sports nutrition · weight loss

Water, water everywhere but how much should I drink?

Sigg canteen
Description: Sigg canteen

If you’re interested in fitness and nutrition, the answer used to be obvious: lots and lots. If you saw a diet counselor or a sports nutritionist, they often had the same question: How much water are you drinking? And it was never enough.

We were told not use our body’s cues, that these were unreliable, By the time you’re thirsty, they said, you’re already dehydrated.

If you’re like me, you’ve carried stylish non-disposable water bottles everywhere with you. I own the one pictured on the left. I love it. But I confess that I feel virtuous drinking water and that sometimes I drink water when I’m bored in a meeting, not always because I’m thirsty.

Intuitive eating? Maybe. But intuitive drinking? Maybe not so much.

And drinking lots of water is often touted as a sure way to lose weight.

WebMD has a water based weight loss diet. They report:

“Research has also shown that drinking a glass of water right before a meal helps you to feel more full and eat less. “Many people do find that if they have water before a meal, it’s easier to eat more carefully,” says Renee Melton, MS, RD, LD, director of nutrition for Sensei, a developer of online and mobile weight loss and nutrition programs.

One study, for example, found that people who drank water before meals ate an average of 75 fewer calories at each meal. That doesn’t sound like a lot — but multiply 75 calories by 365 days a year. Even if you only drink water before dinner every day, you’d consume 27,000 fewer calories over the course of the year. That’s almost an eight-pound weight loss.”

But now it’s not so clear.

First, came the marathon deaths due to over hydration. These were usually women, often beginning runners, non elite athletes, who stopped to drink at every water station thinking they were doing their bodies good. The deaths resulted from hyponatremia, a sodium imbalance that results from drinking too much water.

From Shape Magazine’s article, Is it possible to drink too much water?

“Clinically called hyponatremia, it’s a condition in which the level of sodium — an electrolyte that helps regulate water levels in the fluid in and around your cells — in your blood is abnormally low. When this happens, your body’s water levels rise, and your cells begin to swell. This swelling can cause many health problems, from mild to severe, and can result in death. Hyponatermia has been in the news for the past few years after a study in the New England Journal of Medicine listed overhydration as a serious health issue of some runners at the Boston Marathon. “

You can read about the dangers of overhydration here  and here.

You can also read  Krista Scott Dixon’s Waterlogged: Interview with Dr. Tim Noakes. 

Second, came the research that showed that the “8 glasses per day” recommendation is just false. It was based on a bad research funded by the manufacturers of bottled water. See the CBC’s 8 glasses of water a day ‘an urban myth’

“The common advice to drink eight glasses of water a day doesn’t hold water, say nutrition and kidney specialists who want to dispel the myth. “What drove us to drink two litres of water a day?” asks an editorial in this week’s issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. The recommendation was driven by vested interests rather than health, suggests author Speros Tsindos of the department of dietetics and human nutrition at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia.”

“What drove us to drink 2 litres of water a day?” was published in the Australia New Zealand Journal of Public Health. It begins by noting that the Saharan nomads do just fine with very little water in a very hot and dry environment.

A Scientific American piece Fact or Fiction: You Must Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day? concludes: “There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water.” They say that the recommended amounts of fluid that we hear quoted were meant to include liquids from all sources, including those foods such as fruits and vegetables, as well as beverages such as milk and coffee. A National Academy of Science panel in 2004 wrote that “the vast majority of healthy people adequately meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide.”

Third, came controversy over maintaining a reasonable metabolism and the over consumption of water.  Listen to Matt Stone here. Read Pee All That You Can Pee? How Much Should You Drink? a guest post by Stone over at Krista Scott Dixon’s Stumptuous.

Read Cheeseslave’s 10 simple tips to raise your metabolism:

“1. Don’t Drink When You’re Not Thirsty: This sounds like common sense but most of us don’t follow it. We drink too much water because we think it’s good for us. We drink lots of coffee and soft drinks for the stimulant effect. We drink too much alcohol to relax.

None of these things are bad as long as they are done in moderation. You don’t have to avoid coffee or alcohol. Just watch how much you consume. Drinking too much and drinking for reasons other than thirst lowers your metabolism.

Limit the fluid intake, increase your body temperature, boost your metabolism.”

Me, I figure my body probably can sort this one out on its own and I’m going back to drinking when I’m thirsty.

12 thoughts on “Water, water everywhere but how much should I drink?

    1. Right, but it’s the 2 L a day recommendation that some people are questioning. I drink lots, an ingrained habit, but lately I’ve been wondering..

  1. Drinking water is incredibly hard for me. I really hate doing it, I don’t like the taste (or non-taste) and just hate life every time I have to drink a glass. If I practiced intuitive water drinking, I’m pretty sure I could go days without consuming a drop that isn’t in coffee, Fresca, or comes from the food I eat. Down with water!

    1. and apparently that is just fine. I’m just like you (don’t enjoy drinking water unless in the midst of exercise) and I’ve been fighting my whole life against people who claim that I’m not drinking enough in my daily life, just because I don’t drink a ton of water by itself. Intuitive drinking & eating now and forever for me!

  2. That’s a really interesting post. I find that things have changed so much on that front. When I was a student, I’m sure we didn’t carry water bottles around with us all the time. At the very most we might take a coffee to class, but nowadays (and I do this too) it’s rare to see anyone not toting some kind of drink around. I’m at my desk at home right now and have THREE drink containers in front of me — two teas (one in a travel mug that I took with me to the hair salon this morning, one in a mug that I poured for myself after lunch when I forgot that I already had a tea on my desk) and a bottle of water (my reusable one that I am rarely without). I feel like I rarely drink when thirsty, more often it’s out of habit. According to the research you cite, that’s potentially dangerous (though I don’t think I overdo it). I’m going to pay more attention to my drinking habits (though with what goal in mind I’m not yet sure).

    1. I don’t think it’s dangerous for us but I do worry, not about life threatening danger, but about metabolism. That’s the Matt Stone point.

      1. But I wonder if this whole – less water to increase your metabolism – isn’t the wrong was around. Surely if you’re drinking more, you’re cooling down, by Matt Stone’s reasoning, thus your body would expend calories heating you back up. If you’re hot your body will sweat more to cool you down making you feel thirsty more often.

        FWIW I’ve always found this whole drinking litres of water idea daft. I started cycling seriously in Western Australia and even there wouldn’t routinely drink a 0.5L water bottle every hour as beginners are advised to here in cool damp Blighty. And it’s not like I got into a dehydrated state as I could be cycling day after day without performance drop off.

        Which brings me to the drop in performance supposedly related to a 2 percent loss of body weight (in water). I am pretty sure that the loss of performance was seen only at the performance max end of things. Not on the performance of somebody cycling along at perhaps 60% of VO2max for a couple of hours.

  3. Yeah, Good post. This has also been on my mind. My situation is complicated by frequent migraines and type 1 diabetes. The diabetes issue is that when I have high blood sugars, the effect is dehydration. Some doctors and nurses will recommend that type 1 just drink more water. I’ve also been counselled to drink more water as dehydration is a common cause of migraines. Dehydration may be the link between the diabetes and the migraines. I dunno. And so when I recently read Matt Stone’s take on the matter, I decided to simply experiment by not consciously drinking so much water. But I really think it had a negative affect on my health, so I’m back to drinking a ton. Also, I live in the desert, so that’s a thing.

    1. I also get migraines and learned after years of suffering that dehydration was a major trigger so I make sure to drink lots of water. In fact, being careful about hydration has drastically reduced how often I get them.

      But I know plenty of people who operate without problems on 2 cokes a day and a cup of coffee. Like many things, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work so well!

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