How Much Water (And Other Beverages) Should You Be Drinking?

Coffee. Juice. Diet soda. Frappacino. You may be drinking all day long, but how much water are you actually consuming? Most Americans don’t consume the amount their bodies need. Your body needs water to function normally (it’s made up of 60 percent water by weight), and when you’re dehydrated you may also feel tired, have trouble concentrating, or wind up eating more than usual, because your brain often misinterprets thirst as hunger.

Every cell of your body requires water. Water is also essential to convert food in to energy, remove waste,regulate body temperature and hunger, and carry nutrients and oxygen throughout your body. Unfortunately, you can be dehydrated and not even realize it. By the time you actually feel thirsty, you’re about two percent dehydrated. Dehydration is measured in percentages relating to body weight— for example, a 150-pound person who is 1 percent dehydrated has lost 1.5 pounds in water weight. It’s easy to walk around chronically dehydrated without knowing it, and even mild dehydration can impact your day-to-day life. You may feel lightheaded, dizzy, tired, headachy, or have trouble focusing or concentrating. All are symptoms of slight dehydration.

So how much water should you be drinking? Probably more than you think, because an average sedentary person loses about 2.5 quarts of water a day through ordinary activity alone. And if you exercise, you lose between 0.8 and 1.5 quarts of fluid each hour as well. All this fluid should be replaced to maintain optimal hydration.

You’ve probably heard or read that people need eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day, but that’s not necessarily true. You’re better off checking your urine amount and color for a better read on your personal hydration status. Lots of light yellow urine means you’re drinking enough. Scanty or dark-colored urine usually means you need more fluid. It can also mean you’re taking vitamins you don’t need, or a medication is throwing the color off.

One more thing—while water is always a good bet, you needn’t rely only on H2O to satisfy your fluid needs. Beverages like tea, soda, coffee, and juice all contribute to your daily total, as do foods like soup, fruits, and vegetables that are naturally high in water content. The benefit of water is that it has no calories, which is key for weight loss. But if you choose to hydrate with other beverages or foods, watch the added calories and sugar they contain. Drink more, and you may have to make more frequent bathroom stops, but it will be worthwhile in the way you feel.