The phrase “water is life” makes a great bumper sticker. That’s because it’s impossible to overstate the importance of water.

There is no single more impactful habit you can build than keeping your body hydrated.

We learn this in school. Our bodies are mostly water, and everything we do requires it. It’s a solvent, transporter, catalyst, lubricant, temperature regulator, and nutrient source in one. But learning about the science isn’t going to help you stay hydrated. You only need to understand fluid balance.

Hydration is the process of maintaining fluid balance. Taking in as much fluid as you’re losing. That’s the idea – fluid in vs fluid out.

Everything that leaves your body takes fluid with it, including breath.
Water has a harder time entering the body however. And hydration needs to be intentional to be useful.

Your best strategy is to build habits around fluid intake that match your lifestyle. You should work regular hydration into your daily activities, which you may find easier as a result. Even minor dehydration affects strength, endurance, and mental capacity. Dehydration also puts strain on the heart.

Oh, and the easiest way to become accidentally dehydrated? Having your schedule upset. You’re off your normal routine, and you forget to adjust your behavior to compensate. Has anything disturbed your normal routine lately? It might be a good time to re-examine your habits.

So how much water do we need daily?

The math is 30-40mL per kg of body weight. Even if you’re comfortable with the metric system, that’s not very helpful day-to-day. An easier approach would be to say the average adult needs 12 cups of water as a baseline. Assuming your diet is high in whole foods, including fruits and veggies, you get 4 cups of water from eating. You are eating plenty of fruits and veggies, right?

That leaves 8 cups just to hit our baseline goal, or 2 liters if you’re fancy. A half gallon jug will almost get you there.

If you sweat, you need to replace what you lost. If you drink alcohol, even more so. Remember the goal is balance.

You should also watch the speed of that intake. Drink water too quickly and your body will just flush what it couldn’t absorb. Hydration is a process, not an event.

Easy Tips

  • Keep a water bottle with you, know how much it holds, and how fast you’re supposed to be drinking it.
  • Get a water bottle with time or measurement markers on it (or add them yourself) – this helps set the pace.
  • Flavor your water to jazz it up a bit. This can be with lemon, cucumber, mint, or your favorite fruit. This is especially helpful if you get “bored” with plain tap water. Fun habits are easy habits.
  • Avoid caloric beverages as a hydration source. Consider these optional parts of your diet, and don’t count them toward the 8 cup baseline.
  • Recognize the “lag time” between losing fluid and feeling thirsty. Match your intake to your loss, not your feeling of need. Thirst is there to prod you when you’ve fallen behind.
  • Weigh yourself before and after exercise. Skip this if avoiding the scale is part of your health plan. The number shouldn’t move much. Heavier? You didn’t need that much water. Lighter? Hydrate.

But can I drink too much water?

The short answer is yes. When your body has too much water relative to its sodium level, you enter an imbalanced state called hyponatremia. This is a bigger problem for endurance athletes and those on very low sodium diets.

It is much easier to fall behind on your fluid needs than to fall behind on sodium. Most “hydration” exercise supplements have sodium, carbohydrates and other nutrients to help with sodium-fluid balance.

If you’re doing light work in the garden, going for a walk, or working through a training session, worrying about hyponatremia is probably excessive.

For intense exercise the hydration strategy needs to match the activity and individual. Work with your trainer or nutrition coach to develop a detailed plan.

The takeaway

  • Staying hydrated is a crucial, easy, high-impact health strategy.
  • You don’t need to know the science to build the habits.
  • Hydrated people think better, move better, and put less wear-and-tear on their bodies.

Now go drink some water.

Hyatt Training is a collective of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon. To read more fitness related posts like this one, follow this link.