To say that water is important would be a massive understatement. After all, water makes up an estimated 60 percent of the human body and is essential for pretty much every single function that occurs within it. Given this, drinking enough water every day is an absolute must for supporting your overall health and wellbeing.
But here’s the rub: You can have too much of a good thing. Here’s what you need to know about overdoing H2O, plus how you can make sure you’re hitting the sweet spot with hydration.
The importance of water in the body
Considering how much of the body is made up of water, it’s no surprise that H2O plays a variety of important roles throughout it. A few examples: Water is used to transport oxygen throughout the body, helps regulate blood pressure, maintains the pH balance of the blood, and keeps the kidneys working properly, explains dietitian Reda Elmardi, R.D., C.S.C.S., founder of The Gym Goat. It’s also a major player in our digestive system, helping to break down foods into their basic components so that we can absorb their nutrients, as well as moving food through our intestines.
Basic H2O Needs
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends an average of 15.5 cups of water per day for men and about 11.5 cups for women—but those guidelines aren’t gospel, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N. She recommends starting with a baseline of half your weight in ounces of water each day.
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Beyond that, Michels recommends that “active individuals drink an additional four to 10 ounces of water per every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise.” (Heavier sweaters should shoot for 10 ounces every 15 minutes, while less-sweaty folks can stick closer to four ounces every 20 minutes.)
Can you drink too much water?
As with anything, it is possible to overdo it on water. In fact, chugging too much can disrupt our electrolyte balance, causing sodium levels to decrease, warns nutrition lecturer Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Sodium and other electrolytes (which include potassium and magnesium, among others) are needed for various processes in the body, such as nerve impulses, movement of nutrients inside and outside of the cell, muscle contractions, pH, and fluid balance,” explains Michels.
For this reason, it’s often recommended that those who intend to drink a lot of water—perhaps due to their fitness routine or a hot climate—drink water enhanced with electrolytes (more on that soon).
How much water is too much?
Of course, the threshold of excess H2O is different for every individual. “We all have personalized fluid needs that are based on our height, weight, age, activity level, and various other factors, such as sweat rate, medical issues, and usage of some medications,” explains Michels. “Greatly exceeding our water needs may cause electrolyte imbalances that can be dangerous if they happen too quickly.” While the likelihood of this scenario occurring is very low, it’s still important to understand your unique daily needs so that you can meet them without overdoing it.
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To get a sense of whether you’re overdoing it or not, take a look at your urine, which should be light yellow, not strongly pigmented in any way, and not smelly. If your urine is consistently clear and colorless, it could indicate that you’re drinking too much fluid, notes Michels.
When to add electrolytes to your water
If you’re someone who exercises intensely and sweats a lot during your workouts, consider adding electrolytes to your water, Michels says. You may also want to do so if you’re experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, or take certain medications (check in with your doctor on that one).
Two options she recommends: Ladder Electrolytes + Carbohydrates Hydration Drink Mix and Nuun Effervescent Electrolyte Hydration Supplement.