8 cups a day.
2 litres per day.
Half your body weight each day.
The ‘experts’ are doing a really good job of confusing the issue of hydration for the busy mums and dads of this world. How are we supposed to ensure that we drink enough water each day for our own health and wellbeing? Given that so many of us are confused, how can we best model and teach our children how to hydrate and best look after their bodies?
Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time researching, reading and discussing this very topic. I have come to realise two very interesting and important facts:
- The ‘expert’ guidelines, such as those listed above, are suggestions only, and
- Each of us is different, and the amount of water we need depends on our weight, metabolism, what we eat, how much we exercise and ever-changing external factors such as weather.
Basically, there really is no definitive answer to the question, “how much water do I need to drink every day?” Over the journey though, I have discovered and fine-tuned a process to help you find your own personalised answer to this very important question.
Step One: Understanding why H2O is so important
First and foremost, I found it so helpful to understand why hydrating with plain water is so important. The human body is known to be between 50% and 75% water. It is in our blood, muscles, fat and bones. While we generally lose between 2 to 3 litres per day through normal bodily functions, the body can’t store water and needs fresh supplies every day to function at its very best.
The human body needs water to:
- keep every cell healthy
- maintain the easy flow of blood
- help to clear the body of unwanted wastes and by-products from metabolism
- regulate body temperature
- keep the lungs and mouth moist and functioning effectively
- keep joints lubricated and cushioned
- aid digestion and prevent constipation
- keep the skin moisturised to maintain texture and appearance
- carry nutrients and oxygen around the body.
Most foods you eat, even those that seem dry and hard, contain some water, but your body can only source about 20% of its total water requirements from solid foods. The rest has to come from fluid sources (liquids).
While it is true that all liquids will help to hydrate the body, it is widely agreed that plain water is the best because it doesn’t contain any kilojoules (calories) or sugars that the body needs to break down before enjoying the hydrating benefits.
Just a few short years ago, while I had heard about how important it is to drink enough water, I really didn’t see (or feel) how important staying hydrated was to my wellbeing. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with me and I felt fine, so why should I increase my water intake?
Once I began a habit of better hydration though, I began to realise how my body had been suffering through the symptoms of dehydration. Namely, I felt more fatigued, suffered from regular headaches and had severely dry skin. I came to realise that this state of being was how I had lived for years, believing that was just how I was supposed to feel and be. It was a case of not knowing how much better life could be, until it actually got better.
Step Two: What is the current state of play?
It’s never possible to improve things, without first being brutally honest about where you are starting from. Take an honest assessment of how much water you are actually drinking on average each day. This might mean keeping track with a pen and paper, or using an app such as “My Water Balance” for a few days or a week to get a baseline starting point.
I was actually quite shocked to realise that my daily water intake was often less than 1Lt in a day. That’s less than 4 standard low tumblers, when most guidelines say we should be drinking 8!
Step Three: Create a Plan
The most common response I get from people when I talk to them about drinking 2lt of water each day is, “No way! I don’t have the time to drink that much and I’ll just be going to the toilet all the time!” I agree. Drastically increasing your daily water intake overnight is very difficult to accomplish, and almost impossible to maintain.
Instead, once you know where your starting point is and how much plain water you are actually drinking each day, set yourself a plan. If you need to double (or more) your daily water intake, then set yourself a goal to reach 2lt slowly over 3 weeks. That’s just 100ml more every 2 days or so. Remember to spread out the extra water you drink over the course of the day too. That way your body (and bladder) has time to adjust and accommodate the new regime of hydration.
I had tried a number of times to start drinking 2Lt of water in a day, but never with any success. My bladder rebelled, my taste-buds rebelled and I eventually (usually after just a couple of days) gave up. Once I began to slowly build my intake volume, my body adjusted and I found it a much more pleasant transition. Since then I have shared this tip many times and am pleased to report that everyone who tries it finds success.
Step Four: Test the benefits
Once you have been consistently enjoying the benefits of added hydration (2lt per day), it’s time to test how much water is enough for your body. As I mentioned at the start of this article, all the ‘experts’ provide guidelines only, and what one person requires to maintain optimum health and wellbeing may be very different to how much water you need to keep hydrated.
My suggestion is that you take some time to test out how your (now hydrated) body responds to a lack of water. Halve your water intake for two or three days and take note of how you feel. Are you fatigued? Feeling hungry? Do your taste buds respond differently to common foods? Does your skin feel tight? What you will notice are your body’s symptoms of dehydration.
After a few days, increase your water intake by 50% and see if your symptoms improve. Keep increasing your daily intake gradually until your symptoms all disappear. This may be once you get back to 2Lt of water, or you might find through this process that you need slightly more (or slightly less) each day to be at your peak.
Keep in mind that there is such a thing as consuming too much water. It’s important through this process not to overload your kidneys or dilute the electrolytes, such as sodium, in your blood as this can lead to headaches, nausea, confusion or disorientation, and in severe situations, seizures and coma.
This is why it’s important to increase your water intake slowly such that the kidneys can become used to the amount of liquid they need to process and you can find your personal best daily water intake volume.
I didn’t actually take this step until some months into my hydration journey. I had been consistently drinking 2Lt of water each day for about 3 months when I decided to test out what difference it was really making to my wellbeing. My symptoms of fatigue, headaches, dry skin, unsatisfiable hunger and crankiness returned almost immediately and I discovered that to be at my best, I need to aim for 2.25Lt of water each and every day.
This 4-step process has helped me, and lots of people I have already shared it with, to ensure they stay hydrated and can function with maximum energy, both physically and mentally. I invite you to take the time to determine your body’s optimum volume of daily water intake and enjoy the benefits of feeling and performing better every day.