Maybe you’ve heard this one before: you should drink eight glasses of water per day to be a healthy, hydrated human. Why? Because our bodies are largely made up of water (60% of an adult male body and 55% of an adult female), we need frequent replenishment to keep all our systems functioning properly.
Water is a part of life, whether you like drinking it or not. And no matter how long you hold off on your daily glass, a dry mouth, headache, or dizziness will eventually send you gulping from the tap. There are even reusable bottles specifically designed to make sure you get enough liquids (ahem, such as Alex Drummond’s favorite Stanley Tumbler). But how accurate is the 8-cup answer? How much water should you drink in a day, really?
“I have been a dietitian for 20 years and this is likely the number one question I get from my patients,” says Amy Bragagnini, M.S., R.D., C.S.O., and National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That well-rehearsed response may be accurate for some people but certainly not for all. Each of us has unique fluid needs when it comes to being adequately hydrated.” Read on to find out which factors you should consider when figuring out your healthy daily water intake.
Why is water important?
First, it’s important to note that water intake isn’t one size fits all. According to Bragagnini, “Many other factors come into play when trying to figure out your specific water needs, such as activity levels, climate, overall health, diet, and age.”
- Activity levels: Part of the reason we need to consume water consistently is that we lose it throughout the day, and that loss only increases if you are an active person. “People that get consistent, vigorous physical activity will require more fluid than sedentary people because they are losing a lot of fluid and electrolytes with sweating and respirations,” Bragagnini says.
- Climate: Folks who live in hot or humid climates will require more fluid to meet daily requirements. Drinking water is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heat exhaustion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Overall health: There are certain health conditions where one needs to limit how much water one drinks, such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease, and it’s important to consult a doctor. Bragagnini notes that those with chronic diarrhea or certain infections may require increased needs for water.
- Diet: The quality of the food we consume can also play a role when determining water requirements. “Our diets typically supply about 20 percent of our fluid requirements,” Bragagnini adds.
- Weight and sex: Necessary water intake levels are impacted by body size, muscle mass, and sex. Along that line, males typically need more fluids than females because they tend to have less fatty tissue.
How much water should I drink in a day?
That’s the million-dollar question. Amy notes that, statistically, women need around 11.5 cups of water a day, whereas men require approximately 15.5 cups. However, these recommendations are really just a starting point. The benefits of drinking water are innumerable, impacting everything from heart to kidney to joint health. Some studies have shown that drinking water can even help with weight loss.
As noted, you can meet hydration needs with more than just water. “I advise my patients to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables,” says Amy. “These can supply a good amount of water towards our daily goals.” She recommends eating at least five (preferably more) servings of water-based fruits and vegetables a day. (So, hydration is another reason to make Ree Drummond’s red-and-green fruit salad with mint syrup? Yes!)
How can I tell if I’m dehydrated?
When you’re dehydrated, you might experience those physical symptoms outlined above, such as dry mouth and headaches. But another go-to answer: look in the toilet bowl! Or, in dietician speak, examine the color. “A hydrated body will produce urine that is pale yellow in color. If yours is a dark amber color, you likely need to focus on drinking more water.”
How can I drink more water?
Bragagnini frequently hears two things from patients who don’t consume enough fluids: “I don’t like the taste of water” or “I am just not good at drinking water.” To that, she says the first step is to make drinking water a regular habit.
“Try having a routine that automatically makes drinking water a part of your day. For example, when you get up and even before brushing your teeth, have a full glass of water ready and automatically drink it.” Here are some other tips:
- Bring a full water bottle with you on the go—in the car, at work, or in your bag.
- Try adding flavored drops to your water if you don’t like it plain.
- Add sliced produce like strawberries, mint, or cucumber to your water.
- Caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea can still count towards some of your fluid intake (but certainly not all).
- Go for bubbly water like seltzer or sparkling water.
Micaela Bahn is a freelance editorial assistant and recent graduate from Carleton College, where she majored in English literature. She loves running, photography, and cooking the best new recipes.
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