By: Tiffany Ricci, RDN
It's true. If you're not getting enough of this nutrient, chances are you are feeling it in several aspects of life such as fitness, concentration, and energy levels.
Our diets consists of six main nutrients: water, carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals. We consider the carbs, fats, and proteins to be macronutrients because we need them in larger quantities, grams - compared to the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, which we take in smaller amounts, milligrams or less. However, we need water in liters, not grams. It is the most essential nutrient in our diet.
Grab a water bottle - reading about water is bound to make you thirsty.
The majority of our makeup as humans is water. Our bodies need more water than any other nutrient - 50 times more than protein! Why do we need all this water hanging around in our bodies? Water has many roles in the body, including:
- Carrying nutrients throughout the body
- Cleansing the tissues and blood of wastes
- Participating in many chemical reactions of metabolism
- Lubricating the joints
- Maintaining body temperature
Because water is so important, we need to maintain a good water balance. Dehydration is an example of water imbalance - it's a loss of water. Dehydration can stem from illness, but is most often related to an insufficient intake. Dehydration can lead to a whole slew of problems including, but not limited to headache, fatigue, decreased mental functioning, impaired physical functioning and athletic performance, constipation, and dental disease.
You can see that some of the typical "overwhelmed" symptoms - forgetfulness, fatigue, and headaches - can be linked to dehydration and could be improved with a consistent and adequate intake of water.
Adequate? How much water do we need? Well, that depends. Several factors play into how much water you, your unique self, needs. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine women need 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters or 91 ounces (3 Nalgene bottles for extra credit) each day. Women who are breastfeeding, need 13 cups or 3.1 liters - maybe even more.
Other factors that play into water requirements include climate and environment - cold weather, hot weather, humidity, altitude; exercise frequency, intensity, and duration; your dietary intake of fiber; and your sweaty-ness or sweat rate (a sweaty sweater loses more water).
If you're far from the goal recommended amount of plain water per day, you can get there by increasing incrementally. Try adding about 10 ounces of water per day per week. For example, if you're starting at 50 ounces of water per day, try 60 ounces a day for this week, 70 for the next, and so on until you reach your goal. We know you're a busy mom on the go and that it can be difficult to reach your goal. We've got some great tips to help you get there:
- Set a timer on your phone to alert you to drink every hour on the hour.
- Designate a daily pitcher of water you need to consume each day. Leave it on the counter so you'll know to refill your water bottle until the pitcher is empty.
- Count your Nalgenes (this is my go-to). Get through at least 3-4 rounds of your 32-ounce Nalgene (or Hydroflask or Thermos or Contigo or CamelBak) each day.
- Decide which way you like your water and stick with it: ice cold or room temp or warm? Do you like to sip it or chug it? Drink it with meals or in between? With a straw or not? When you find your jam, it's easier to stick with your goal.
Multiple factors play a role in specific hydration requirements. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you determine how much water you need each day. For a baseline though, you can generally assess your hydration level by the color and smell of your urine (adjusting for factors like medications, supplements, breastfeeding) - consistent light lemonade to pale color without a strong odor. You may have fluctuations in the morning and after exercise, so check the toilet before you flush for a few days to see how your hydration level is doing.