Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water; water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells, and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues.
Importance of Hydration
Every day you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water. Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired. Some other symptoms of dehydration include headaches, nausea, dizziness, heat illness and heat stroke.
The easiest way to tell if you’re dehydrated is to look at the color of your urine. The clearer it is, the more hydrated you are. If your urine is gold or deep yellow, you need to drink more water. If you’re concerned about your fluid intake or have health issues, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Divide your weight in half and that’s how many ounces of water you should drink per day. For instance, a person who is 200 pounds, should drink 100 ounces of water per day to be adequately hydrated. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly about 13 cups of total beverages a day. The adequate intake for women is about 9 cups of total beverages a day.
Your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, activity level, where you live, and if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. While sports drinks contain extra sugar and calories that can benefit a real endurance athlete or someone in an extremely hot environment, for most water is always a better choice both physically and economically.
Here are the recommended water intakes for each factor:
- Exercise. If you exercise or engage in any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to compensate for the fluid loss. An extra 1.5 to 2.5 cups of water should suffice for short bouts of exercise, but intense exercise lasting more than an hour (for example, running a marathon) requires more fluid intake. How much additional fluid you need depends on how much you sweat during exercise, and the duration and type of exercise. During long bouts of intense exercise, it’s best to use a sports drink that contains sodium, as this will help replace sodium lost in sweat and reduce the chances of developing hyponatremia, which can be life-threatening. Hyponatremia is a condition in which the amount of sodium (salt) in the blood is lower than normal. Also, continue to replace fluids after you’re finished exercising.
- Environment. Hot or humid weather can make you sweat and requires additional intake of fluid. Heated indoor air also can cause your skin to lose moisture during wintertime. Further, altitudes greater than 8,200 feet may trigger increased urination and more rapid breathing, which use up more of your fluid reserves.
- Illnesses or health conditions. When you have fever, vomiting or diarrhea, your body loses additional fluids. In these cases, you should drink more water. In some cases, your doctor may recommend oral rehydration solutions, such as a sports drink with electrolytes. Also, you may need increased fluid intake if you develop certain conditions, including bladder infections or urinary tract stones.
- Pregnancy or breast-feeding. Women who are expecting or breast-feeding need additional fluids to stay hydrated. Large amounts of fluid are used especially when nursing. The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 cups of fluids daily and women who breast-feed consume about 13 cups of fluids a day.
Ways to Get More Water
- Drink a glass of water when you get up in the morning, before you have coffee or tea.
- Keep a cup or water bottle by your desk at work. Take several sips of water each hour. If you don’t have a desk job, carry a container of water with you, and take sips throughout the day.
- Take a drink whenever you pass a water fountain.
- If you get tired of drinking plain water, add a packet of sugarless flavoring to your water. Or put a slice of lemon, lime or orange in plain or sparkling water.
- You also get water through food. Some fruits and vegetables contain lot of water, such as watermelon and lettuce.
Total water intake includes drinking water, water in beverages, and water contained in food. People consume 80 percent of their daily water in beverages, and 20 percent of their daily water in foods, according to the USDA. In addition, when you are participating in vigorous physical activity, it’s important to drink before you even feel thirsty. Thirst is a signal that your body is on the way to dehydration.