Are You Drinking Too Much Water?

From improved concentration to glowing skin, we all know the benefits of drinking water. But could too much do more harm than good? With an increasing number of diet and fitness gurus advising the consumption of up to four litres per day without any official guidelines, we might be at risk of over-hydration. We did some delving...

Why are certain fitness gurus drinking so much water?

Firstly, we all need water – making up almost two thirds of our body, it plays a vital role in everything from regulating body temperature to keeping our skin and digestion healthy. During exercise, water helps to reduce the likelihood of injuries by keeping joints lubricated. And when it comes to fat loss, hydration aids metabolism, meaning drinking enough water boosts the body’s ability to burn fat.

Staying hydrated is vital for aiding weight loss, but some unqualified diet gurus are drinking excessive amounts to reduce feelings of hunger. Other influencers are promoting old and dangerous advice about water and exercise – while you do need to drink more water before and after a workout, it’s often nowhere near as much as some untrained fitness stars are advising.

With no regulations on Instagram or YouTube about who can sell their own wellness plan, or give nutrition and fitness advice, it’s key to do your research before following recommendations.

So how much is too much?

Public Health England says women should drink around 1.6 litres of fluid per day – equivalent to around eight 200ml glasses. New research in sports science has also revealed that drinking around 230mls of water before a workout, and 470ml immediately afterwards is all you need to avoid dehydration.

However, these are both ballpark figures, which vary significantly from person to person, especially when weight, height and activity levels are taken into account. That’s why it’s essential to do what’s best for your body, rather than following blanket advice.

How to know if you’re drinking enough? Look at your urine – it should be a pale straw colour; if it’s entirely see-through, this could be a sign you are over-hydrated. Similarly, if it’s dark yellow and cloudy, you might be dehydrated or not drinking enough.

What are the dangers of over-hydration?

Too much water can lead to a potentially fatal condition known as hyponatremia – this is when the sodium content in the blood becomes too diluted too quickly. Symptoms include confusion, headaches, nausea and bloating.

Even more worryingly, these symptoms are often mistaken for dehydration, and can lead some people to drink even more water, putting their lives at risk.

That sounds scary – is it common?

Hyponatremia is more common than you’d think and is increasingly seen in health-conscious individuals who overcompensate for the amount of sweat lost during exercise. As endurance events such as marathons, 10K runs and triathlons become more and more popular, health officials have expressed concern over excessive hydration. If treatment for severe cases of hyponatremia is not delivered quickly, it can lead to swelling in the brain, fits, a coma and even death.

While the condition is still relatively unusual, if you’re going to the loo more than once every two hours or so that might mean you are drinking too much, especially if your urine is clear.

So how and when should we be drinking water?

In general, drinking little and often throughout the day is the best approach. Drink a little more, but not excessively, when it’s hot or you’re exercising. Remember your body can only process one litre of fluid per hour – anything in excess of this figure will put unnecessary strain on the kidneys. Plus, your daily intake doesn’t need to necessarily be 100% water – all kinds of liquids, including tea and coffee, also count.

Should you always have a sports drink after working out?

Not necessarily. It depends on the duration and intensity of your workout, but most people’s regular workouts aren’t intense enough to warrant the need for electrolytes immediately post-session. As a general rule of thumb, you don’t need to worry about replenishing electrolyte stores for workouts under an hour, so feel free to skip the overpriced coconut water if you’re a Class Pass fan.

However, if you’re exercising in a hot environment (a hot yoga class, for example) or are training for a marathon or triathlon, it could be worth adding an electrolyte tablet to your water or drinking a low-sugar sports drink.

The bottom line?

Drink when you’re thirsty – thirst is the body’s physiological cue that you need more fluids. And if you really love your H2O, try drinking one thing per day that’s not water, such as green tea with a pinch of salt and lemon which can help absorb fluid.

And if you suspect you’re overhydrated or on the cusp of it, stop drinking and eat something salty. But don’t feel pressurised to drink four litres on a daily basis – it may be that your body doesn’t need that much, after all.

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