Headaches, muscle aches, dry mouth, constipation and dizziness can all be signs of dehydration. Fun fact: An adult male’s body is 60% water, while a woman’s is 55%, which means we need to be replenishing our bodies with water frequently to operate at optimal levels. Every single cell in your body needs water to function at its peak performance.
While the benefits of drinking water are endless, “traditional recommendations about water intake aren’t so cookie cutter anymore,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, NYC-based registered dietitian, author of Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked): 11 Science-Based Ways to Eat More, Stress Less and Feel Great About Your Body and host of the podcast On the Side with Jackie London, RD. “Typically, I’d recommend drinking around 8 cups of H2O per day — but I use that metric as a very general place to start, since many of us will need more or less depending on where we live, how physically active we are, medications we’re taking and our current activities of daily living,” London says.
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Factors to consider with water intake:
Before we get into how much water you should drink, it’s important to recognize that there are many factors to consider, meaning it’s hard to pinpoint a one-size fits all equation.
- Sex: Recommended water intake levels depend largely on body size, muscle mass and sex. Males typically require more fluids than females because they tend to have less fatty tissue, although studies show that females may have better water intake patterns than males.
- Body weight: Typically, the greater a persons weight is, the more water they will require to be properly hydrated. It has also been shown that higher overall consumption of water and water containing foods, such as fruits and vegetables, may help in weight management.
- Climate: Living in a hot or humid climate, or at a higher altitude can require consuming more water. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking water is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heat exhaustion.
- Activity: Anyone who works out on a regular basis should drink more water than someone who’s sedentary. Not upping your fluid intake to match your exercise schedule can lead to some unpleasant consequences, especially in warmer weather.
So, how much water should I drink a day?
The amount of water a person needs varies much like calories, but we can make general approximation.
Women should generally drink approximately 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day, while men should aim for 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) according to The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. While that number may seem daunting to some, there are many ways to meet your requirements.
“The good news is that you don’t have to drink only water to meet your hydration needs. Coffee, tea, sparkling water and soup can all count towards meeting your daily goals. Fruits and vegetables that have a high-water content, such as watermelon, cucumber and spinach, can also contribute to your overall water intake,” according to Amy Fischer, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a registered dietitian at the GH Institute. Fruits and veggies can contribute approximately 20% of your daily water needs, and they contain naturally occurring electrolytes such as potassium which can help rapidly rehydrate, according to Fischer.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends that adults should consume, 1.5-2 cups of fruit per day and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant adults should consume 8 to 12 cups (64 to 96 ounces) of water per day. Adequate hydration helps with digestion and to prevent constipation, among other things. The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics recommend nursing mothers consume even more and recommends 16 cups per day to help with milk production.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), consider consuming 17-20 ounces of water two hours before the start of exercise. Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10-20 minutes during exercise and while you should not lose any weight after a workout, if you do, you likely aren’t taking in enough fluids. ACE recommends consuming 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.
“Dehydration can produce a number of different side effects, from feeling a little lethargic to plummeting blood pressure,” says London. “While everyone’s sweat rate is different, it’s safe to assume that for every 45 to 60 minutes of exercise you do, you’ll need to drink a minimum of 40 ounces of H2O — a number that will probably seem staggeringly high to some of you.”
The water needs of children vary depending on age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Hydration campaign, created to encourage water consumption, water helps keep all body systems healthy and aids with concentration and focus. It’s also calorie free with no added sugars and good for teeth and joints. Children 6-8 months should consume 4-8 ounces per day, 12-24 months 8-32 ounces per day and 2-5 years 8-40 ounces.
How can I tell if I’m dehydrated?
One way to gage hydration levels is to take note of how often you are urinating throughout the day, adults should urinate six or seven times per day according to the American Heart Association. The color of your urine can also tell you where you stand. “Your urine should be a pale yellow color, similar to the color of straw or light honey,” says Fischer. “If it is dark yellow you should consume more, and keep in mind that certain supplements can affect the color of your urine making it darker,” Fischer adds.
Benefits of drinking water:
There is plenty of research that supports the many benefits of drinking water. Water helps to prevent dehydration and with the removal of waste through urination and excretion. It also replaces fluids lost during this process and helps to regulate body temperature. “Adequate hydration is essential to keeping your body functioning at optimal levels,” according to Fischer. “It is necessary for everything from digestion to improved mood and cognitive function,” she adds.
Studies show that even mild dehydration decreases concentration, alertness and short-term memory in children through adults. The good news is that rehydration can correct the effect. It’s also been found that consuming increased amounts of water during warmer temperatures can shorten the amount of time it takes the body to adapt to heat.
How much is too much water in a day?
It is also possible to drink too much water but unlikely. Drinking too much water, “may induce hyponatremia — severely low blood levels of sodium — which can have severe neurological implications, among other side effects,” London explains.
Consult with your physician if you’re experiencing excessive thirst (which can indicate blood-sugar abnormalities) or feeling worried you’re drinking too much. Various diseases and medications can impact your hydrations needs. That said, hyponatremia is fairly uncommon, so don’t inadvertently dehydrate yourself.
“I’m more concerned that you’re not drinking enough versus overloading, so choose foods high in water content (veggies and fruits!) and drink unsweetened beverages like tea, coffee, and sparkling water regularly,” London adds. “Almost everyone I know isn’t drinking enough water and is likely ever-so-slightly sub-clinically dehydrated.”
How to drink more water:
Drinking enough water may sound like a challenge, but making a few small changes can help you up your count.
- Start the day with water: Start a healthy habit by beginning your day with 16 ounces of water first thing. “I give this tip because it’s so easy for anyone and everyone to forget to drink throughout the day depending on where you are or what you’re doing. If you can knock back two cups while you’re prepping breakfast or getting ready for the day, you’ve already taken a step toward your hydration goal before your day has even really started, which can make you feel more energized, too” London says.
- Coffee and tea count: Unsweetened beverages such as coffee and tea “count” toward your goal. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends getting 300–400 mg per day — about 3–4 cups of coffee, and they’re not “dehydrating” contrary to popular belief. “Caffeine may have a mild diuretic effect, but that really just means you’re peeing more—not that you’re dehydrating yourself,” says London.
- Add some bubbles: Seltzer and club soda will help you hydrate, too! And, in case you’re worried, the bubbles won’t damage your teeth, according to the American Dental Association. Choose flavored or plain options, but skip brands with higher amounts of sodium, acesulfame-K, stevia or sucralose, as they can exacerbate bloating.
- Eat your fruits and veggies: Produce is packed with water, so add it to snacks and meals. Just one apple, for example, can provide up to 1⁄2 cup of H2O. So snack on extra veggies with salsa, add extra tomatoes to a salad, and get generous with your serving sizes of berries, citrus, melon, grapes and other fruits. “This small but powerful tip can help you feel more satisfied from your meals, provide key vitamins & minerals you need, and contribute to your overall daily fluid needs,” says London.
- Add some pizzazz: A splash of juice in your seltzer? Frozen fruit in place of ice cubes? A citrus garnish on your spa water? A super fancy water bottle gifted to you for the holidays?! All these things can help encourage you to drink up. “When it comes to any personal health practice, finding what works for you can be a process,” says London. “So if you find something that makes it even slightly more exciting to do something you’re already doing and want to do more of…I say, go for it!”
- You should never be without your bottle: Keep a bottle in your bag, car, at your desk and when at the gym. “So many people are moving from place to place throughout the day— from their homes to their cars to an office space, to pickup their kids, etc. That’s why I’d recommend keeping a bottle where you spend most of your time. This visual cue can help remind you to drink periodically throughout the day,” London says. Need help finding the best one for your needs, try one of our top picks for best water bottles.
Drink up, and get ready to feel better than ever with your brand-new, properly hydrated body.
Alyssa is a senior editor for the Hearst Health Newsroom, where she has written research-backed health content for Prevention, Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day since 2017. She has more than 13 years of reporting and editing experience and previously worked as research chief at Reader’s Digest, where she was responsible for the website’s health vertical as well as editing health content for the print magazine. She has also written for Chowhound, HealthiNation.com, Huffington Post and more.
Caroline is a writer and editor with almost a decade of experience. From 2015 to 2019, she held various editorial positions at Good Housekeeping, including as health editor, covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news. She’s a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism and dreams of the day Northwestern will go back to the Rose Bowl.
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