Everyone knows about the importance of drinking water. And with WaterTok, the three drink theory, and the popularity of having an emotional support water bottle, it’s never been more appealing to stay hydrated. It does make you wonder, though, as you constantly sip throughout the day, if it’s possible to drink too much water.
When you drink enough water, your whole body works better, which is why it’s often at the top of self-care to-do lists, says Melanie Murphy Richter, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “Water is considered the reigning king of health and wellness,” she tells Bustle. It helps you stay hydrated, but it also contributes to mental clarity, glowy skin, better digestion — you name it.
That said, as much of a wellness tenet as it is to stay hydrated, it is absolutely possible to overdo it. According to Murphy Richter, consuming more than you need can lead to a whole list of issues, like overhydration, headaches, brain fog, and even water poisoning.
If you blow through a few Nalgenes a day or have a CamelBak permanently attached to your mouth, then you might be drinking too much — and that can lead to some adverse health effects that you should know about. Read on for what happens if you drink too much water.
What Happens If You Drink Too Much Water?
When you drink more water than you need, the first thing that happens is overhydration. Murphy Richter says you’ll know when you’ve had too much if you need to pee every hour or more, or if your pee is completely clear. “Ideally, your urine should be a pale yellow color, and you should be urinating anywhere from four to eight times a day,” she says.
While you might think clear pee is good pee, it actually means your electrolytes are out of whack. As Murphy Richter explains, drinking too much water dilutes the concentration of electrolytes in your body — like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc. — that are essential for regulating brain and nerve function. Similar to when you’re dehydrated, an electrolyte imbalance caused by drinking too much water can lead to headaches, brain fog, muscle cramps, and other unpleasant — and even dangerous — side effects.
It seems counterintuitive, but drinking too much water can also lead to water retention and swelling, especially in the hands and feet, as well as poor digestion, gas, and bloating, Murphy Richter notes.
On the more extreme end of the spectrum, drinking too much water can lead to a condition called water intoxication or hyponatremia, says Michael Hamlin, NSCA, CSCS, a personal trainer and founder of Everflex Fitness. “This occurs when you consume an excessive amount of water that dilutes the sodium levels in your blood,” he tells Bustle. Symptoms of water toxicity include nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, and in severe cases, even seizures or coma. This is why it’s so important to figure out how much water your body actually needs.
How Much Water A Day Is Too Much?
You’ll be able to tell if you’re drinking too much water if you exceed the recommended guidelines of 11.5 cups a day for women and 15.5 cups a day for men. Other signs are if your pee is crystal clear, and/or if you have the symptoms of overhydration like muscle cramps, headaches, and changes in heart rate, says Murphy Richter. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to drink a half ounce to one ounce of water for every pound of your body weight. So yes, 16 cups of water a day is likely too much.
You’ll know you’re well-hydrated but not overly so if your pee is pale yellow and you go to the bathroom four to eight times a day, if your mouth, lips, and skin feel hydrated, and if you’re energized and alert, she adds. The ability to sweat with ease when you work out, as well as having normal blood pressure, are other good signs.
Why Do You Feel Thirsty All The Time?
If you reach for your Hydro Flask 100 times a day and still feel thirsty, it might be because your water needs more electrolytes. “Electrolytes help to pull water into our cells,” Murphy Richter says. “If you are not adequately replenishing your electrolytes, the water you drink won’t be properly absorbed, which can cause feelings of dehydration despite drinking plenty of water.”
Without electrolytes, you can guzzle water, but it won’t necessarily quench your thirst. That’s why experts recommend hydrating via things besides water, like coconut water, teas, and sports drinks, as well as getting fluids from food. Many fruits and veggies are nearly 90% water, says Murphy Richter, so they totally count as part of your daily intake — plus they give you extra nutrients.
If you’re parched no matter how much you try to hydrate, Murphy Richter recommends looking into diabetes or pre-diabetes, as excessive thirst is a major warning sign. Certain medications can also make you thirsty, as well as hormonal disorders and a high sodium diet. If it seems like you can’t quite quench your thirst, check in with our doctor.
How To Stay Hydrated Throughout The Day
To perfect your hydration game, Hamlin recommends listening to your body, first and foremost. “Drink when you're thirsty,” he says. “Your body's thirst mechanism is a reliable indicator of your fluid needs.” It also helps to spread your fluid intake across the day, instead of chugging all at once.
That said, everyone’s ideal fluid intake varies depending on their age, physical activity, and even geographical location. Note that you’ll require more hydration if you work out regularly or live in a hot climate or somewhere in a high elevation, she notes.
According to Denise Chakoian, a personal trainer and owner and founder of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree, you should also replenish your lost fluids before, during, and after a workout. “Drink at least eight ounces of water prior to exercise,” she tells Bustle. “After exercise, I would also consume water slowly and continue to drink water throughout the day.”
The most important thing to remember is that your body will tell you when it's running low on H20, and that you can function just fine when your mouth's just a little dry. But if you're constantly guzzling from one Stanley Cup after another, you may notice that your hands, lips, and feet swelling, you're suffering from headaches more frequently, or feeling extra dizzy or fatigued. You don't need to wait until you're parched for water, but you definitely don't need to sip it constantly, either, no matter what WaterTok may say.
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Melanie Murphy Richter, MS, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist
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