Pop quiz: When it comes to your diet, what is the single most important nutrient you can consume?
Fruits and veggies? Antioxidants, right? Nope.
Protein—the “building block of nutrition”? Important, but nope.
Essential fats? Good for brain function, cellular health, digestion and metabolism! Important, once again, but not the MOST important.
The answer may surprise you.
When we are starting with a person’s nutrition plan, the single most important nutrient we are looking at is water intake.
Take a moment to reflect: How much water have you had today? Yesterday?
And by water, I mean water.
Not coffee. Not tea. Not milk. Not diet coke or a smoothie. Not alcohol.
Straight up water.
Water is the basic fundamental building block of any nutrition plan—regardless of your goals.
Unfortunately, the majority of people do not consume an appropriate amount of water, nor are they properly hydrated.
First things first, how much do you need?
Half your body weight in ounces is the general prescription “starting point” for the average person engaging in normal activities of daily living. Add in factors such as your physical activity and workouts, the heat or humidity in your climate, and your water needs increase.
Why so much water?
In short, EVERY function of the body is monitored and conducted by the flow of water. Water ensures that adequate amounts of nutrients reach your organs, your food is digested properly, your brain thinks clearly, your metabolism is functioning adequately (ie. Energy), your cells regenerate and your body overcomes daily stressors, and more.
In fact, did you know that “morning sickness” a mother often experiences during pregnancy can actually be a thirst signal of her body and the fetus’—not the pickles and ice cream she ate the night before?
OR, that chronic pain, such as headaches, back pain, neck pain, heartburn, rheumatoid pain, high blood pressure, “high cholesterol”, chest pains, allergies and asthma can all be directly attributed to a water shortage in your body?
OR that depression and stress may very well be alieved if you drank more water? Since your brain is made up of 75% water, it needs water to continue to flourish and for your chemical properties to work correctly. With dehydration, the level of energy generation in the brain is decreased.
Constipation is another obvious signal of inadequate water intake, as is bloating and indigestion.
Low energy levels is yet another.
These are all basic level functions and body signs and symptoms that can be greatly impacted solely by water intake alone.
This is not even mentioning how your workouts, strength gains, conditioning and recovery are affected by hydration. In fact, muscle is approximately 80% water! Even a change of as little as 1 percent in body water can impair exercise performance and adversely affect recovery. In short: the more dehydrated you are, the slower your body is able to use protein to build muscle. How much water you need around exercise depends on the amount and type you do. As a general rule of thumb though, aim to drink 16-20 ounces about 2-3 hours before you start exercising (during the day or first thing in the morning if you are a morning worker-outer), another 8 ounces 20-30 minutes right before your workout if you can, and then another 8 ounces within 30-minutes following your workout.
Ok, ok, ok so you know you know now that water is important.
Here are a few key points to consider when trying to ensure you are getting enough (and the right type) of water in:
1. Don’t rely on thirst. Thirst or ‘dry mouth’ is the ‘final straw’ when it comes to your body signaling, “I need water.” Translation: Your body needs plenty of water before you hit this breaking point. Make sure to sip up throughout the day—that way you never go over the edge.
2. Hunger confusion. Often times, a growling stomach or hunger ‘pangs’ are actually a sign of your body’s cry for water! The next time hunger strikes, ask yourself how much water you have had that day. Why is this the case? Hunger and thirst signals are controlled in the same part of your brain (the hypothalamus). The next time you feel hunger pangs, drink an 8 oz. glass of water. It might take up to 15 minutes for your hypothalamus to send a signal letting your nervous system know that the body was merely thirsty and that the thirst has been satisfied. If after that time, you still feel hungry, then eat. When you try this method every time you think your stomach feels empty, you will be able to better determine the difference between being hungry and being thirsty.
3. Keep it with you. A quality BPA-free water bottle is a great way to arm yourself with the necessary artillery for staying hydrated throughout the day. Opt to fill it with filtered water (as opposed to tap water) as often as you can. Environmental pollutants are hard to regulate and extract from our tap water sources (ie. Toxins run rampant), particularly lead (contaminating the water of 40-million Americans), mercury, arsenic, radon, and nitrates—just to name a few. Purchasing your own water filter for your home is a small investment with a large return for your health (and bonus: some water bottles actually come with built in water filters too, such as this one by Camelbak or this one by Life Straw)
4. Start your day off right. Aim to drink 16 ounces of your water for the day upon waking. Why? Your body is thirsty! After about 6-8 hours of working to recover and restore your metabolic processes, your tissue repair and reset your ‘batteries’ for a brand new day, it.
5. Around Meals. Typically, it’s not recommended to drink water during meals. Cap your water intake then to about 20-30 minutes before a meal, and 20-30 minutes after meals, in order to not only allow for optimal digestion to happen during your meal, as well as to help you