How Much Water Do I Need to Drink?
It's a new year, and many of us have resolved to drink more water. But how much water does an individual need to drink each day? It’s a question many have considered, and it’s one whose answer is as unique as the person asking it.
Drinking water is about more than quenching thirst. Water is essential to human functioning. Water carries oxygen and nutrients to cells, it flushes waste from the liver and kidneys, it lubricates joints, helps regulate body temperature, protects our vital organs — and so much more. Hydration, however, is about more than drinking fluids. Finding the proper proportions of minerals and water-balancing electrolytes is equally important.
In order for water to perform these crucial tasks effectively, the human body needs the right amount of it. The body is constantly depleting itself of water: through breathing, sweating, urination and bowel movements. To maintain healthy hydration levels, this lost water must be replenished.
Too little water leads to dehydration, which can result in everything from minor cramping to severe impacts to a person’s health. But simply drinking more water doesn’t always lead to prime results. There is such a thing as too much water. Overhydration can affect sodium levels, causing a condition known as hyponatremia. Symptoms of hyponatremia include vomiting, loss of balance, and confusion, among others.
It’s important to note that, in healthy people, overhydration is rare. In an article for Merck Manual, Dr. James L. Lewis III noted it would take consuming more than six gallons of water per day on a regular basis for a healthy, young adult with normal kidney function to develop hyponatremia.
Between dehydration and overhydration, there’s a balanced medium, an optimal place where the body has exactly as much water as it needs. The key is finding and maintaining this balance.
So, how much water does the average person need? Here’s a look at some of the many variables that play into that answer.
How much water do I need to drink? Male vs. female
While no two bodies function identically, there are general trends when it comes to proper hydration for men and women.
The average adult body consists of up to 60% water. According to usgs.gov, “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.”
The percentage of water in men is closer to 60%, while in women it’s around 55%. This gender discrepancy is due to the amount of lean tissue versus fatty tissue in the average male and female bodies. Men tend to have more lean tissue, which has more water. Women tend to have more fatty tissue, which has less water.
This means, generally speaking, men must drink more water than women to remain hydrated. According to research published by the Mayo Clinic, the average healthy adult male living in a temperate climate needs 15.5 cups of fluids per day. The average healthy adult female living in a temperate climate requires 11.5 cups of fluids per day.
It’s important to note these recommendations cover fluids from not only water but also other beverages and foods. The Mayo Clinic report noted 20% of a person’s daily fluids come from food, while the other 80% are gleaned from drinks. That means, the average adult male needs about 12 cups of water or other fluids per day, while the average adult female requires approximately 9 cups of water and fluids daily.
How much water should I drink for my age?
While the average adult body, as noted above, is made up of up to 60% water, infants are a very different story.
Water makes up 70% to 83% of the body weight in newborns according to a study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. By 1 year of age, that percentage drops to about 65% and slowly continues to decline into adulthood. After the age of 51, those declines continue. According to Healthline, the average male body 51 or older is made up of 56% water, while the average female body 51 or older is 47% water.
The pediatricians at healthychildren.org say babies as young as 6 months can be introduced to water. From 6 months to 1 year, babies only need 4 to 8 ounces of water per day as they’re getting ample fluids from breast milk and/or formula. To maintain proper hydration in children 1-3 years of age, experts recommend 4 cups of fluids per day, including water or milk. For 4-8 year olds, this increases to 5 cups of fluids per day, with older children needing 7-8 cups.
As humans age, from children to adults to elderly persons, the body’s need for water tends to decrease, however older people tend to be more susceptible to dehydration
“This is partly due to lack of thirst sensation and changes in the water and sodium balance that naturally occur as people age,” researchers point out in a 2009 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. The study also points to physical and cognitive impairments that can prevent elderly people from drinking enough fluids, as well as age-related physiological differences — changes in water and sodium balance — that increase risk of dehydration in aging populations.
With all of those considerations taken into account, experts generally recommend older people consume 57.5 ounces or 7.1 cups of fluids per day.
How much water should I drink… when exercising
The human body’s exact percentage of water will depend on its hydration level. According to Freshwater Watch, people start to feel thirsty once they’ve already lost 2-3% of their body’s water. Mental acuity and physical coordination can begin to decline long before thirst kicks in, typically at or around 1% dehydration.
Exercise is another important aspect of overall health, but it’s one that can dehydrate the body if people aren’t careful.
Before and during workouts or physical exertion, The American Council on Exercise recommends:
- Drink 17-20 ounces of fluids 2 to 3 hours before starting a workout
- Drink another 8 ounces of fluids 20 to 30 minutes before commencing exercise
- Drink 7-10 ounces during every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise
To facilitate recovery after a workout, the council recommends drinking at least 8 more ounces of fluids. Wellness experts at The University of California, Berkeley go a little deeper. They say people should drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid “for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.”
While exercising, many factors can contribute to increased rates of dehydration, including heat, humidity, the intensity of the exercise and the person’s age, weight and gender, as well as any underlying medical conditions — especially kidney or liver diseases, which can cause people to retain excess fluids.
Anyone who’s uncertain about their water intake and the impact of exercise on individual hydration should consult their doctor for specific guidelines.
How much water should I drink … while pregnant and breastfeeding
Water plays a crucial role in healthy pregnancies for both mothers and developing fetuses. Water aids digestion and helps amniotic fluid form, it helps circulate nutrients throughout the body as well as eliminate waste and toxins.
During pregnancy, the body produces extra blood and builds new tissues, both of which require proper hydration.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends drinking 8-12 cups (64-96 ounces) of water each day during pregnancy.
Dehydration during pregnancy can result in an array of complications, such as maternal overheating, headaches, sluggishness, low amniotic fluid, kidney stones, swelling, birth defects and urinary tract infections, which can lead to preterm labor and preterm birth. To avoid such scenarios, proper hydration is key.
Proper hydration is equally important after a baby is born, especially for mothers who choose to breastfeed. While research shows nursing mothers are often able to stay hydrated by paying attention to their bodies and drinking water when thirsty, nursing mothers need 16 cups (128 ounces) of fluids — from food, water and other non-alcoholic beverages — per day to compensate for the water used as their bodies make milk.
Breast milk is 90% water. That said, drinking more water doesn’t always lead to increased milk production. However, a lack of hydration can cause breast milk production to lag.
Experts recommend nursing moms drink 8 ounces of water before and after each breastfeeding session and with meals in order to stay properly hydrated.
Tips for staying hydrated
For adults and children, women and men, exercisers and couch potatoes, hydration is a key component of overall health. Here are some tips for staying hydrated based on information from scripps.org and the Centers for Disease Control:
- Don’t wait for thirst to drink. By the time a person feels thirsty, they’re already slightly dehydrated. Sip water steadily throughout the day and drink more fluids than usual when the weather is hot, especially if you’re active.
- When going out in the sun, always bring at least one water bottle for each person in the group.
- Set reminders and try to drink throughout the day, not only at meals, to get the 8-12 cups of fluids most adults need.
- Try flavored waters. Plain water can get boring to some; add flavor with fresh fruits or a splash of fruit juice. People can also consume clear broths and flavored bottled waters that are free of sugars and sweeteners.
- Add some sparkle to your water. Fizzy waters, especially those without sugar or sweeteners, are just as hydrating as their still counterparts, and bubbles may boost water consumption for people who crave a little sparkle.
- Soda is not a good choice for hydration. It contains too much sugar and not enough sodium to replace electrolytes.
- Eat water-rich fruits and vegetables. Produce such as cucumber, watermelon, leafy greens, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches and celery are rich in water and nutrients.
- Drink more fluids at the earliest signs of illnesses such as a cold or the flu.
- Stay inside during hot weather. On very hot days find an air-conditioned environment, whether it’s at home or in a shopping center or public library. Adults should never remain in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit without good airflow.
- Avoid sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the rays are strongest. Plan outdoor activities in the early morning or evening.
- Dress appropriately for hot weather. Wear light, loose-fitting clothing that lets your skin breathe. Dark colors absorb heat, so stick with lighter shades.
In addition to these guidelines, proper hydration also involves a balanced intake of electrolytes and minerals. As a September 2021 New York Times article pointed out, “the most important measure of hydration is the balance between electrolytes … in the body.” Purely sourced spring waters, such as those from Mountain Valley Spring Water, can help deliver this balance naturally.
The trace minerals and nutrients found in Mountain Valley Spring Water come from Mother Nature herself, with no human intervention. This water has spent 4,000 years, give or take a century or two, filtering through the layers of quartz and granite that make up Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains. Over those millennia, Mountain Valley’s water is infused with everything from bone-building calcium to heart-healthy potassium.
Mountain Valley’s September 2020 water quality report shows this crisp, bottled-at-the-source spring water contains 67 milligrams per liter of calcium, 7.1 mg/L of magnesium and 1.3 mg/L of potassium.
The best water to drink is water you want to drink: Enter Mountain Valley
For 150 years, Mountain Valley Spring Water has been keeping people properly hydrated all over the U.S.
One of the easiest ways to drink more water is to find water that’s naturally delicious. That’s where Mountain Valley comes in.
Our award-winning, purely sourced waters are bottled directly at our protected spring deep in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. They’re great because they taste great. As America’s winningest water, Mountain Valley’s line of spring, sparkling and sparkling essence waters have garnered a wide range of awards and medals for their crisp, refreshing flavor. That includes being voted best in the world a whopping four times by the esteemed judges at the annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
With a perfectly balanced pH, Mountain Valley’s naturally pure and naturally mineral-rich waters make hydration taste as good as it feels.