I am sure that title will draw some attention and provoke a few humorous comments!
With the question of quantity comes the question of quality. What are you drinking?
The body is mostly water by volume and uses it for just about everything going on inside. We may have strong attachment to other beverages but nothing can replace the necessity of pure, simple water. When it comes to input for basic survival functions of the body, air is first, heat is second, and water is third. Just imagine how quickly one would die when deprived of certain inputs and you can compose the hierarchy.
We know we’d die without water within a few horrible days. If kept on extremely low water ration for a week or more we know we would suffer great distress. But do you know we suffer unnecessary discomfort, vulnerability to injury and illness, decreased cognitive function and decreased strength and motor function when we are just slightly dehydrated for mere hours? And then what do we imagine are the longer-term consequences of living years in a chronic state of slight dehydration?
This may be more of a health and performance-confounding problem in society than we realize because the abundance of beverage drinking that occurs is not the same as drinking water. For various reasons, the body does not respond to processed beverages the way it responds to simple water. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are anti-water – they work against hydration. I’ve even noticed that drinking herbal tea does not replenish my body the way straight water does. Carbonated mineral water has a performance-hindering effect too.
Neglecting to drink for most hours and then binge (water) drinking is not an adequate approach either, because the body is then spending most of the day in hydration-distress. Many vital functions are trying to do their normal functions under deprivation conditions. Then, when you gulp it down all at once, the body may not distribute that flood of water quickly enough before the urinary tract disposes a good portion of it. I am suspicious when I see people frequently sipping their water bottles during less-than-one-hour workouts because an adequately hydrated person should be able to comfortably go hard for an hour without refill unless excessive body cooling is required. Thirst during a relatively short workout could be a signal that one is slightly-dehydrated – the solution to this is to be drinking frequently the 24 hours before, not during.
If we’re topping off the water tank in small doses throughout the day the body then is supplied with a more easily manageable supply of a primary resource. This greatly lowers the metabolic, immunologic and neurologic stress on the body, and increases the health and performance buffer. The body sufficiently supplied with water throughout the day puts that body in a much stronger position to handle short periods of dehydration, such as hour-long workouts, and have what it needs to do all the repair and refreshing during the hours of sleep at night.
When we drink pure, simple water throughout the day, our joints and tissues are going to work and feel better. We’re going to think better. We’re going to digest food better. We’re going to pee more too, and that is good for the urinary system. That system will increase its capacity and various valves will increase their strength (to avoid urinary problems later in life!).
I am preaching this to myself as I write. In the summer time I feel more urgent signals to keep drinking, but now comes the fall with cooler weather and I don’t have as many triggers. My history of slight-dehydration tolerance has made my attention a bit dull to the subtle warning signs. But, in these last several years, I’ve made the connection between slight-dehydration and joint discomfort that is noticed at night in bed, which in turn lowers my sleep quality, which in turn lowers my cognitive function the next day, as well as athletic function. I then remind myself that these more immediate symptoms are indicators of longer-term consequences if I allow this to be chronic.
So, I am going to finish this essay and take another sip of the water (with a nice slice of lemon in it!)and invite you to grab a glass and say “Cheers!” with me.