Hydration is important, considering the human body is up to 60 percent water, but most of us walk around dehydrated on a daily basis. I consider myself a fairly active, health-conscious individual but like many people, I haven’t always been mindful about hydrating outside of the gym.
The Institute of Medicine recommends approximately 13 cups of total beverages for men and nine for women a day to meet adequate intake requirements. But are there benefits to going above and beyond the minimal requirements? To be more than “adequately” hydrated?
I know athletes and bodybuilders who swear by getting in a gallon (16 cups) of water a day. I’ve also read articles calling it “the water challenge” and claiming it has a wide range of benefits, from weight loss, clearer skin, better energy and general coolness (that last one purely based on claims that Beyonce does it). But how much of a difference could it really make? Is it practical? Realistic for the average person? I decided to find out.
So it begins.
I started without much of a plan (other than to keep refilling my cup), so by lunchtime, I realized had no idea how much water I’d consumed so far. I didn’t want to miss the mark on the first day! Then again, I didn’t want to drink more than a gallon either… (It’s not like I was shooting to be some hydration over-achiever.)
On day two I started using a water tracking app. This helped, although sometimes felt tedious measuring everything (water in my tumbler, smoothies, ice, etc.). Cramming all of that water in one day felt impossible at first. There were times when I felt like a human water balloon: Ready to burst. I had to force myself to keep picking up that cup and sipping when I felt anything but thirsty.
Then there were the bathroom breaks. Every. Hour. Sometimes more. People probably thought I was on drugs or slowly trying to tunnel my way to freedom out of the office bathroom. And I learned the hard way that you do not want to fall behind on your intake and try to cram it all down a couple hours before bedtime. (Trust me. Not worth it.)
Overall, the first week was a little rough. Getting used to such an increased intake definitely seemed like a shock on my system at times and some days I felt bloated. But nothing worth having comes easy, so I kept chugging on.
I decided to just invest in a proper gallon jug. Initially, it was a little clunky to carry around but was incredibly helpful in more accurately tracking my intake. It also kept me visually motivated to empty it throughout the day.
It was also becoming easier to get through the full gallon in a day. I was feeling less bloated than the week before and my energy level in the gym felt slightly more pizzazzed. I also noticed my body developing a craving for water.
I hadn’t noticed any revolutionary differences in myself (like losing 20lbs, halos bursting out of my pores or a Proactive commercial sponsorship), but I was encouraged by some of the small differences in week two. Among them, I was distinctly snacking less throughout the day (especially during my prime temptation times of mid-morning and mid-afternoon). Staying full of water seemed to keep the munchies at bay.
Talk about adding pep to your step. I felt like I was practically springing out of bed in the morning. I was getting more reps in at the gym and exuding liveliness in my group exercise classes. I felt good. Really good. I also didn’t notice my energy lagging mid-morning or afternoon when I usually wanted to turn to caffeine for a boost.
I had developed a natural drinking rhythm and was knocking out that gallon each day. Staying on track with my water goal also had a motivating effect on other healthy goals throughout the day (positive meal choices, resisting cravings and pushing myself to the gym on unmotivated days). I’m not saying I suddenly had mystical willpower, but each positive choice in your day can make it easier to say yes to another.
Also, it was surprising how accomplished I felt when I emptied my gallon. I mean, we’re not exactly talking about scaling Mount Everest. But it was a goal I succeeded in reaching, despite some challenges and discomforts; something new that once I wouldn’t have imagined myself trying. Exceeding that expectation of myself was rewarding.
I was still making more daily trips to the bathroom, but my body had adjusted and I wasn’t going nearly as often as week one. Gone also was the initial bloating I experienced. Overall, week three was feeling pretty snazzy.
Much the same as the previous week: Voluminous energy, productive workouts, and uplifted moods. I don’t know how much of a placebo effect might have been influencing some of this positive energy, but I’ll take it either way.
My skin was improving too. I don’t currently struggle with acne, but I do have very dry skin. It was holding moisture better and needing less lotion. My face felt more luminous and I found myself wearing less makeup. Some of that was probably psychological, but I did get a couple comments that week that I looked “fresher” or brighter” somehow. (Still waiting on that call, Proactive producers.)
Another unexpected perk of proper hydration is excellent digestive health. I know… Everyone snickers when someone throws the word “digestive” out there. Hilarious. It’s all fun and games when you’re 10 and elbowing your cousin while your grandparents talk about “bran muffins” and “probiotic yogurt” at the family reunion. But the day is coming, my friend. The day when laughter turns to sorrow and the streets run with tears as you stand in the grocery aisle, calling up Grandma to ask which brand of muffins she uses. Who’s the hilarious one now? (All kidding aside, there are definitive links between potty problems and inadequate hydration. So if that’s something you struggle with currently, increasing your water intake is something to really consider.)
Each week felt easier to drink the full gallon a day. I woke up and found myself reaching for that first glass. I still enjoyed other drinks and allowed myself to have them in moderation, but I could also easily go without them. Water no longer seemed mundane or boring; I craved it.
So, is drinking a gallon of water a day doable? Absolutely. The first week was rough, but then I found my groove. I didn’t experience any dramatic change in weight loss or skin condition, but I also didn’t have any prior weight or skin complaints. I do find myself experiencing less bloating and weight fluctuation week to week and my skin has improved in terms of dryness.
It has also made an outstanding impact in my longtime struggle with comfort eating/snacking unproductively throughout the day. The oral fixation of sipping from my cup along with keeping fluid in my stomach has been helpful in distinguishing when I’m actually hungry and when I’m feeling peckish out of boredom or moodiness. The temptation is still there sometimes, but staying full from the water makes it easier to say no to cravings. Another huge difference I’ve noticed has been my diet soda intake. I started on it in high school and drank it most every day for years since then; often a few times a week I would pick up a jumbo cup of Coke Zero at Sonic or a gas station and just sip on it all day. Now I can go weeks without touching it and hardly notice because it’s not what I crave anymore.
Is it sustainable? Totally. I decided to challenge myself back in June of 2016 and I’m still going strong as we enter spring 2017. It gets easier each week, and some days I find myself getting through a gallon and a half without thinking about it. There are also days I don’t quite get the full gallon in, but I don’t stress over it. And few more daily bathroom breaks are unavoidable, but not disruptive to my overall routine. I’m still enjoying better energy in both the gym and throughout the day.
A few tips I learned along the way:
- Start early. Get going in the morning and sip gradually throughout the day.
- Decide how to track your intake. I like using a physical gallon, but many people have success with water tracking apps.
- Adding flavor is helpful when you struggle with water boredom. I used flavored BCAAs and Amino Acids in the gym and fruit infused water.
- Temperature can make a difference. There’s some debate over cold vs. warm water; some people swear by a certain temperature but in most cases, there’s no major difference to condemn one over the other. I drink more when I add ice. See what works for you.
- Be realistic. That first week you may not get your full gallon in every day (I often didn’t). That’s okay. You may also struggle going cold turkey on water at first, especially if you’re a tea or coffee drinker. It’s okay to still have a cup and try to taper your way down as you go. Just keep trying to get your gallon in and remember to have patience with yourself.
All writing and images copyright © 2017 Rachel Elise Weems Woods