How much water should you drink a day and during walks?

Drinking enough water helps keep your body and your mind fit, but staying hydrated is especially important on intense fitness walks. Fitness walkers need proper hydration as much as anyone on any other exercise program. Hydrating is not just important on sweaty hot weather walks either. Maintaining the body’s water balance keeps you healthy and ready for each day’s challenges, whether you’ve laced up your shoes for your daily walk or you’re tackling the household chores to-do list. You’ll feel happier, walk longer distances and get more steps when you’re hydrated.

Find out whether you need to drink before or during a walk, how much water men and women should drink every day, and whether you need to replenish electrolytes in addition to plain water!

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Hydration essentials

Friends drinking water during an exercise session
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You’ve heard it every time someone gives advice about living healthy. Drink more water. Stay hydrated. Drink even when you’re not thirsty. But all the talk about fluids and fitness starts to sound confusing after awhile. When is enough water enough? Is there such a thing as too much water? How do you know when you’re not drinking enough? Is the old recommendation about eight glasses of water a day still the gold standard? And can I drink something else besides plain water to get my daily intake?

Sweating – it’s actually important

Woman sweating after treadmill cardio workout
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While sweat may be annoying, it fulfills a number of extremely important functions for your body. As your body temperature rises, your body releases water in the form of sweat. As sweat evaporates, it lowers your body temperature – preventing your body from getting dangerously hot. While you may not enjoy sweating, it helps protect your body when you’re doing a very intense walking workout. Sweat also is one way that your body rids itself of waste products.

While it’s difficult to sweat so much that you become seriously dehydrated, it is possible and you want to avoid that situation at all costs. When your body becomes so dehydrated or hot that you can’t sweat anymore, you’re at risk from extremely health serious consequences. If you frequently walk in hot weather, you’re better off drinking more water just to be safe.

Can you drink too much water?

It actually is possible to drink too much water, but it’s very difficult to do. While your body is made up in large part of water, it needs to maintain a balance of minerals and electrolytes, among other things. Overhydration, according to Healthline, is a condition where salt and other electrolytes are too diluted for your body to function properly. This can happen in 2 ways. As you sweat, you lose electrolytes in addition to water. If you’re sweating an incredibly large amount and drinking only pure water, your electrolytes can get too low. Alternatively, certain medical conditions can lead to water being retained, which can throw electrolytes out of balance.

There have been extreme cases of people drinking so much water that they suffered serious health conditions or even death. Many of these cases involve stunts that people wouldn’t normally perform – like water drinking contests where competitors are drinking as much water as possible and aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom. If you’re a healthy adult, your body will generally do a good job of excreting excess water so that your electrolytes don’t get out of balance.

What about electrolytes?

Man drinking a sports drink after a run
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You may have heard the myth that if you were stranded on a desert island, the most important thing to take would be salt tablets to ensure that your electrolytes stay high. In reality, sweating will dehydrate your body’s water faster than you’ll use up the available electrolytes. According to Livestrong, your sweat is 99% water and 1% salt and other electrolytes. Endurance athletes, like marathon runners, may need to refuel electrolytes from time to time as they’re sweating a lot. Most fitness walkers will do fine with plain water during walks. As long as you’re eating a balanced diet your body will get plenty of salt and electrolytes through what you eat. If you’re walking for very long periods of time or getting very intense, you can try sports drinks to replenish electrolytes but do note the calorie count of such beverages.

What water does in our body

  • All life on earth requires water; the human body is made of about 60% water, and this fluid is constantly recycled out of the body from sweat and excretion. It’s important to stay hydrated to maintain the body’s electrolyte and mineral balance.
  • Water functions one of the shock absorbers for the brain, joints, and vital organs in the event of trauma, cushioning them against damage.
  • The food and drink we enjoy cannot be absorbed as useful nutrients without enough water available for digestion and transport of necessary components to cells.
  • Excreting water is one of the major ways that toxins and waste are removed from the body.
  • Dehydration is not good for your body, and it’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re sick or exercising intensely. That’s one reason your doctor tells you to drink more fluids when you have a cold or flu.

Should you drink water before, during or after exercise?

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It’s generally good to drink water whenever you’re thirsty – whether that’s before, during or after a walk.

Do you need to drink before you’re thirsty?

You may have heard that you need to drink before you feel thirsty. In the past, experts theorized that by the time you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated and it will take some time for your body to hydrate itself. Recent research has shown, however, that you’ll be just fine if you drink when you’re thirsty! 

A 2015 panel of experts in sports medicine and physiology released guidelines for athletes (who have much higher water requirements than walkers). As reported in the Huffington Post, they found that drinking when thirsty worked just fine, and could avoid dangerous overhydration among athletes.

Still, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re hydrated throughout the day to prevent dehydration. You don’t have to wait until you’re thirsty. According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking before you’re thirsty can help avoid dehydration, which is always a good thing. Dehydration can make you feel irritated, stressful and can lower your athletic performance (which can interfere with your walking routine).

Short walks

If you’re going for a short walk of just a few minutes, there’s usually no need to take water with you. Unless you’re getting very intense or you expect to sweat a great deal, you can usually just get up and go without having to worry about hydrating. Likewise, you may feel better with a glass of water after your walk but you’re unlikely to dehydrate yourself after a short walk.

30-60 minutes

As you start walking 30 minutes or longer, or as you start to get more and more intense, you will want to think about ensuring you stay properly hydrated. It’s usually a good idea to drink some water before a longer walk because you’ll get thirstier the farther you go. Hydrating beforehand can help you walk longer without having to take a pit stop or carry water with you.

Very long walks

If you’re walking for an hour a day or longer, or if you’re very intense, it’s probably a good idea to take some water with you in case you get thirsty. Consider investing in a reusable water bottle (to save some plastic and money on bottled water). You can also find specialized running or walking reusable bottles that hook onto a belt or your hand. You probably don’t want to carry water in your hand for a very long walk, so it pays to have a convenient way to carry it. A light backpack, or a hip band are great ways to carry a drink.

If you’re walking for more than an hour or you think you’ll be sweating heavily, you may want to consider something like a sports drink to replenish some of the electrolytes that you’ll lose from sweating. Diluting a sports drink to half or quarter strength is usually enough, or you can make your own electrolyte drinks as well.

When it’s hot or you’re very intense

It’s pretty simple that you’ll want to drink back the water that you sweat on long or intense walks. The hotter it is outside, the more you’re going to sweat. When you’re sweating up a storm on a very intense or very fast walk, you’re likely to get thirsty. Drinking cold water can also help keep your body heat down in hot weather. Exercising in hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion, or in extreme cases heat stroke. Both can be dangerous conditions caused by large increases in body heat. If you’re severely dehydrated, your body loses the ability to sweat and therefore regulate its body temperature. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so drink up!

Bottom line

You don’t need to push fluids when you’re not thirsty (unless you believe you’re dehydrated already). You should be fine drinking when you’re thirsty. If you’re going for a long walk, or if you’ve had problems with dehydration in the past, it’s fine to drink water when you’re not extremely thirsty.

How much water is enough, and the consequences of too much or too little

Man drinking water bottle during hot summer exercise
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  • The “eight glasses of water a day” recommendation is an easy one to remember, a fair guideline, and a good starting point for many people. But it’s not applicable to everyone on every workout schedule. Fluid intake varies with gender, age, weight, weather, and workout distance and intensity. If you’re sweating intensely, drink more.
  • Men and women differ in their water needs: on average, men need about 3.7 liters (125 ounces, or 15 eight-ounce glasses) daily while women need about 2.7 liters (91 ounces, or about 11 eight-ounce glasses) per day.
  • The environment plays a role: hot, humid weather makes you sweat more and requires faster fluid replacement.
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need to factor additional fluid needs when they exercise: if you’re expecting, expect to drink 2.4 liters (81 ounces or nine eight-ounce glasses) and for the breastfeeding moms, it’s 3.1 liters (104 ounces or 11 and a half eight-ounce glasses) per day.
  • The older you get, the greater the need for hydration: aging reduces the amount of water in the body and increases the risk of dehydration, which may result in illness requiring immediate medical treatment or hospitalization.
  • Hydration helps people lose weight and keep it off: a study found that people whose hydration was inadequate were almost 60% more likely tend towards obesity than those study participants who maintained healthy fluid levels. Often, you may reach for a snack when you’re just thirsty and a zero-calorie glass of water would have done the trick.
  • Too little water can lead to serious medical consequence, including dehydration, vomiting, decreased sweating (which results in the body’s inability to regulate temperature), dry mouth and skin, electrolyte imbalance (loss of sodium and potassium), dizziness, disorientation, and loss of consciousness
  • Few people consider such a consequence of too much water, but water intoxication or hyponatremia results in changes in blood sodium levels, headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, drowsiness, double vision, and changes in the effectiveness of your daily medications. Water intoxication usually occurs when people drink extremely high amounts of water in a short time without going to the bathroom, but can occur more easily in people with certain health conditions.

What else should you drink?

Zero-cal holiday tea with autumn theme
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Your body also gets water from other sources – you can consume fruits and vegetables with high water content, such as spinach, celery, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumber, letter or watermelon, to meet your daily fluid needs.

All beverages are of course based on water, so theoretically you can get your daily fluid needs from almost any beverage. Soda, sugary juices and other options are high in calories and low in nutrition. Consider swapping out sodas for zero-calorie options, especially when you’re thirsty. Water will usually get the job done without the excess calories and sugar of soda. Coffee, tea clear soups and broths, also count as part of your daily fluid intake. There’s a common myth that coffee will dehydrate you, but it actually only has a mild diuretic effect (makes you need to go to the bathroom more frequently).

Sports drinks are an option if you’re walking or working out for more than an hour; you need to replace fluids lost from sweating and the sugar boost for energy. Sports drinks differ from energy drinks in that energy drinks don’t replace electrolytes; they’re a high-sugar, highly caffeinated, additive-filled libation that does little to enhance your health.

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4 thoughts on “How much water should you drink a day and during walks?

  1. Hi there. The article states 8 glasses of water a day is a good starting point but shortly after states, “ Men and women differ in their water needs: on average, men need about 3.7 liters (125 ounces, or 15 eight-ounce glasses) daily…”
    That seems very high. Could you explain that number?

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends drinking 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups for women. Based on our research, there’s never been scientific research that says 8 cups of water per day is the right number. 8 cups of 8 oz of water is easy to remember and should be ok for many people, especially because you’ll get water from other beverages and foods that you eat. Some people may need more, however. As mentioned in the article, unless you have specific health issues you’re usually fine drinking more water than you need – just as long as you eat properly, don’t force water and go to the bathroom when necessary.

      I will update the post to clarify. Thanks for the feedback!

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