How much water should I drink?

July 20, 2013

One of the most important things you must do to get in shape and be healthy is drink enough water, but how much is really enough? The answer to this question is tough because people are shocked when they hear the answer. To drive the point home, I decided to give you the perspective of two different professionals, the fitness trainer who would advise you to drink enough to be healthy and lose weight, and Dr. Paul Cowan, chief of the department of emergency medicine at Beebe Medical Center, who might be the one that saves your life if you don’t.

Why should people drink more water?

Chris Antonio: One of the most important things people must do to get in shape and perform at optimal level is drink enough water. Failure to do so will cause a variety of problems. Many of the people I work with need to lose weight to get healthy and not drinking enough water will make this a very difficult task. Proper hydration is essential to a strong metabolism, and even if you are only mildly dehydrated, your body will store fat and you’ll make little progress. Water is also very important to energy and performance, and failure to drink enough will leave you sluggish and unmotivated.

Dr. Paul Cowan: Maintaining good hydration is critical to your health. You can stay hydrated by drinking the right amount of water, juices, sports drinks - with electrolytes - and even eating fruits and vegetables. Drinking large amounts of alcohol or drinks loaded with caffeine can cause loss of fluid and can be the main cause of dehydration. Dehydration can negatively impact your physical performance both on the job and at play. As a doctor, I see many disease processes such as strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure that are acutely worsened because of dehydration.

How much water should people drink?

Chris Antonio: Water needs depend on a variety of different factors such as activity level, temperature and caffeine intake, but a good rule of thumb for the average person is to drink 10 10-oz. glasses spread throughout the day. If you are extremely active, you may need to drink an extra 10 to 20 ounces. This may sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember that your muscles, skin, blood and organs are made of mostly of water, and without proper hydration, your body will not function correctly.

Dr. Paul Cowan: At a minimum, men should drink just under 3.5 liters - 120 oz. - a day and women should drink about 3 liters - 100 oz.  But remember to consider your activity and your environment.  If you do a lot of cardio activity, you need to increase your total fluid intake. More importantly, you need to consider your environment.  When the temperature is in the 90s with high humidity, your body expends more energy and fluid cooling itself. As a rule it’s hard to drink too much, but it's easy not to get enough.

What happens when people don’t drink enough water?

Chris Antonio: For my clients, drinking enough water can be the difference between success and failure in their fitness program. People who fail to drink enough water experience a sluggish metabolism, constipation, low energy and difficulty controlling their appetite. In fact, research has proven people who drink enough water eat an average of 75 fewer calories per meal and 27,000 fewer calories per year, and that could make a difference of a couple pounds of weight gain. Also, people often confuse hunger with thirst, and failure to drink enough water often results in binge eating and little to no willpower when trying to resist junk foods.

Dr. Paul Cowan: We see many people in the emergency department this time of year who are dehydrated after being outside too long without drinking enough fluids. They often experience nausea, fatigue, headache, irritability and confusion. Certainly none of those symptoms are good if you are trying to compete or simply work in the heat. It's amazing how much better people feel after they are rehydrated, regardless of why they got dehydrated.

Advice for people about staying properly hydrated?

Chris Antonio: Drinking enough water is habit forming, and once you experience what it feels like to drink enough, you won’t want to go without. It’s like fixing an engine that wasn’t firing on all cylinders; all of a sudden you have a lot more get up and go. At first you will feel like you are spending a lot of time in the bathroom, but eventually your body will regulate. A good way to make sure you drink enough is to track how many bottles of water you drink daily and then make the necessary adjustments. You can also put fruit or calorie-free flavor packets in your water, for example, Crystal Light.

Dr. Paul Cowan: First of all, it’s a lot easier to stay hydrated than it is to try to get rehydrated. A good way to tell if you are properly hydrated is to monitor the frequency and color of your urine. You should be urinating every hour or two, and your urine should be a faint, clear yellow. When your urine is dark and concentrated, you need lots of fluid.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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