We’ve all been taught from a young age to drink more water to help our bodies stay well hydrated. The problem is most Americans drink too much soda, fruit juice, energy drinks, coffee, alcohol, etc., and not enough water. These substances do not support hydration, and over time can actually do harm if consumed in excessive amounts. For example, too much alcohol can damage the liver, and too much coffee can cause tension or anxiety.
Water is essential for life. We can live without food for many weeks, but we cannot live without water longer than three to four days. More than 60% of our body is water, and it’s important for so many physiological and biochemical functions including:
- Transportation of substances and nutrients throughout the body
- Regulation of temperature (sweating is a way to cool the body down)
- Flushing out toxins
- Lubrication of joints
- Helping to relieve constipation
- Improving concentration, focus, energy, and mood
- Supporting skin elasticity
So how can we make sure we’re getting enough of this vital substance to stay truly hydrated? The answer isn’t as simple as just drinking more water. Below I’ll share some tips on how to stay hydrated without running to the bathroom every hour.
How Much Water Should I Be Drinking Every Day?
Well, I wish there was a simple way to answer this question, but unfortunately, the amount of water you should drink depends on many factors. If you’re a 25-year-old athlete living in Arizona, you’ll need to drink considerably more water than a 75-year-old sedentary Seattle resident.
I’m not really sure where the “8 glasses a day” recommendation came from, but it surely does not consider other factors that may require more or less water such as:
- Age - Younger people tend to need more water.
- Weather - More water will need to be consumed in warmer and drier climates.
- Altitude - Generally speaking, higher altitudes require a higher water intake.
- Exercise - Moving and exercising more will increase your water requirement.
- Sweating - Whether this is due to exercise, heat, or sauna therapy, when you sweat you need to replenish water that has been lost.
- Diet - Those eating lots of fruits and vegetables may not need to drink as much water as those who eat processed foods, which have low water content.
- Medical Conditions – Conditions like diarrhea or vomiting, burns, diabetes, and others will increase your need for hydration.
- Stress Level - Chronic high-level stress may require higher water intake.
How Do I Know If I’m Hydrated Enough?
There are certain guidelines to follow, and tests that you can run at home and with your doctor to help determine if you are drinking enough water. The easiest one to start with is looking at your own urination.
In my professional opinion, you should be urinating roughly every 2 hours. If you are urinating every 30 minutes and your urine is clear, then you are likely drinking too much water or are unable to efficiently hold onto it. Conversely, if you are urinating every 6+ hours and your urine color is dark amber, then you are probably not drinking enough water.
There is also a simple at home test to determine if you are currently hydrated enough known as the skin turgor test:
Directions: Pinch the skin on the top of your hand for a few seconds and then quickly release. If the skin springs back quickly into place, you’re probably well hydrated. If it takes more than 2 seconds to return back to normal shape, you’re probably dehydrated.
Other symptoms that may indicate that you need to drink more water include:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Excessive thirst
- Difficulty with concentration or focus
- Muscle or joint pain (neck and shoulder pain with hypertonicity—excessive tightness or stiffness—is very common)
Keep in mind, these symptoms can improve by drinking more water, but there are many other possible causes for the development of these symptoms. If you don’t see an improvement within a few days, see your physician for a more thorough workup.
When I run blood work and urinalysis on patients, there are a couple of markers that can help assess hydration status.
- High BUN (blood urea nitrogen)
- Electrolyte imbalance (low sodium)
- Low specific gravity (on urinalysis)
Again, there are many reasons why these markers can be high or low, and dehydration is only one of the many reasons. Please, do not solely rely on these for assessing whether you are drinking enough water.
What Are Some Ways to Increase Hydration?
Surprisingly, drinking more water isn’t always the answer to dehydration. This is because dehydration is often not a lack of water, but a lack of electrolytes and trace minerals. When your electrolytes are depleted, your body isn’t able to gain hydration benefits from the water you drink, even if you’re drinking a lot of it each day.
If a patient tells me that they get up 2–3 times in the middle of the night to urinate, or they are urinating every hour during the day even if they are not drinking much water, I suggest electrolyte supplementation to see if this will help the patient retain water more efficiently.
Electrolytes (minerals) like sodium, potassium, and calcium are found inside and outside of cells, and water is also found inside and outside of cells. Electrolytes help regulate fluid levels in the body by creating gradients for water to flow into and out of cells. For example, if electrolyte levels are high within cells, water will flow into the cells via the process of osmosis.
My go-to forms of electrolytes are usually Seeking Health’s Optimal Electrolyte powder or Quinton’s Hypertonic Minerals (in a small glass vial). Using these for a period of at least 2 weeks is usually enough time to see if an electrolyte deficiency was present. If urination is reduced and there’s an improvement in other symptoms such as energy, concentration, or dizziness, I’ll suggest going on and off one of these electrolytes as needed. These are ones that I personally use and recommend in the clinic (I have no financial ties to any of these companies).
Hydration Is Essential
Bottom line, if you’re not hydrated, your body cannot function like it should. If your urine color is dark amber and you urinate every 6+ hours or you are fatigued and suffer from brain fog, or have any of the symptoms listed above, try drinking more water. Add daily supplementation with electrolytes if you think you are deficient as doing so will help improve hydration status even more.
I tend to carry a stainless steel water bottle wherever I go with added electrolytes so that I remember to drink often throughout the day. Drinking water throughout the day makes it easier for your body to hold onto water more efficiently than drinking a lot all at once—so remember, sip, not chug!