Guides

The Ultimate Guide To Hydration

Your comprehensive guide to staying on top of your hydration goals.

By: Bianca Peyvan, MS, RDN

Is everyone around you setting a magical quota to drink more water? Wondering what the big deal is for something so simple? Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Let’s take a look at the importance of drinking water, health benefits, and ways to integrate hydration seamlessly into your daily life with this hydration guide. 

The Importance of Hydration 

 We often hear, ‘you are what you eat,’ but we are also what we drink. Water is involved in every type of cellular process in the body and critical for survival. In fact, our bodies are composed of roughly 60% water. Since we are mostly made up of water, we can’t survive for more than a few days without it since it maintains every function of our bodies. For those looking to improve their levels of physical fitness, proper hydration is even more critical to maximizing performance and results.

We spend so much time on our health and wellness, often overlooking hydration. You can work out as much as you want, invest in the best skincare line, and eat well but still not get enough water, which can undermine the results you’re seeking. Not getting an adequate amount of water can lead to dehydration, wreaking havoc on your body. Even mild dehydration may impact your performance, brain function, and mood. Beyond basic survival, let’s take a look at some of the benefits sufficient hydration can provide.

Fitness

Water helps to regulate your body temperature and lubricates your joints, both of which are essential to physical activity and a safe, effective fitness routine. Water is especially important when exercising because it replaces the fluids lost while sweating.

RELATED: FitOn’s Ultimate Guide to Starting a Home Fitness Routine 

Brain Function & Mood

Dehydration can negatively impact brain function resulting in impaired mood and concentration, headaches, reduced memory, anxiety, and fatigue.

Wellness & Beauty

Drinking water ensures basic functions take place in your body to support your health. Water, for example, flushes bacteria from your bladder, supports digestion, normalizes blood pressure, and stabilizes the heartbeat. Water is also essential for carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells and can even help to reduce headaches. 

Hydration is essential for skin care as well. Dehydrated skin is more likely to appear dull and wrinkly. Conversely, proper hydration can foster better skin elasticity. 

How Much Water Do You Need?

So how is it that most people are not even aware of how much water they are drinking or need? Unlike hunger signals, thirst signals are harder to decipher, causing many people to confuse thirst for hunger.  

When it comes to how much water to drink daily, most people will tell you to drink eight glasses of water. In some cases, this should actually be more. Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. However, we consume some of our water needs from food, hence lowering those number of recommended cups while keeping in mind that losses vary from person to person.

Ultimately, your water needs depend on many other factors such as your age, gender, body weight, pregnancy/breastfeeding, physical activity, diet, caffeine and alcohol consumption, health status, etc. Athletes and those who exercise frequently, for example, should hydrate more often throughout the day in addition to right before, during, and after a workout. 

What Counts as Part of Our Daily Hydration Goal?

You typically get about 20% of your water needs from food and about 80% from fluids. Even juices, milk, coffee, and tea can contribute to your hydration as they are composed mostly of water. Beware of drinks with added sugar and/or alcohol, as they typically provide more calories than hydration. Sports drinks with electrolytes can also be helpful as these minerals can help shuttle water into the cells. 

Many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and spinach, are almost 100% water by weight. Dairy products are also high in water content. So, eating water-rich foods in addition to drinking water throughout the day with meals, as well as between meals, will easily help you meet your needs. 

Healthiest Hydration Options

The best source for hydration is high-quality mineral water. Most people are not aware of the contaminants in tap water. The Environmental Working Groups has a Tap Water Database that decodes pollutants found in your local tap water. Here you can enter your zip code and check for these pollutants found in your tap water. You may be shocked at what you find, so please purchase a reputable, clean water filtration system. 

Sparkling water can also be a more interesting option. However, a recent study from Consumer Reports found carbonated drinks were more likely to include higher levels of PFAs (perfluoroalkyl substances). So, beware of those carbonated drinks found in cans with “natural flavors” and opt for those in glass bottles with diverse mineral content. 

Healthy options with high water content include:

  • Water, sparkling water, juice, tea, coconut water, nut milk
  • Low-sodium beef/chicken/vegetable broth
  • Fruits, especially melons, berries, citrus, bananas, grapes, pineapples
  • Vegetables like lettuce greens, spinach, cucumber, celery, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese

Hydration Hacks

The best way to meet your hydration needs is to keep a personal BPA-free water bottle(s) with you at all times to enhance consumption. A “Motivational Water Bottle” is also another great strategy as the bottle lists a timeline to help you keep track of your water intake. You could also purchase a case of high-quality mineral water (preferably stored in glass) and aim to finish a desired number of bottles to meet your needs. Either way, investing in high-quality water and environmentally safe bottles, in addition to having them in your constant periphery, will set you up for success. 

Also, consider adding some hydrating foods to your healthy eating plan like melons, oranges, and berries, as well as broth-based soups or salads with water-rich vegetables. You can also try spa water by adding in some fruit, herbs, or cucumbers. And there’s always sparkling water, herbal and fruit teas, and electrolytes to keep things more exciting.  

You can also gauge your hydration by examining the color of your urine — it should be a nice pale yellow (think lemonade). So, keep an eye on that urine color, as dark urine usually indicates that you are dehydrated. Those who suffer from fatigue, constipation, urinary tract infections, or kidney stones should pay close attention to their water intake as this could be a sign of dehydration.  

The Bottom Line 

Like many things in nutrition, there is no single formula for water consumption that will hydrate everyone. Consider your general health, your physical activity, and tune into your body’s signs such as thirst and hunger.  Knowing more about your body’s need for fluids will help you estimate how much water to drink each day. Water is essential to your health, and hydration is a must to your wellness journey and fitness plan.  Worry less about fulfilling a magical water quota and more about ways to eat hydrating foods and liquids. There are endless ways to stay hydrated to support your health needs and lifestyle, and your body will thank you for it.