You’ve likely seen someone lugging around a gallon of water at the gym, school or work before. And sure, you understand the importance of staying hydrated, but is drinking a gallon of water a day really necessary?
Dietitian Beth Czerwony, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD, discusses what to know about this trend, how much water you should really be drinking and what factors influence your hydration levels. Plus, she offers practical advice about how to drink more water throughout the day.
Is drinking a gallon of water a day recommended?
“Drinking a gallon of water a day is not really necessary, but it’s not going to hurt you either,” says Czerwony. “Everybody’s hydration levels are different, but most people don’t need a daily gallon.”
Your body is incredibly efficient and will let you know when it is thirsty. People have different water needs based on their weight, activity level, how much they sweat, how hot it is, what medications they’re on and what they eat.
Obviously, everyone wants to avoid being dehydrated, but that doesn’t mean you have to fill up on 128-ounces of water every single day to avoid it. A good rule of thumb is to take a peek at the color of your pee. If you’re hydrated, it should be a light lemonade color, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be clear. If your pee is darker, that might be an indicator to up your water intake, but keep in mind that some medications (and even food) can affect the color too.
How much water should you be drinking in general?
Everybody’s hydration levels vary, but the standard number to aim for is 64-ounces a day.
Your activity level, your location, your metabolism and your size should all be considered into this number as well. Some people naturally require more water than that, while others a bit less.
Concerned about peeing all the time?
“I often tell patients that if you opt to drink a gallon of water a day – or just up your water intake in general – you’ll definitely get your steps in,” jokes Czerwony. “Obviously your body isn’t used to that level of water so you’re going to be running to the bathroom at lot more often when you first start.”
But there’s good news! As you drink more liquid, your kidney function and hormones will start to change and you’ll likely notice your body recalibrating and becoming more efficient at handling the high water volume.
You might even notice that your body will start to crave more water the more you drink. Just focus on drinking water steadily throughout the day instead of guzzling it all down in the evening. Your bladder will thank you!
The benefits of drinking water
Our bodies are made up of mostly water, so we need to stay hydrated to function properly. If we’re dehydrated, all sorts of weird things can start to happen.
Looking for some inspiration to chug? Czerwony breaks down why water is the holy grail for our bodies:
- It lubricates your joints. Water acts like WD-40® for your joints and bones. It hydrates the padding between your joints, making it easier to move around.
- Helps your organs and cells work properly. You need water down to a cellular level for your cells to operate as they should. Your cells run the show – everything from hair growth to healing a wound to balancing your hormones. Water is also vital for your organs to work properly.
- Helps with digestion. Fluid in your gut helps to rid your body of solid waste. Isn’t it so much more comfortable when things are regular?
- Water boosts your energy. Dehydration makes you tired and can even make you nauseous. (Ever wake up in the morning not feeling so great? It’s likely because of the lack of water overnight.) Water helps blood and oxygen flow more freely to your organs, making you feel more alert and energized. Try drinking a big glass of water first thing after you wake up.
- It regulates your body temperature. Water helps your internal body temperature adjust to the external temperature around you. When you’re overheated, your body knows to sweat to cool you off.
- Improves skin. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and is constantly exposed to toxins. Water helps flush these toxins out of your system. If you don’t drink enough water, your skin can overcompensate and turn oily to try to flush out the contaminants on its own.
- Curbs cravings. Often times we confuse thirst with hunger or food cravings. If you’re feeling hungry, drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes. You might find that the craving has passed because you were actually just thirsty. Water can also regulate your hunger and thirst cues throughout the day – helping you make smarter, healthier food choices.
Can drinking a gallon of water a day be harmful?
For most people, there is really no limit for daily water intake and a gallon a day is not harmful. But for those who have congestive heart failure or end stage kidney disease, sometimes water needs to be restricted because the body can’t process it correctly. Talk to your doctor about water intake if you or a loved one falls into this group.
It’s also worth noting that although it’s very rare, drinking too much water too quickly can be dangerous.
“Hyponatremia is when the sodium levels in your body drop too low because of too much water,” explains Czerwony. “Other conditions can trigger hyponatremia, but it can also be caused by consuming too much water in a very short amount of time. All of the water dilutes your sodium levels and your blood can become ‘watered down’.”
So how much is too much too soon? Think: chugging between 200 and 300 ounces of water in a few hours. In the past, kids and teens have called this “the water challenge” and it can be life-threatening.
Tips for drinking more water throughout the day
If you’re committed to drinking more water, but aren’t ready to jump on board the gallon a day train, consider just upping your water intake.
Here’s how to drink more water throughout the day:
- Pick out a water bottle you love and always have it with you. Put your water bottle or glass of water in your line of vision. Having the constant visual reminder to drink throughout the day can help. Go ahead and play around with the sizes too. If you’re aiming to get in 64 ounces and your bottle holds 32 ounces, set a goal to be finished with one bottle by noon each day. Some bottles even have time indicators to motivate you to get so many ounces in by specific times – whatever works for you!
- Drink a glass of water after every bathroom break. Every time you get up to use the bathroom (or get a snack or stretch for that matter), drink a glass of water. Not only is taking frequent breaks throughout the day good for your mental health and posture, but you can use these breaks as a way to nourish your body with more water.
- Add fruit or water enhancers. Ideally, the best beverage is going to be plain ole’ water. But if that just isn’t doing it for you, try adding fresh fruit or a water flavor enhancer (typically found in tablet, liquid or powder form). Just be sure it’s five calories or less per serving and read the label to check for caffeine. Plain carbonated water also counts towards your daily intake if that’s what you prefer.
- Drink a glass of water before every meal. This rule is often recommended for those watching their weight, especially in helping to decode hunger or avoid overeating. It’s common to confuse thirst with hunger, so taking a moment to drink before you eat helps better determine if you really are hungry or if you’re just thirsty. Bonus – even if you decide you’re hungry and it’s time to eat, you just snuck in another glass of H20!
- Use an app or ask technology to help. If you have a smart speaker, ask it to remind you to drink water throughout the day. Or download an app that rings or flashes to remind you to drink. You can also simply set an alarm every 30 minutes to take a swig.