating
- Excessive sweating (the body is trying to cool down)
- Dark-colored urine (ideally, urine is light yellow or clear)
- Dry skin
- Feeling light-headed, faint, or dizzy
If you, or somebody you are with is experiencing these symptoms, take action to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke as well.
According to, Dr. Timothy Noakes, professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and author of Waterlogged, electrolyte heavy drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade are unnecessary “if you’re working out for less than an hour, water will do just fine. You don’t deplete electrolyte and glycogen reserves until you’ve been exercising intensely for over an hour.” However, if somebody is experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke, electrolytes can help recovery.
So how much water is enough? According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, water consumption needed is:
• About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
• About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children drink plenty of fluids before starting any exercise and continue to drink during physical activity. During exercise, the AAP suggests drinking about 3-8 ounces of water, every 20 minutes for children 9-12, and about 34-50 ounces per hour for adolescent boys and girls.
More than half of children and teenagers in the United States are not properly hydrated, according to a nationwide study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The problem doesn’t stop when we enter adulthood. The National Hydration Council found that one in 10 consultations for tiredness and fatigue could be attributed to dehydration, and more than a third of the patients reported feeling better after drinking more water. Thirst sensation doesn’t really appear until we are 1 or 2 percent dehydrated. By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform
Athletes need to take precautions to avoid dehydration as well. The same study recommends drinking 16 ounces one hour prior to exercise, 4-8 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise, and another 16 ounces an hour after exercise. The amounts can vary depending on your personal response, heat index, and the type of activity.
If these amounts seem high, keep in mind that the amounts include all fluid intake, even from food and other beverages.
For many people, it is difficult to imagine consuming that much water in a day, even if a portion isn’t a direct result of drinking water. To mix things up, and also introduce other necessary nutrients throughout the day, consuming fruits and vegetables, which are between 80-98% water can help. A few great options are:
Contains vitamin A, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin B2 & B6 vitamin E, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and fiber.
A great benefit of tomatoes is lycopene, an antioxidant that may help prevent heart disease and cancers. Tomatoes also contain vitamins C,K, potassium, and folate.
Watermelon is 92% water and also contains potassium, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B-6.
Snacking on cucumbers with healthy dip (and watch portions!) such as hummus, or Greek yogurt is a great way to benefit from the copper, potassium, manganese, vitamin C, phosphorus, magnesium, biotin and vitamin B1 found in cucumbers.
Whether a glass of ice cold, freshly-squeezed juice, or slices, oranges provide potassium, vitamins A, C, calcium, and are also a source of fiber.
We often hear that we should choose darker leafy greens because of the nutrient content, but Iceberg lettuce is the front runner for water content. It also contains vitamins A,K, and potassium and folate.
There are plenty of other hidden sources of water in your diet as well. If you want to tap into these foods, reach for oatmeal, yogurt, soup, and smoothies.
Also avoid consuming too much alcohol since it’s a diuretic (increasing the frequency of urination). If fluid is not replenished, over consumption can quickly lead to dehydration. Even though caffeine is a diuretic, the latest studies in the Journal of Family Practice show our bodies quickly compensate. So even caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea have a net hydrating effect. Sure, plain water and decaf beverages will hydrate you more, but you can still count that iced coffee as a quencher as much as it is an afternoon pick-me-up.
Don’t like the taste of plain water? Try adding lemon to it. Or, spice up sparkling water by adding fruit like raspberries, strawberries or mint to it. Even being mildly dehydrated can impact your mood, energy level and ability to think clearly, according to studies conducted at The University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory. So the next time that mid-afternoon slump hits, consider trading the trip to the vending machine for one to the water cooler.
General rule of thumb: stay creative with fluid intake and regularly replenish the body to ensure it can operate at peak level.
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