Chances are, you're not drinking enough water. Since childhood we were advised to drink eight glasses of water—but most of us barely even meet that requirement. We typically don't even realize how dehydrated we are until we begin to feel an afternoon fatigue during the workday, experience headaches, or see it manifest in our skin. The benefits of staying properly hydrated are numerous—assisting proper digestion, improving our complexion, and even revving up our metabolism.
So what exactly is the count for how much water to drink to lose weight, clear up your skin, or simply just keep your body and brain functioning in optimum health? We reached out to a weight-loss coach and a doctor to fill us in on the subject, providing their exact recommendations for how much water to drink in a day.
"The minimum amount of water that someone should drink in the day has been debated for some time," notes Liz Josefsberg, celebrity health coach and author of Target 100. Noting the "eight by eight rule" (drink eight eight-ounce glasses by 8 p.m.) has long been the general rule of thumb, more recently those numbers have been raised. Amy Lee, MD, head of nutrition for Nucific and chief medical officer of a prestigious Southern California weight loss center, is on board with the higher numbers currently recommended. Josefsberg advises exceeding the current suggested amount.
How much water should you drink each day?
The CDC currently recommends 91 ounces of water a day for women. However, Josefsberg recommends exceeding that amount—as she explains in her book—aiming for 100 ounces of water per day, whether you are male or female. "It is a simple number to remember and will adequately hydrate and be quite a challenge for most," she notes. She explains that what she's found is that if someone is aiming for 64 ounces a day, they get about 50. "By making the target higher, I can get clients to get closer to the actual recommendations."
Lee's suggestion is a bit less aggressive. "By simple rules, you should drink half of your body weight in ounces," recommends Lee. "If you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water. But again, it is dependent on your level of activity and water loss in a day."
What is the ideal amount of water for someone trying to rev up their metabolism and burn more calories?
"Hydration is one of the most important pieces of metabolism because your body is over 60% water and critical organs like the brain and heart are made up of even more," explains Josefsberg. "Being dehydrated puts a major strain on those important organs, depletes energy, erodes focus, and increases irritability." Josefsberg notes that each of those factors can be mistaken as hunger signals and those who are dehydrated tend to reach for food instead of water. "Once I can get clients properly hydrated, we can begin really understanding true hunger signals and appetite seems to decrease without the added strain of dehydration," she says. "If you are looking for an almost immediate way to feel better and eat less, begin to properly hydrate."
Josefberg knows from experience that for her clients, drinking enough water is almost like the most important weight-loss miracle. "It immediately gives them more energy as body organs like the brain and heart get fueled, they have clarity and energy to make better decisions and stop mistaking hunger for thirst," she says. "Being hydrated adds to regularity and flushes toxins and inflammation from the body.
Lee notes that everybody's body is different and water consumption is also dependent on our individual activity level. "Through daily activities, our bodies can lose up to three to four liters a day just by perspiration, urine, bowel movement, and exhalation of air," says Lee. She shares a surprising factoid that we lose one to two liters alone from just breathing. "To lose weight, use water to replace highly dense caloric liquid drinks," recommends Lee, who lists flavored coffee, sodas, and fruit juices among the usual suspects. "Drink up to a gallon of water a day, which is about 128 ounces," she advises.
As for burning more calories directly from drinking water, Lee suggests a simple trick of temperature. "The belief is that when we drink cold water, our bodies have to expend energy to bring the temperature up to match our body's internal temperature before it can be absorbed," explains Lee. "It is this process of energy expenditure that helps us burn more calories when we drink cold water. Also, water is part of all cells and required to optimize the body's function and metabolic pathway."
What are some strategies for someone trying to increase their water intake?
"Beginning the habit of drinking more water will not just happen because you want it to," explains Josefsberg. "Your habit is not drinking water throughout the day, so in order to trigger a new habit you should use and set as many triggers for the new behavior as possible. She recommends using your smartphone to set three alarms throughout the day to remind you to grab a glass of water. "When those alarms go off, get up immediately from what you are doing a get a glass," she insists. "I encourage folks who work in an office atmosphere to get a water bottle that they begin to fill upon entering the building every morning and refilling at lunch. Josefsberg uses a 33-ounce water bottle and fills it three times a day, knowing that if she gets through all three she's good for the day.
To increase water consumption, Lee recommends first understanding the benefits and learning just how much water you need to drink to meet your body's daily needs. "I have always told my patients to have a water cup, drinking bottle, or mug available at home and at work next to them," says Lee. "Sometimes, you need the constant visual reminder to take the action of drinking water."
Another tip Lee recommends is to make your water more interesting. "Most people don't drink water because they find it boring," she explains. "Add non-caloric powder or flavors into your water or simply cut up some lemons, cucumber, mint, or add a few berries to your water." Lee also tells her patients to drink three to four cups first thing in the morning before breakfast so they will at least start the morning strong.
What other drinks can one consume to meet this water quota?
While water is the healthiest way to stay hydrated, there are other ways to meet your daily quota of water. Non-sweetened teas and club soda are two alternatives Lee recommends. "Do not use diet sodas or drinks with artificial sweeteners," Lee warns as these can cause food cravings for some individuals. "Juices with natural sugars can cause you to want to drink more of the same fluid," she notes, explaining that the calories can add up. Josefsberg doesn't mind when clients make up for some (less that one third) of daily water ounces with things like coffee, tea, or seltzer water, but she emphasizes that the best is just plain water.
Is there such thing as drinking too much water?
Lee and Josefsberg both agree that it's possible to drink too much water. "The amount of water that is considered too much is the amount that changes one's sodium level in the blood," says Lee. "Our bodies are smart enough to regulate water intake by increasing urinary output, but there are situations when your body cannot catch up due to the speed that you are drinking."
So how much is too much? Lee says that too much can be a range of five to six liters of water in a short period of a few hours. The risk is most common among athletes, but Lee notes that there are "medical and psychological conditions that cause people to drink a lot as well due to loss of thirst receptors."
But though there is a limit, don't let this dissuade you from drinking up as it's extremely unlikely you'll ever reach it. "It is really difficult to drink too much water," Josefsberg says of the super-rare occurrence.