Healthy Drinks

Is There a Best Time to Drink Water? Hydration Experts Explain

Photo: Getty Images/ d3sign
Is it just me, or does everyone else drink water during the workday, but then just...stops once the sun starts setting? When I posed this question to my friends and colleagues, some people also said they purposefully drink less in the evening because they hate getting up in the middle of the night to pee.

These hydration struggles made me wonder if there was an issue with cutting off water intake at night, provided you're drinking a lot during the day. Just like how intermittent fasting proposes that eating during specific time windows has particular health benefits (of the brain-boosting, metabolism-enhancing variety), could keeping your water intake to certain times of the day be similarly helpful? Could "intermittent hydration" be the wellness trend we were all sleeping on and no one knew it?

Whenever you do most of your water drinking, something that's as clear as the drink itself is that staying hydrated is vastly important for a whole slew of health reasons. Literally every single part of the body depends on it. "The human body is about 60 percent water and needs to be continually hydrated throughout the day in order to optimally function," registered dietitian Amy Gorin, RDN, previously told Well+Good. Your brain, heart, digestive system, bladder health, and muscles all depend on you drinking enough water.

With that reminder in place, here's what experts had to say about my thirsty questions:

When is the best time to drink water?

Here's what health experts told me when I asked them when the best time to drink water is: Basically, all day long. "Your body auto-regulates, so if you drank three liters of fluid, within a couple hours, your body will have gotten rid of the extra fluid," says Thomas Jarrett, MD. So drinking a ton of water in the morning and expecting that to last you to the next day (aka my "intermittent hydration" theory) won't cut it. "You can't roll over hydration," he says. That said, there are some specific times when it's especially important to be mindful of your intake, detailed below.

1. In the morning

All those celebs who say that the first thing they do in the morning is knock back lemon water are on to something. Registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin, RD,  says it's important to drink water in the morning (with or without lemon) for a few different reasons. One is that it helps with brainpower and the struggle to think straight in the a.m. is real. "When we are tired and groggy, just waking up, a little extra mental assist goes a long way. So, for that reason alone, you should start your day with a tall glass of water," she says. Drinking water in the morning also helps prime the digestive system for breakfast and hydrates the skin.

2. Before a workout

While most people instinctively reach for their water bottle after a workout, cardiologist Tamanna Singh, MD, says you want to make sure you head into your workout hydrated too. "Electrolytes are particularly important when it comes to avoiding dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, which can contribute to a significant decline in performance,” she says. In other words, you won't crush it as much as you may want to if you don't drink water before a workout.

3. During a workout

If your workout is super intense, you don't want to wait until you're completely done to replenish your body's water supply. The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.

4. After a workout

You knew this one was coming right? The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise. An easier way to think about it is focusing on how hard you exerted yourself during the workout. If you're drenched in sweat, for example, you want to drink more water than if your workout was focused more on toning and you aren't too out of breath.

5. When you're sick

"If you're making a lot of trips to the bathroom or suffering from a fever, chances are you're losing a lot of fluids," registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, told Well+Good in the past. That means you need to be extra mindful of your hydration habits, drinking not just water but liquids high in electrolytes, such as coconut water.

Is drinking too much water dangerous?

While it's definitely important to stay well-hydrated, as with anything, it's possible to overdo it. Drinking too much at a time can also be bad for your kidneys, says Torey Armul, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The kidneys can only eliminate so much fluid at a time," she says. "They can only get rid of about three and a half to four cups of fluid per hour." If you drink more than that per hour, you can also disrupt your body's fluid and sodium balance

That's why it's important to strike a balance between drinking enough water, but not drowning your body in it. Fortunately, the experts have some great tips on how to achieve this.

What is the best way for staying hydrated?

1. Space out your water intake

Both Armul and Jarrett recommend spacing out your water intake evenly throughout the day, because if you wait until you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. The average woman needs about nine cups of water a day, Armul says, while men need 13. But that number goes up if you're, say, sick or working out. (The best way to judge hydration though is not by cups of water—it's by how often you pee. The sweet spot is every two to three hours.)

2. Up your intake when you up your activity

Even if you're on a rest day, physically active people still need more water than the average person. Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, says fit people have more muscle and lean tissue, so they're more metabolically active meaning they have overall higher fluid and energy needs.

3. Add fruit, veggies, or herbs to give your water more flavor

If part of what's holding you back from drinking enough water is that you don't like the taste of it, simply adding in some fruit, vegetables (like sliced cucumber), or herbs will give your H20 flavor without taking away from its benefits. (Here are eight ideas to try.)

But what if I often have to pee in the middle of the night? What should I do?

Armul also recognizes the need for some people to taper off their fluid intake before bed, even though waking up to relive oneself probably has more to do with stress and anxiety. "I have to go at least one time a night and if I drink a lot at dinner, it's two times a night and that can be very disruptive," says Armul. She says she typically stops drinking water about three hours before bed.

"Of course if you're thirsty, you're better off listening to your body," Armul says. "I think it's more damaging to go to bed dehydrated than to wake up."

Lemond adds that a heavy dinner can also make you wake up to pee. "Thirty percent of our fluid can come from food," she says. (Think: watermelon, leafy vegetables, even coffee all have water.) "There are a lot of people back ending a lot of their eating at night. And so you have to realize it's not just a physical fluid that's in our glasses that your body's processing. It's the fluid that's in the food." To mitigate this, Armul recommends having meals that are more calorically balanced throughout the day instead of ending the day with a massive meal.

You should always rehydrate during a work out, even if it's close to bedtime. "If you've [just ]exercised and you rehydrate it shouldn't make you stay up all night," Dr. Jarrett says. "You're just replacing what your body had—it's not extra water, it's just replacement."

Expert tips on how to make a water habit

OK, so we should all be drinking water consistently all day as much as possible. If you're like me and you're bad at remembering to hydrate, these tips can help.

1. Use a smart water bottle

If you really want to make sure you're hitting your water intake goals, you may want to consider getting a smart water bottle that tracks your intake. This one by HidrateSpark even lights up to remind you to drink if you haven't taken a sip in a while.

2. Set yourself physical reminders

This is what Armul does, both with sticky note reminders and a phone alarm. You can even schedule water breaks on your GoogleCal. It's a nice way to get up from your desk and stretch, too.

3. Drink out of something you like

This may sound twee, but it works. "I liked to drink more with a straw I've found," Armul says. "So I have straw, like a nice big water bottle at home, and I keep it in the fridge so it's cold, and it has the big straw, so I get a lot of water every time I'm sipping on it."

4. Use a water bottle—a big one

Lemond says having a water bottle that holds around 32 ounces of water keeps you from having to refill too often, so it may help you drink more consistently. One of her faves is from YETI ($50) because it also keeps the water cool.

With all these tips, my thirst for water knowledge has definitely been quenched. The bottom line is this: There's no "best" time to drink water; it's important to stay hydrated all day long. And if you have trouble doing so, there's no shortage of habits to try to help up your intake. With that, I'm off to refill my glass—you probably should too!

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