There is one question that I am asked above all others when it comes to exercise and healthy activity. That question is how much water should I drink each day, before, during and after exercise? This question has such a diverse set of answers, it is very hard to separate fact from fiction.
Since there is so much fiction around daily hydration, let's see if we can boil this down to something close to reality. First of all, numerous studies have debunked the long standing 8X8 water standard. This idea that we need to drink at least eight ounces of water eight times a day to maintain a healthy hydration level is simply not true. The variables across food intake, body size, activity levels and health related aspects for each of us makes a one size fits all hydration standard faulty.
The other aspect to figuring out how much water intake should be consumed daily comes in the form of interpretation of what is a water source. Many people, especially people who consume healthy fruits and vegetables everyday, are getting a fair amount of water from what they eat. The other part that makes up your daily water intake is in the form of coffee, tea and other beverages. Some experts say these drinks do not count as water intake, yet you are retaining a fair amount of water when you drink these fluids.
Now if you assume the 8X8 water intake is true, that adds up to a half a gallon of water each day, excluding water you're getting from food and other beverages. For those of us who prescribe to this idea that we are getting over half a gallon of water each day, that is a lot of hydration. This begs the question “Do I need that much water each day?” This requires us to understand a few key points on daily water loss from factors like diuretic properties of caffeinated drinks, high sodium levels of processed foods and, of course, the dehydrating effect of strenuous activity. The general consensus from a number of studies is it all depends on you, your lifestyle and your level of health.
Let's also take a look at yet another daily hydration calculation used by some dietitians and nutritionists which is based on a daily allowance of water tied to your daily intake of calories. In this example, it is roughly figured if you have a daily intake of say 1,500 calories a day, you would need roughly 50 ounces of water in a 24-hour period. Again this formula lacks the detail of water from the food you eat and other fluid intake each day. Since dietitians and nutritionists lack a perfect formula, some find this approach a good guideline for folks dieting or people trying to improve from poor health.
As you can see, building a formula that acts as an all-in-one guide for daily water consumption is tricky and always lacks accuracy. The fact that none of these daily hydration recommendations take into account your intake of hydrating fluids from other sources becomes a challenge.
The second challenge is factoring in each person's exertion levels from physical activity. Physical activity is where we have to toss out any one-size-fits-all formula for hydration. This is due to the fact that we all have different body types, muscle density and rates at which we perspire or sweat. Depending on the exertion levels and duration of exercise, each of us can use up our body's water from a low 8 ounces to 50-plus ounces an hour or higher. Other factors that can also change this rate of water loss is climate, temperature, altitude, arid conditions, terrain and so forth.
This brings us to the big question of how much water intake do we need each day? Here is my advice on how to approach this question. Keep in mind, there is no ideal amount of hydration for our bodies, we all have unique needs.
First, take a look at the overall foods you eat and the beverages you consume on a daily basis to get a good understanding of your general fluid intake. Once you have come up with what you think is an accurate amount of daily water intake, determine if you feel well hydrated. It is important to note that it is estimated 75 percent of the U.S. population is chronically dehydrated, so listen to your body and don't underestimate your hydration.
Things you can do to help with your daily hydration is to eat a good percentage of raw health foods and drink water with each meal instead of other beverages. If you start to feel thirsty during the day, it is your body's early warning sign of the potential onset of dehydration. Be mindful of your body's cues that you need water and have a water bottle handy to address the need.
As for exercise and athletic events that place a high demand on your body's hydration levels, follow this simple strategy. For most people, 8 to 14 ounces of water before exercise or an athletic event is a simple rule of thumb. Then if the exercise or event lasts longer than 20 minutes, try to rehydrate with 6 ounces of fluids every 20 to 30 minutes. If the weather is hot or your exertion levels are very high, up that to 8 or 12 ounces every 20 to 30 minutes. During recovery after exercise, start by slowly drinking small amounts of fluids, then continue until you feel fully hydrated.
Elite athletes work a number of different formulas based on starting body weight, then weighing in to see how much water was lost. They use this guideline to ensure proper water replacement. This can be a major factor in proper recovery and allowing the body to repair itself effectively after a long endurance workout or event.
This weigh-in/weigh-out model does not work well for the average active person with shorter workout intervals, so your best bet is to listen to your body and thirst levels, then hydrate until you are comfortable. I know there are a number of very well respected fitness professionals and websites that will give you a one-size-fits-all method, but honestly these are at best a guideline and may or may meet your individual needs for proper hydration.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.