The Power of Water: The Wonder Liquid
Second to air, water is the most important nutrient for your body. Whereas you could go months, or maybe years without many of your body’s important nutrients, you would be dead in a few days without water. Everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has heard something to the effect that you should be drinking “Eight glasses a day.” But still, most people don’t. I’m not saying that you should necessarily drink that much water, but you should certainly be drinking enough. Most of us are walking around in a chronic state of mild dehydration and don’t even realize it. Check out this website to find out how much water you should be drinking. When figuring your water intake needs, keep in mind that water sources include drinking water and also certain foods and other beverages, so an individual with a healthy diet can assume they are getting about 20% percent of their water needs from their diet. Do not consider soda, coffee, alcohol, and black teas to be good sources of water because of their diuretic effects.
When people come to me, seeking my advise as a teacher, or services as a personal trainer, a very common question is, “How can I get rid of this last little bit of a paunch around my middle?” My first question would be whether or not they’re drinking enough water. Almost always, they tell me, ‘No. I know I should be drinking more” And, believe it or not, THAT IS OFTEN THE ANSWER TO THEIR PROBLEM. But for some reason, people are resistant to believing it. “Yes yes, I know, but what are some exercises or diet techniques that I can use to get rid of this...” I don’t know how else to make it more clear. This is real. This is the answer. Drink your water and you will be astounded. The only conclusion I can come to is that people just simply don’t realize the true power of this magical liquid. Because if they really knew what it could do, they’d gladly be drinking enough of it.
So, here are some of the benefits of drinking enough water every day....
I’ve used this technique many times in my life on my own body. Without changing much of anything else, I just start drinking copious amounts of water. I will generally fill up a 2 liter bottle with water and finish it throughout the day. After about a week of drinking about two liters of water a day, I will notice my body is leaner. So, from a purely non-scientific, experiential perspective, I know it works. But why does it work?
One way is that the water may slightly curb your appetite. In truth, many times when we think we are hungry it is actually the sensation of your body craving water. Your body needs water long before the sensation that we recognize as ‘thirst’ is perceived. Before we actually get a dry mouth, the body makes a much subtler ‘cry for water’ which is often mistaken for hunger. So when that voice is quelled by drinking enough water, you’ll find yourself feeling hungry less often without feeling deprived or attempting to ‘diet.’ Also, since your stomach is more full from the water, you will begin your meals with this slightly full feeling in your stomach and you will, as a result, eat a little bit less than you typically might otherwise.
Now, those are actually small contributing factors to the whole picture. But a major player in this drama is a bit more scientific:
Every day, your kidneys process about 200 quarts of blood to sift out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water. The wastes and extra water become urine. Your liver, among other things, metabolizes your stored fat into useable energy. If the kidneys don’t have enough water for their normal functioning, the important process of blood purification is assisted by the liver. So, if the liver has to back up the kidneys due to lack of water, then it’s not free to metabolize fat into energy. And as far as priorities go in the body, purifying the blood is much higher on the list than converting some fat into fuel. Bottom line is, if you have enough water in your system, your kidneys can function at 100% and your liver can focus on burning up that fat.
Here’s another little gem. If it’s not getting adequate supplies of water on a constant basis, your body will store it. Some of that excess weight you have isn’t fat at all, it’s water. Once you start to supply your body with all of the fresh water it could possibly want, it will start to release all of that extra stored water. You will notice this, when you start to increase your water intake. In the first few days to a week or so, you may notice that it seems like you’re releasing more water than you’re actually taking in. And this very well may be the case. After a few days you won’t be spending as much time in the bathroom. Plus, your ankles will thank you. And so will your hips and thighs and maybe even your stomach. That old, stored water wasn’t really the best stuff to be making new skin cells out of anyway. You’ll get much better results with the fresh stuff.
Strength and muscle gain:
Much research has been done on the effects of ‘mild’ dehydration in sports performance. The results, over and over again, say that even slight decreases in your body’s water balance (2 - 4%) can result in a large decrease in muscle contraction strength (about 10 - 20%). So whether you are trying to lose weight or gain strength through intense activity, you are shortchanging your progress by not being properly hydrated. Needless to say, if you just want to have more energy during the day, make sure you don’t allow yourself to get even 2% dehydrated.
Water is one of the main components of a compound in your body called synovial fluid. This is found in most of your joints and is basically a lubricant. When your water levels drop, this fluid will become more and more viscous. The end result is, first, a limitation of free movement and secondly, joint pain and finally, injuries. I recently read an article showing a direct correlation between hydration and lower back pain. (“At this time, I recommend that my patients who are sedentary and not exposed to extreme temperatures (over 85 degrees Fahrenheit) consume 40-50 percent of their body weight in ounces of water. So, a patient weighing 150 pounds should consider the consumption of 60-75 ounces of water per day. ” - Dr. James J. Lehman, “Back Pain and Chronic Dehydration - Can Back Pain be Due to Not Drinking Enough Water?” - March 24, 2009)
Fresh, clear skin:
We’ve already discussed how having enough water in your system allows your kidneys to properly cleanse your blood. Well, this cleaner blood is manifested in the tissues it supplies. One of those tissues is your skin. As you become dehydrated, your skin will start to look more flat and harsh and will actually lose its elasticity. The result is colorless, saggy skin. The good news is, once you start drinking enough water, your skin will regain its luster. It will look more fresh and alive and will be more elastic and less prone to sag and wrinkle. Ask any actor or model and they will probably tell you that they have been told to drink lots of water on the days before a photo shoot so their skin looks healthy. Well, it doesn’t just “look” healthy, it IS more healthy. So why not drink enough water every day instead of just on those few days before your photo shoot? That same lustrous look can be witnessed in the eyes and in the hair and fingernails as well.
In a 1999 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that the more liquids men consumed, the lower their risk of bladder cancer. Men who drank more than 10 8-ounce servings of fluids had a 49% lower incidence of the disease than those who drank only half that much.
According to Dr. F. Batmanghelidj (author of Your Body’s Many Cries for Water), health problems related to dehydration include constipation, allergy symptoms, autoimmune disorders, and asthma. He has spent many years accumulating data from clinical studies of the treatment of dehydration and concluded that most modern diseases could be avoided if patients were adequately hydrated. His theory is that every bodily function - the immune response to infection, brain function, joint lubrication, cellular communication, etc. - depends upon the availability of free water. And many diseases are the result of what he terms “regional dehydration.”
OK. I could go on and on, but hopefully you’re convinced. Hopefully, you’ve checked out the Hydration Calculator and found that maybe you didn’t need to drink quite as much water as you thought. But drinking the correct amount is crucial if you are interested in losing weight, gaining strength, looking good or remaining injury free.
Now there are a few things I’d like to add to this:
First off, a few matters of timing. One of the most important times of the day to drink a large glass of water is right when you wake up. While you sleep your body is very metabolically active. You have (hopefully) just gone eight hours without taking a sip of water and your water levels are at their lowest. Drink a full glass of water upon rising. Also, during exercise it’s a good idea to take small, occasional sips, but not to take large drinks of water until your exercise has ended. And the last bit of timing to keep in mind is mealtime. I recommend drinking a glass before meals, but not during or immediately after. A large amount of water in your stomach with your food will hinder the digestion process. A few sips now and then shouldn’t make that much difference, but to the best of your ability, train yourself to avoid drinking during meals. In a study reported in the October 1999 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Barbara Rolls found that women who ate a bowl of chicken soup felt more full than those who ate chicken casserole served with a glass of water, even though both meals contain exactly the same ingredients. The soup eaters also tended to be less hungry at their next meal -- and to consume fewer calories -- than those who ate the casserole. I suspect that the satisfaction level they experienced was partly thanks to the increased ability they had to digest the food completely.
Secondly, the matter of temperature. I actually feel that room temperature water is the best. Remember, it’s 98 degrees inside of you, and your body has to raise the water temperature to 98 before it can really do anything with it anyway, so there is no logical reason to put ice in your water. Restaurants do it to increase your ability to eat more by numbing your satiety sensors with ice. Room temperature water tends to be easier to drink quickly and in large quantities so helps encourage drinking more. Just as a matter of information, I’ll share with you that some of the gurus I’ve studied with, recommend sipping hot water throughout the day rather than room temperature. They say never to drink iced or cold water. Their reasoning is that the hot water helps flush impurities out. They specifically refer to arterial plaque called “ama” which is a sticky, fatty substance. They say the cold water will harden it, but the hot water will soften and loosen it, making it easy to metabolize. I don’t know. Still, I prefer my water room temperature and only use iced or cold water when I’m drinking it for cooling purposes like in the middle of the summer or during vigorous exercise. I think the issue of temperature is really a small detail in the big picture, anyway.
And lastly, yes, I do drink tap water. Not exclusively - I mix it up. I have a Brita Filter that I send all my water through at home before it goes into my daily 2 liter bottle and I also occasionally drink commercially filtered water like Dasani, Aquafina and Poland Springs. But if I don’t have any of that at my disposal, I will drink a big glass of tap water with no hesitation. As with everything, I believe that variety is the best way to go.