Considering the human body is made up of nearly 60 percent water, it’s a no-brainer that staying properly hydrated is a must. In addition to helping make up our organs and blood, H2O also helps transport essential nutrients throughout our body, ushers out waste, helps regulate body temperature as sweat, and plays a part in keeping digestion humming along. So, you could say it does a lot.
Whatever your sipping style, listen up: Hydration is not necessarily as simple as drinking your eight glasses of water a day—which is kind of an outdated recommendation anyway. Here, nutrition pros break down common hydration mistakes to keep tabs on.
The big one: Not understanding your hydration needs
If the whole “eight glasses a day” recommendation is old news, how much water should you actually be sipping daily? A good place to start: Half your body weight in ounces of water, says Jack Dybis, D.O., founder of IVme Wellness + Performance. (For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, that’s 80 ounces of water per day.) Just keep in mind that your activity level (looking at you, endurance athletes and heavy sweaters), as well as your environment (people living in the Arizona desert need more H2O in the summertime), influence your true needs, explains Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners.
Chugging too much Water at once
Tempting as it may be when you’re feeling parched or cranking out a tough workout, chugging a whole water bottle in one sitting actually isn’t necessarily a great idea. Rapidly exceeding your water needs may cause electrolyte imbalances that negatively influence body processes, such as nerve impulses, movement of nutrients inside and outside of the cell, muscle contractions, pH, and fluid balance, warns The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N. Your best bet: Sip slowly and take breaks to check in with your body, so your thirst receptors (called osmoreceptors) have a chance to let you know when you’ve hit the fluid balance sweet spot.
Relying solely on plain H2O
If you can meet your personal hydration needs with plain water, more power to you—but not everyone loves water. If you’re one those people, getting those ounces in every day can make for a challenge you really don’t want to fail. But, you do have other options! In fact, you can meet hydration needs by enjoying a variety of unsweetened beverages, as well as foods that have high water content, according to Emma Laing, Ph.D., R.D.N., the director of dietetics at the University of Georgia and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Unsweetened sparkling water and fat-free milk are excellent sources of hydration,” she says. “You can also get water intake from certain foods, such as soup, fruits (like watermelon, melons, grapes, oranges, pears, tomatoes, and strawberries), vegetables (like lettuce, celery, spinach, carrots, and cucumbers), and dairy products (like yogurt and cottage cheese).”
Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
In addition to being great sources of water, fruits and vegetables also contain those all-important electrolytes (such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium), which are essential for maintaining fluid balance throughout the body. This basically makes them a one-two punch for providing the water you need and the tools to ensure that water can do what it’s meant to.
The thing is, “people who are in a hurry or eat on-the-go often eat more processed, low water content foods, and don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. To increase your fruit and veggie intake, she recommends taking a fresh piece of fruit with you for breakfast and snacks, packing pre-cut veggies for lunches, and incorporating at least two cups of veggies at dinner in order to aim for the recommended five to 10 servings daily.
Drinking too much caffeine
While moderate amounts of caffeine are unlikely to dehydrate you, especially if you consume it regularly, Blakely warns that excess caffeine may have a dehydrating effect. That’s just one of the reasons why the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recommends limiting caffeine intake to no more than 400 milligrams a day, which equates to about four or five cups of coffee.
Read More: 5 Signs You Need A Break From Caffeine
“Some people exceed this by far by consuming multiple energy drinks and pre-workout supplements throughout the day (many containing 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine each),” says Blakely. “To avoid a negative impact, keep your caffeine intake under the recommended 400 milligrams and drink plenty of water!”
Waiting until you’re thirsty to start hydrating
There’s no denying the fact that feeling thirsty is your body signaling to you that it needs water; however, feeling this way means we’re already in the hole, notes Dana Cohen, M.D., an integrative medical doctor based in Manhattan. Not to mention, if we override our thirst mechanism by ignoring it long enough, we can actually lose touch with our awareness that we need to hydrate in the first place. “For example, if you’re ignoring your thirst because you’re finishing a project at work, or are trying not to drink water during a long car ride because you don’t want to stop to pee, you can become unaware of this basic bodily need,” she says.
Laing’s advice here: Get ahead of thirst by drinking hydrating beverages and eating high-water foods consistently throughout the day.
Underestimating how dehydrating alcohol is
This should go without saying, but alcohol is not a good way to hydrate. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it actually increases the risk of dehydration, despite the fact that it’s liquid in form. “Alcohol blocks signals to your kidneys that normally work to keep you hydrated, which is one of the reasons why the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not encourage alcohol consumption,” explains Dr. Laing.
If you enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, here’s your move: “Choose light beverages, or either purchase or make your own spritzers by adding sparkling water to wine or hard liquors to reduce the alcohol content each serving,” suggests Laing. “Having one or two glasses of water along with each alcoholic beverage will also help curb over-consumption that leads to dehydration.”
Drinking too much water overall
Being conscious of how much water you drink each day is a great thing, but it is possible to overdo it. In fact, Cohen often sees patients who drink so much water that their blood levels of certain electrolytes (specifically sodium and chloride) are abnormally low. “I see it more often in my hot yoga devotees or endurance athletes who sweat out a lot of electrolytes but don’t replace those electrolytes and drink plain water in bulk,” she says.
Read More: ‘I Tracked My Water Intake For 2 Weeks—Here’s What Happened’
For those who overhydrate and drink gallons of water in a day, Cohen recommends using electrolyte replacements in one or two drinks to help keep those fluid levels balanced. In some cases, though, you may even need to limit your overall consumption. If you drink so much throughout the day that you feel like you could practically float away, talk to a nutritionist.
Slacking On Fluids before and after workouts
You lose body water while working out through both breathing and perspiration, so skimping on hydration around exercise is a big no-no. “Although you may not feel that thirsty before you hit the gym or go for a run, fluid losses can happen quickly, especially if it’s hot or you’re a heavy sweater,” says Blakely. “By the time you finish your workout and get around to drinking water, you may already be experiencing symptoms of dehydration (i.e. headache, dizziness, shakiness), which can take a while to recover from.”
She recommends drinking at least eight ounces before your workout, sipping on water during your workout, and replenishing any additional fluids lost afterward. “Adding electrolytes can help even further since you lose those through sweat, as well,” she adds. She recommends Ladder Hydration Mix or Nunn Effervescent Electrolyte Hydration Tablets as two ideal options for before, during, or after workouts.