The Critical Importance of Hydration

Are You Watching Your Macros?

Most people today are familiar with macronutrients due to their use in various healthy eating regimens and diets; low-carbohydrate high-fat diets, high-protein low-carbs, ketogenic diets, even the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) approach. But what about that most important macro of all? You know, the one with absolutely no calories, no fat, no sugars, and no protein.

The Fourth Macronutrient

That’s right, water, H2O is the fourth macronutrient. By definition, your body requires macronutrients in large quantities, think grams versus milligrams. And, you need more water per day than any other macronutrient. Why, because water makes up about sixty percent of your body weight and is the main component of your bodily fluids. Water is found in every cell, tissue, and organ in your body. It transports nutrients to cells, removes toxins from your body, lubricates your joints, and regulates your body temperature.

(Note: There is some debate if water is an essential nutrient, but not a macronutrient. For this article we will follow the USDA’s lead and include it as the fourth macronutrient).

Just how important is water? Only air is more important for your survival; you can go three weeks without food, three days without water, and only about three minutes without oxygen, (known as the “rule of threes”).

How Much Water Should I Drink Per Day

Just what is a normal day’s requirement for water intake? Defining normal is difficult as we are each unique, live in different parts of the country, in differing climates, and with varying expenditures of energy. Your requirements can differ from day to day, and even within the same day. Some of the factors involved include occupation, food consumption, alcohol consumption, water expenditure through sweat and urine, even the weather, and we know how often that changes.

Different sources will cite different statistics as to the appropriate daily intake of water. But let’s try to get a basic idea of how much is enough.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that an ”average” healthy adult consume:

  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages, and food. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks.

An established requirement stand-by is eight, eight- ounce glasses of water per day. Mayo says this works fine as a reasonable goal.

Dr. Oz tends to concur with Mayo’s recommendation. However, Livestrong claims a bit less is acceptable:

  • About 13 cups per day for men
  • About 9 cups per day for women

We suggest you consume Livestrong’s recommendation at a minimum, yet strive for the Mayo Clinic targets.

In Versus Out – Daily Values

Even in the absence of exercise, your body will lose water throughout a typical day through respiration, perspiration, and urination. Obviously, we lose water through urination and sweat. We also lose water through what is known as “insensible water loss,” that is water loss that is difficult to detect such as water loss through respiration and the skin. See chart below:

Reprinted from Dr. Gary Larson, Medical Director, Procure Proton Therapy Center

The Importance of Hydration During Exercise

Once we bring exercise into the hydration equation things change dramatically. Athletes have a greater need to replace fluids during exercise. Whether you’re simply exercising for recreation, a weekend warrior, or a serious athlete it’s important to stay hydrated. As you’ll see below, hydration involves getting the right amount of water before, during, and after exercise. If you’re not hydrated, your body can’t perform at its optimal level. In most situations, water is all that is required to stay hydrated.

Dehydration can be serious and can occur in virtually any physical activity. You can become dehydrated when swimming on a hot sunny day or while skiing on a cold winter day. You don’t even need to be sweating to become dehydrated.

Your Hydration Protocol

We’ll discuss dehydration in just a bit but first, let’s discuss proper hydration. Just like an exercise or diet regimen, you need a hydration protocol when you exercise.

The American Council on Exercise has suggested the following basic guidelines for drinking water before, during, and after exercise:

Drinking Water Before Your Workout / Your Pre-Workout:

  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 to 3 hours before you start exercising.
  • Drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up.

Drinking Water During Your Workout / Your Intra-Workout:

  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.

Drinking Water After Your Workout / Your Post-Workout:

  • Drink 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise.
  • Drink 20-24 ounces of water for every 1 pound of lost body weight.

To determine your post-workout, replenishment quantity you may want to conduct a “sweat test”. Simply weigh yourself pre- and post-workout. Assuming you did not use the toilet or consume any fluids during exercise, your weight loss is your “sweat rate”. For each pound of weight lost you should consume 20 – 24 ounces of water. Note, this is a guesstimate at best as sweat rate will vary depending on the type of exercise. Some other things to consider that may increase your water loss:

  • Temperature, you will perspire more in extreme heat.
  • Intensity, as with heat, the more intense your workout, the more you sweat.
  • Duration, the longer you work out, the more fluid you will lose.

What if I fail to sufficiently hydrate during exercise

Dehydration can be a serious issue, in fact, it can become life-threatening. A clinical definition states that it “is a loss of body water at a rate greater than can be replaced.” Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Dizziness or lightheaded feeling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Fast heartbeat

In most instances, if recognized at these stages taking in more water should be sufficient.

More severe dehydration can cause nausea or vomiting, mental confusion, weakness, and even loss of consciousness. Should you encounter any of these symptoms, medical treatment is in order.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Although rare, athletes can drink too much water and suffer from hyponatremia. This condition is induced by drinking excessive amounts of water which can cause a low concentration of sodium in the blood. This condition also should be considered very serious.

Water Containers

Now that you understand the critical nature of hydration let’s spend a few minutes on how to transport that precious commodity. Refillable water bottles are a great way to stay hydrated while at the court, on the field, while biking, or on the trail. We won’t belabor the detrimental effects to the environment of disposable plastic bottles except to mention you could pass down a used disposable container to many future generations. Plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to biodegrade. Probably not the family heirloom you had in mind.

Today’s reusable water bottles come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and materials; some designed specifically for certain types of activities as you will see. In fact, we recommend you take how you are going to use your bottle into consideration before making a purchasing decision.

Need a container for at the office use? There are options for that. Need a container to transport your liquids while at the gym, the yoga studio, or spin class? That’s covered as well. Need a heavy-duty, rugged container for on the trail?

Let’s start there. We’ve also compiled a list of something of the best water bottles on the internet.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is one of the more popular options today for durability, temperature retention, and convenience. Temperature retention is their strong suit. In tests, products have retained their temperature for upwards of twenty-four hours with only a very slight variation. And, they are dual purpose in that they also retain heat for coffee or soup. Most come in a variety of sizes, type dispensers (lids), and designs. Durability is another benefit of stainless, offset by the fact they do tend to cost a bit more and are bit heavier. Not dishwasher safe.


If you’re not happy with the taste from either a stainless or plastic container or are concerned about potential leaching problems in plastics, glass is the way for you to go. Perhaps not as durable as stainless or plastics, glass offers a superior taste. Most glass containers now come with a silicone sleeve to add durability and “grip” for handling.

Glass tastes better, is more eco-friendly being easier to recycle, and is safe for use in the dishwasher.


Those partaking in activities such as biking, running, etc. tend to favor plastics. They are lighter-weight and durable, and Camelback was one of the original reusable containers. If your choice is plastic, be sure it is BPA-free. The major drawback to plastic is that it just doesn’t keep the contents cold quite as long. Although positioned as dishwasher safe we recommend hand washing.


A bit of a new sub-segment to reusable containers is “collapsible”. Hikers/backpackers frequently use these. They are very light-weight, typically made of BPA-free plastic, and can be “squished” or rolled up once you have consumed the contents. Most contain a carabiner clip of some type for fastening to your backpack. The most significant issues with collapsibles have to do with cleaning and leaking after extended use.

The Bear Grylls

This quick review of containers could be complete without mention of the Bear Grylls, but I couldn’t resist. If it’s sturdy enough for the Bear, it deserves mention. This bottle can keep hot beverages hot, for up to 12 hours; or cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours. Of course, it’s rugged and durable being a part of the Bear Grylls’ Gear line.

The bottle is made with stainless steel and food grade materials, is very light, BPA-free and won’t retain odors. An excellent thing considering some of the things Bear brews in his container.

In Conclusion

  • Water is an essential macronutrient but doesn’t have a single calorie.
  • Hydration is always essential, but even more so during exercise.
  • Water is your most convenient and single most effective type of hydration.
  • Develop and follow a hydration protocol when exercising for safety and optimal athletic performance.

And, your best choice of water container depends on personal taste and how you will be using your water bottle.

Drink up.


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