Thirsty? Breaking down the hydration myth

This story was written by Kimberly Burke, director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University.

You have probably heard that you need to drink at least eight glasses of water per day for proper hydration. And really, the more the better. Those who encourage drinking more water also promise the benefits of clear skin, more energy, and potential weight loss. While water certainly has a purpose, does it really possess the ability to influence so many health factors? And do these eight glasses of water provide the same benefits to everyone? Water is no doubt important, but in what quantity, quality and for whom? Let’s take a deeper look.

The Eight Rule

Hydration-Tip-SheetIt turns out there’s not much support for the eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day rule. According to Heinz Valtin of the Department of Physiology at the Dartmouth Medical School, this rule of eight likely began as a misconstrued side comment that gained enough momentum to take off and become common knowledge. In reality there is little to no evidence to support that eight glasses of water a day makes for an all-around healthier human being.

Water fixes everything?

Unfortunately, drinking more water is not the reason for clear skin, increased energy, or weight loss. When you drink water, it is distributed throughout the body equally, and does not go preferentially to your face to create a smooth complexion and a healthy glow.

Energy is created by the breakdown of calories, and since water has zero calories, it doesn’t make you feel more energized. Water’s effect on shedding pounds has more to do with the fact that you’re drinking less high calorie, sugar-filled drinks and replacing them with more water. The weight loss you might experience is due to a decrease in overall calorie consumption not the increase in water.

When to hydrate

Thirst for the most part can be an adequate guide for when to drink. Exercise, climate changes, or other extremes may be a time when this rule doesn’t apply, and you may need to drink more.
Pay attention to how often you use the bathroom. If you urinate every two to four hours, and your urine is a light yellow, this would indicate for most people that they’re adequately hydrated.

The average American does consume about eight glasses of fluid a day, but that is more than just water. This includes coffee, tea, and any water that is contained in solid food. With hot weather, it is worthwhile to remember a water bottle, to drink when thirsty and pay attention to your body. But you don’t have to feel pressure to drink 64 fluid ounces of water every day (that’s half a gallon by the way!).

Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students.