Your body contains more water than anything else — about 60 percent of your total body weight. Water helps regulate your body temperature, transports nutrients and helps remove waste. Every day you lose water when you breathe, sweat, urinate and defecate, and that water needs to be replenished.
The big question is how much water do you need to drink every day? Although that’s a simple question, it doesn’t have an easy answer.
It depends on some environmental and physical factors that can change every day (flip through the slideshow above for signs you need to drink more water). Also, it’s not just the water your drink — about 20 percent of your water intake comes from the foods you eat. The remaining 80 percent comes from beverages including water, coffee, tea, milk and anything liquid.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy reviewed years of research evidence on adequate water intake and has the following recommendations:
Men: 13 cups (about 10.5 cups from beverages)
Women: 9 cups (about 7 cups from beverages)
Pregnant women: 10 cups (about 8 cups from beverages)
Breastfeeding women: 13 cups (about 10.5 cups from beverages)
How Do You Know If You’re Drinking Enough Water?
Most people can gauge their water intake by looking at urine color. If you’re getting enough water, your urine will be pale yellow in color, and you’ll urinate several times a day. Urine color doesn’t work for everyone. Taking dietary supplements that contain riboflavin will make your urine bright yellow, and certain medications can change the color of your urine, as well.
And if you have any kidney problems or other heath conditions you should talk to your health care provider about how much water to drink.
Consider the following scenarios:
You May Need More Water If You’re Thirsty
Thirst is the desire to drink something. It can be triggered by the loss of fluid volume in and around cells and in the blood. Thirst is your body’s way of saying you need water to avoid dehydration.
You May Need More Water If You Have Bad Breath and Dry Mouth
There are some things that can cause bad breath, but one reason is a lack of normal saliva production and even mild dehydration may reduce saliva flow. If your bad breath is accompanied by a dry mouth, drinking more water throughout the day may help. It might also help to keep a glass of water by your bedside for nighttime relief.
You May Need More Water If You Can’t Think Straight
Studies show that a loss of about two percent of your body fluid can cause a decline in mental function, so if you’re having trouble concentrating, it may be time for a water break.
You May Need More Water If You’re Physically Active
Increased activity like exercise or physical labor can increase the amount of fluid lost when you sweat. It’s best to drink two to three cups of water before your activity begins and drink about one cup of water every 15 minutes or so while you’re active.
You May Need More Water If You’re at a High Elevation
Air pressure is reduced at higher elevations and compared to being at sea level, people who live at 4,000 feet generally lose about eight ounces more fluid every day, mostly because of changes in respiration. The higher you go, the greater potential for fluid loss, so be sure to bring extra water if you’re going for a hike in the mountains.
You May Need More Water If You’re in a Hot Area
Water is essential for regulating your body temperature so if you’re outside on a hot day or stuck inside without air conditioning, you’re going to need more water as the heat causes your to sweat more. Even if you’re not active, spending the day in 90-degree temperature conditions could more than double your fluid requirement. And even more if you’re physically active.
You May Need More Water If You Have a Fever
If you’re sick with a fever, letting yourself get dehydrated isn’t going to help, and it may make the fever worse. Sip water or other fluids to keep yourself hydrated. Also, see your health care provider if the fever lasts more than two days or you have other symptoms that don’t go away.
You May Need More Water If You Have Diarrhea
Diarrhea can happen for a variety of reasons, including infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disorders. But whatever, the cause, diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Drink extra fluids while you have diarrhea, and after, to remain hydrated.
You May Need More Water If You Have a Hangover
Drinking too much alcohol will lead to a hangover the next day. While one or two alcoholic beverages shouldn’t cause a problem, overindulging can result in dehydration, inflammation, a headache and stomach irritation. Drink plenty of water while you’re recuperating, And next time, drink water while you’re partying – it may slow down your alcohol consumption.
You May Need More Water If You’re Pregnant
Women who are pregnant need about ten cups of fluid every day. Some women retain extra fluid during their pregnancy and have some swelling, but that doesn’t reduce the need for water. If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor about how much water you need every day.
You May Need More Water If You’re Breastfeeding
Breast milk is mostly water, so you’ll need to drink extra water while you’re breastfeeding. The Institute of Medicine recomends all breastfeeding moms consume about 13 cups of fluids every day. It doesn’t all have to be water — any healthy beverages will do.
What About Caffeine?
Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee more, but your body adapts to moderate caffeine intake and the amount of water in your cup of coffee, or tea is more than enough to offset any fluid lost. But, I’m not sure what happens if you’re a heavy caffeine consumer — I think there’s potential for dehydration if you’re gulping down energy drinks and dancing it up all night, you might need some extra water.
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