How Much Water Do You Actually Need Every Day?
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There's nothing like a refreshing glass of...water. Yes, you read that right: water. Whether you just reached a new PR on that Peloton or snacked your way through a bag of something salty, a gulp of H2O is sure to quench your thirst. But that's not all the natural beverage can do. Water is essential for survival, and experts of all kinds continue to preach the importance of proper hydration. But what does "proper" hydration look like, IRL? Find out exactly how much water to drink per day and how to actually achieve that magic number with ease.
Why You Need Water
So, why is drinking enough water per day so important? Because your body — which is made up of about 50 to 70 percent water — depends on H2O to function .
Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body needs water in order to operate as it should. Not only does water (which makes up a large percentage of your blood) carry essential nutrients to your cells, but it also carries any waste materials to your kidneys and, ultimately, out of your body through urine. It also helps regulate body temperature through sweat (another way water helps remove waste) and promotes healthy stool, thereby keeping your digestive system running smoothly and constipation at bay.
Water is also an essential component of lubricants (e.g. synovial or "joint" fluid ) that cushion your bones and reduce friction when you move. In other words, you can thank H2O for helping make physical activity enjoyable and reduce any potential discomfort caused by joint-related conditions such as arthritis. What's more, "your brain uses [water] to produce hormones and neurotransmitters," Maya Feller, R.D.N., a dietitian in New York, previously told Shape . And need not forget about the water's ability to ease skin dryness and, according to research , help reduce the risk of conditions, such as kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and hypertension. (Related: Can Drinking Water Actually Help You Lose Weight? )
While it probably sounds obvious, it bears repeating: Water prevents dehydration . Every day you lose water by normal processes, such as making urine, having regular bowel movements, and sweating. But when you lose more fluids than you take in, your body ends up not having enough water to function at peak performance due to dehydration, according to the National Library of Medicine . This can result in symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, digestive issues (e.g. constipation, vomiting), and fatigue. Dehydration can also negatively affect your mood, memory, and cognitive ability. The good news is that these symptoms generally subside once you simply rehydrate.
Now that you know just how important water is to your health and wellbeing, let's answer the question of how much water to drink per day.
So, How Much Water Should You Drink Per Day?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics posits that women need about 11.5 cups of water per day and men need about 15.5 cups per day. It's important to note, however, that these estimates account for fluids, including water, consumed from both foods and beverages. You typically get about 20 percent of the H2O you need from food, especially fruits and veggies. Taking that percentage into account, it's estimated that women need about 9 cups of fluids per day and men need about 12.5 cups of fluids per day to stay hydrated.
That being said, however, these amounts of water per day are not one-size-fits-all. In fact, how many cups of water you should drink per day depends on several factors, including (but not limited to):
Exercise: Any activity that makes you sweat means you need to drink extra fluids to replenish the amount that was lost. That is why it's important to drink water before, during, and after a workout. (And this is especially the case if you're sweating substaintially for for long periods of time, such as while training for an endurance race .)
Environment: The hotter or more humid the weather, the more you're likely to sweat, and the more water you need to drink. Dehydration is also more likely to occur at higher altitudes, according to the Mayo Clinic . So, if you're hiking, skiing, or just visiting an area of high-elevation, pay close attention to your water intake.
Overall health: Because your body loses fluids when you have a fever, diarrhea, or vomitting, it's important to drink more water at this time and to always follow the doctor's recommendations if anything additional is needed (e.g. electrolyte supplements ). Other conditions such as bladder infections also require an increased water intake; this helps dilute urine and ensure you'll go number one more frequently, thereby flushing out the bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic .
Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Both of these situations require more water intake per day to stay hydrated as there are many more metabolic reactions going in the body for both the mother and baby.
How to Get Enough Water Per Day
You want to replace the water losses in your body in order to stay in good health. However, your daily recommended fluid needs don't need to be filled just from water. This is because your body can use any fluid you consume and extrapolate the water molecules.
But this isn't necessarily a free pass to start pouring out glasses of sugary drinks to sip on at every meal. The United States Department of Agriculture's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing beverages that are calorie-free — especially water — to stay hydrated without unnecessarily consuming added sugars and saturated fats. In addition to good, old H2O, unsweetened beverages such as 100-perfect fruit or vegetable juice and low-fat or fat-free milk can help you score the right amount of water per day while "helping to achieve food group recommendations," according to the guidelines . Coffee, tea, and flavored waters are also healthful options for staying hydrated — just be careful of any added sugars and cream (both of which aren't great for you in large doses).
Below are ways you can increase your water (and overall fluid) intake:
Drink when you're thirsty: Thirst is your body's way of telling you to sip on some water. This is especially important if you're active or live in very hot environments.
Choose water: Rather than reaching for soda, sugary beverages, or energy drinks, opt for water to minimize any unnecessary, well, extras (again, sugar, cals, etc.).
Sip throughout the day: Drink water both with your meals and in-between 'em in order to stay ahead of dehydration.
Carry a water bottle: Keep a refillable water bottle nearby, so you can easily reach it throughout the day. EVen better
Add flavor to your water: Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, add fresh mint leaves, chunks of pineapple, or slices of cucumber into your water for some extra flavor. You can also sip on regular or flavored sparkling water if you need a change of pace or don't enjoy the taste of still water. When it comes to getting enough water per day, it's really about whatever method works best for you.
Remember foods count: Certain fruits — e.g. cantaloupe , strawberries, and watermelon — and vegetables — e.g. lettuce, celery, and spinach — have at least a 70-percent water content and count towards your daily recommended amounts of water. Some dairy products, such as yogurt and cottage cheese, also have a pretty impressive amount of H2O, so they offer a great way for filling up on essential nutrients such as protein and vitamins while keeping you hydrated.
Hold yourself accountable: If you're someone who thrives on tracking progress, set yourself up for success by utilizing a health app or a reminder on your phone for when to drink. You could also buy a water bottle that shows fluid measurements to gauge the pace of your water intake or how much you have left to hit your daily goal.
Toby Amidor, R.D. , is a registered dietitian and a food safety expert.