Gamer guide to hydration: how much water should you drink?

Jessica A. Hardy, ND       

By definition, hydration is the process of causing something to absorb water. In the human body, hydration generally means having the adequate amount of water to perform basic physiologic functions.

Examples of these physiologic functions include, but are not limited to, the formation of blood plasma, detoxification, and heat dissipation. Without water, your body simply could not survive.

On this page, you will learn all about hydration: the minerals involved, the importance o staying hydrated, symptoms of dehydration, and how much water you should drink.

More than just water

Hydration is usually describing to how much water you need to consume; however, in the human body, the absorption and movement of water through different body tissues and cells is heavily dependent on electrolyte minerals.

The electrolyte minerals which are most important to hydration are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium—often times found in salt compounds (i.e. table salt is sodium-chloride). These minerals are called electrolytes because they carry an electric charge.

Table salt (sodium-chloride) helps your body absorb and retain water

These minerals help cells throughout your body maintain proper hydration through a process called osmosis. Osmosis is when water passes through a membrane (i.e. cell membrane) from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, thereby equalizing the mineral concentrations on each side of the membrane.

To simplify, an insufficiency or deficiency in electrolyte minerals would mean the water in your body would have a more difficult time being absorbed and transported to different cells or body tissues.

Why is water so important?

It may be surprising to learn how much water exists in all your body tissues. In 1945, an article was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, by H.H. Mitchell, assessing the chemical composition of the human body. This publication reported that 60-70% of the human body is made up of water.

More specifically, the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) and the heart are ~73% water, and the lungs are ~83% water. Skeletal muscle and the kidneys are ~79% water, and skin is ~65% water. Even the bones are composed of >30% water.

Your blood plasma is >90% water, and the blood is how your body transports oxygen, macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and waste products to and from different cells and other organ systems.

Ultimately, without water, you do not exist!

Lack of water: symptoms of dehydration

If hydration is the process of causing something to absorb water, then dehydration would be the lack of water absorption. Insufficient absorption of water means you are not ingesting enough fluid since the large intestine is incredibly efficient at absorbing water.

Now that you know that your body is 60-70% water, it should be easy to recognize that dehydration (lack of water) will disrupt many functions of your body and may present with certain symptoms.

How much water should you drink
This scale represents urine color to estimated your level of hydration

The most obvious symptom of dehydration is thirst. If your mouth feels dry and you are thirsty, it is likely you are at least mildly dehydrated.

Other symptoms include:

  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark, discolored urine (see the chart above)
  • Decreased sweat
  • Muscle cramps or spasm
  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy/lightheaded
  • Poor skin turgor: if you lightly pinch your skin, it should be elastic and return to its normal presentation quickly. Dehydration will cause your skin to stay in a pinched or shriveled appearance after being pinched or squeezed.

How much water should you drink?

Rather than strictly reporting how much water you should drink, it is more appropriate to view daily hydration based on overall fluid intake. For example, not all the fluids that enter your body are water. If you drink 8 ounces of coffee, most of those 8 ounces are water, so that counts!

The recommendation for fluid intake is half your body weight (measured in pounds) in fluid ounces per day. So, if you weigh 120lbs, you should drink 60 fl. oz. If you weigh 160lbs, you should drink 80 fl. oz, and so on.

Note: fluid intake counts for normal beverages (i.e. water, coffee, tea, juice, and even soft drinks; although, we strongly recommend you do not drink soft drinks). This value DOES NOT include alcoholic beverages! Alcohol inhibits a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) and will lead to dehydration.

This recommendation for fluid intake should be enough for most people because you will also obtain water from many of the foods you may eat. Fruits, vegetables, meat and fish have plenty of water that is also absorbed.

Additional concern: mineral imbalance

Many people are concerned with how much water they should drink. However, without an appropriate amount of the electrolyte minerals highlighted above, your body will have a more difficult time moving water into cells throughout your body. Perhaps the most obvious presentation of a mineral imbalance is in your nerves and muscles.

Sodium and potassium are necessary for nerve conduction—a mechanism called the sodium-potassium pump which transmits the electrical impulse down a nerve. Then, when the nerve impulse reaches a muscle, calcium triggers the muscle contraction, and magnesium plays a role in helping the muscle relax.

These processes are far more intricate than this simple and vague explanation. However, an imbalance of these minerals may affect your muscle contraction. For example, insufficient potassium or magnesium may cause muscle cramps or spasm regardless of how much water you consume.

This is just one example of a mineral imbalance presenting similar to dehydration. Ultimately, hydration and mineral imbalance go together. You should monitor your fluid intake, and you should also monitor your mineral intake.

Daily electrolyte recommendations

Unfortunately, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) or the percent daily value (%DV) are not great values to reference. Most of these are based on old research which has since been re-evaluated. The updated recommendations, however, have not yet made it to mainstream nutrition labels.

Do not fear—we have updated recommendations for your mineral intake! Please be advised that for the purpose of this post, we only discussed these minerals for their importance in hydration, and each of these minerals has many other important roles in your body.

These recommendations are also based on the adult, general population, and the values may vary depending on circumstances or health conditions. Please seek advice from your doctor if you have pre-existing health conditions, are pregnant, nursing, or otherwise curious about dietary intake.

Mineral Daily
Food sources
Sodium 1.2-1.5 g Meat, dairy, frozen foods, canned foods, salted nuts, salted pretzels
Potassium ~4.7 g Banana, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, apple, tomato, apricot, avocado, squash, beans, fish, meat
Calcium ~1,000 mg Dairy, salmon, sardines, kale, broccoli, collards, turnip, tofu, bok choy
Magnesium 310-420 mg Nuts, whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, dairy, meat, fish

Note: of these four minerals, sodium is the least likely to have an insufficiency or deficiency. Many foods we consume are rich in sodium, and often times we add salt (table salt is sodium-chloride) to foods we cook or consume.

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Prior to taking any supplement, please consult your doctor. Esports Healthcare disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information as it does not establish, nor does it imply, doctor-patient relationship.

The table of minerals includes a suggestion based on the daily intake for general population adults which does not include children, people with acute or chronic illness, people with pre-existing conditions, women who are pregnant or nursing, or any other special population. The mineral recommendation is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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