Water for Health and Weight Loss
As an individual with a proclivity for endurance sports and the outdoors, it seems that I am almost always sweating and subsequently replenishing my body water. Whether at my desk, in the car or hiking the trail, carrying a giant vat of water with me at all times has been practically burned into my subconscience. I would even venture to say that if you ran into me on any random day at any random place, I would be toting some sort of receptacle filled with or on my way to some source of hydration. However, behind this superficial devotion to water, I am a little less than clueless on its exact benefits and how it influences bodily function. So, in recognition of Drinking Water Week (yes this actually exists) and to satisfy my own curiosity, let’s explore our soft spoken friend water and the impact it has on our lives.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. I know water is important for hydration, but what does that mean and what are the consequences of dehydration? Hydration can simply be defined as the body’s ability to manage water 1. Predominantly seen in its ability to regulate body temperature, hydration encourages perspiration and metabolic function. Perspiration cools while metabolic function warms your body. Discussion of hydration also must includes the importance of water in the cellular uptake and distribution of nutrients to all of the vital organs and cells. As water is digested, it carries food nutrients around the body and distributes them to the appropriate places to facilitate cellular growth and repair 2. Water also promotes healthy kidney, liver and intestinal function in expelling toxins through perspiration, urination and defecation 3. Dehydration, either because of inadequate consumption or heavy loss, is a very important consideration and can in fact be life threatening. Common side effects of dehydration include: low blood pressure, headache, fatigue, hunger, increased heart rate and disorientation, which can often be experienced through a variety of symptoms such as: dry or sticky mouth, lethargy, low and darkly colored urine and uncharacteristically low levels of perspiration 4.
If this didn’t provoke a water toting reaction, maybe the idea that drinking copious amount of water may actually facilitate weight loss. There are a couple ways that consistently drinking water helps aid weight loss. By replacing sugar laden sodas, juices and gourmet coffee drinks with water we can eliminate a significant amount of calories that are often overlooked in weight management strategies. In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing caloric beverages with water resulted in an average weight loss of 2-2.5% 5! Further, these beverages often contain caffeine (a diuretic) which contributes to dehydration. Being that I am a habitual coffee drinker and don’t anticipate quitting any time soon, I like to compensate for it’s diuretic effect by consuming an extra glass or two of water every day. Another way that water works is magic is helping to eliminate thirst that is often mistaken as hunger. According to Mara Vitolins of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, “water can decrease your appetite….so try drinking water [first] and waiting 20 to 30 minutes to see if you are still hungry 6.”
Now the question that has been burning a hole in my pocket all day. Exactly how much water do we need to consume to ensure adequate hydration? The answer to that question is not so clear cut as it varies from person to person and is contingent on a number of different variables. Although we have heard a countless number of times that we need 8, 8 oz cups daily, according to the Mayo Clinic, we need to adjust this number up so that men consume roughly 3 liters (13 8 oz. cups) per day and women consume roughly 2.2 liters (9 8 oz. cups) 7. While this is pretty sound advice, not all men and women are created equal and we may need to modify this recommendation up depending on possible water detractors such as physical activity, diuretic consumption, age and health. While the recommendations available are inconsistent and allow a lot of wiggle room, I have found it easiest to simply aim to drink 4 full bottles off of my 32 oz Nalgene daily, which is more than enough to keep my body functioning at a high level.
While this only scratches the surface on the importance of water, we now know that proper hydration is fundamental to any healthy and holistic approach to wellness as water is fundamental to the efficient operation of our cells and bodily functions. By drinking a crazy amount of water and staying hydrated we are providing the best possible resource for our bodies to sustain and improve life.