All too often, “you should drink more water” is a statement you hear and dismiss all too quickly. My hope in this article is to elucidate how imperative water is to our everyday functioning, and how improving your intake from the bare minimum to way beyond that is a proven, simple way to enhance your life. For an active, healthy male, I recommend drinking 0.75-1 gallon per day, or 96-128 ounces.
Water constitutes approximately 60% of the adult human body. This varies per individual; for some, it’s even more. Despite being such a large component of who we are, water is often overlooked. To put it another way, deficiencies of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals may take weeks or years to develop…whereas one can only survive a few days, maybe a week, without water!
Does It Really Matter, Man?
Here are some of the most crucial benefits drinking enough water offers us:
Flushing of waste and toxins: Helps prevent buildup leading to various health conditions and illnesses
Prevention of headache, lethargy, fatigue: In a dehydrated state, our body has to work harder to perform its regular functions, causing less than pleasant side effects
Proper circulation of nutrients: This includes carbohydrates and protein. A lack of water can impair these nutrients from being metabolized in a favorable way by your body. More described below in the section on protein and increased need for water!
Alleviation of fluid retention: Often confused as fat and commonly presents in the lower abdominal region. Your body retains fluid if there isn’t enough coming in, as a survival mechanism. If you’re drinking ENOUGH water, your body has no need to retain the fluid because it’s already reached its needs, and will flush the excess out
Weight loss via appetite suppression: Water doesn’t have an inherent fat burning mechanism. However, if you’re drinking more water, you’ll feel more full and less likely to indulge in cravings. It works! You’re also less likely to consume sugary, calorie-dense liquids if you’re drinking more water
Breakdown of fat: Liver function improves with more water, allowing it to perform its normal functions. This includes the breakdown of fat for energy, rather than storage
Endocrine gland function improvement: Production of hormones
Brain and Spinal Cord Lubrication: Helps improve metabolic processes and all other related functions.
Formation of saliva: This helps protect against cavities!
Prevention of injury: Keeps cartilage in joints supported by staying soft and hydrated
Improved skin tone and quality
You just feel better when you’re hydrated!
Water and Performance
Not convinced yet? Studies have shown even a 2% decrease in water can adversely affect circulatory functions and decrease athletic performance.
Studies have also shown decreased levels of performance across an array of exercises, in a dehydrated state. These exercises were also perceived as “more difficult” by participants, and greater rest periods were needed for heart rate recovery. If you’ve been feeling hindered during your run or your workout, water could be a contributor!
Water and Muscle
Believe it or not, muscle is more than 70% water! Muscle contraction and muscle protein synthesis occur in or surrounding water. When training, water travels from blood into muscle cells and surrounding areas (interstitial space). This helps create the “pump” sensation. If you aren’t consuming enough water, in combination with sweating, water is drawn OUT of the muscle and back INTO the blood to ensure preservation of circulation (your body cares more about that and regulation of blood pressure, rather than muscle synthesis under these conditions). Aside from muscle losing water, researchers have shown this has an additional adverse effect contributing to the breakdown of muscle! Yikes. Details are still being worked out but generally speaking, we’re headed in the wrong direction here.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), protein needs 7x the amount of water for metabolism, compared to carbohydrates or fats. In individuals who consume high protein levels, their blood-urea-nitrogen level (a test that measures kidney function) rises due to extra stress in breaking down protein. This causes the kidneys to produce a more concentrated urine product, and extra water is needed to help out. Dehydration thus becomes a legitimate concern even moreso in these individuals, as water is used up more readily to help excrete the byproducts. This is why INTAKING more water is crucial to prevent this from happening.
To sum it up, a high protein diet requires even more water intake to prevent dehydration, since water is in higher demand by your body. Now you understand why that guy in the gym always has his gallon jug!
How to Change Your Habits
Thirst alone is a poor indicator of how much water is needed. When you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Don’t wait to feel thirsty before grabbing your jug.
If your urine is yellow, you’re not drinking enough water. Usually when I see this, I enter a state of panic and immediately grab my jug! Think of yellow urine as a very concentrated product, i.e. full of waste and toxins, and less water. Under these circumstances, your body is holding onto water because it’s dehydrated, instead of eliminating it. Aim for clear fluids!
Use the scale each morning to assess if you are drinking enough water. According to NASM, average body weight will provide a good index of the body’s state of hydration. In other words, if you are maintaining a relatively constant state of exercise, food and fluid intake day to day, your weight should not be changing much. If it is, it’s possible lack of water may be the cause. Note: Using this as your metric is more difficult if diet and exercise aren’t constant, or you’re in a bulking or cutting phase, as there are other parameters involved.
Incorporate raw fruits and vegetables into your meals. These are rich food sources of water. Because they contain more water, these meals also appear larger, take longer to chew and break down, and will help you eat less overall. These foods are absorbed by the body slower, helping you to feel more full too. Nutrient dense!
“A high protein diet requires even more water intake to prevent dehydration, since water is in higher demand by your body.”
Replace other drinks with water at mealtime. While it may be difficult to get into the habit of drinking water all day, you’ll get there eventually. To ease implementation of this, start by replacing your usual drink at meals with water. It’s also a great calorie-free switch.
If you can’t stand the taste of water, try flavored water (sugar-free). Another option is adding BCAA’s to your water for additional muscle building benefits, and a great taste.
Invest in a larger water bottle. It doesn’t have to be huge..something along the lines of 24 oz, 32 oz, or 40 oz. While this is purely anecdotal, it’s a strategy I’ve used over the years that has provided immense payoff. When you have a designated, larger water bottle, you are more likely to drink water – plain and simple. Here’s why:
- You physically have a certain amount of water to get through, so it’s a form of goal achievement to get through it. Your mind’s internal drive for success is triggered
- It requires less trips to fill-up, which impede people from drinking water in general. So if you’re able to get MORE in LESS trips, overall you win
- It’s a physical reminder for you to drink if you’re staring at a water bottle, as opposed to hoping you’ll remember to buy water with your meal later, etc
I recommend the bottle to the right as it comes in many sizes including a 40 oz (only 3 of those per day, and you reach a gallon!). No aluminum taste, very sturdy and well constructed, and keeps your water cold for hours.
Personally, I have the aforementioned bottle for rare occasions and utilize a gallon jug on a daily basis that fuels me through my day. A minimalist approach by only needing one super inexpensive bottle that gets replaced every week for hygienic purposes. While not the most luxurious item, I don’t mind because it helps me stay accountable for my intake. I make it a personal goal to finish the gallon completely before my evening workout, and then I fill up again to consume during training. This way, I know exactly how much I drink on a daily basis and keep myself accountable. The same outcome can be just as easily achievable by utilizing a more attractive 32 or 40 oz bottle, as alluded to earlier.
Drinking enough water may seem tedious at first, but over time you’ll realize how much better you feel as a result. Give this simple life hack a try today and reap the benefits!
NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training