These days, it seems you can barely go anywhere without hearing about the benefits of staying hydrated—especially as an athlete. And as much as I know that I need to drink a lot of water, staying on top of it just slips my mind. It’s not that I don’t drink any water throughout the day, but I usually drink just one 25-ounce bottle and maybe a can of LaCroix.
That said, I wanted to know how I’d feel if I really dedicated myself to being the Queen of All Who Are Hydrated. And to see if the benefits you always hear about—things like clearer skin and more energy—are legit.
The best way to hold myself accountable? Take the water challenge: Drink one gallon of water each day for 30 days straight with the hope that I’d want to keep going even after the 30 days were up.
But a gallon of water a day seemed like a lot, and I’d heard stories about the dangers of drinking too much water too quickly, so I reached out to Nicole Lund, M.S., R.D.N., clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health’s Sports Performance Center, to see what I should know before I started.
Lund told me that as long as I spread it out throughout the day and didn’t chug a gallon in one sitting, there wasn’t really too much to worry about. But she did warn me about a condition called hyponatremia, which is when there’s an abnormally low amount of sodium in your blood. It can happen if you drink way too much water and don’t take in enough sodium, and it could lead to nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, and—more seriously—seizure, respiratory arrest, or even brain damage.
“This is a rare occurrence seen mainly in cases of extreme over-hydration and excessive salty sweating by endurance athletes,” Lund says. So I made sure to heed her advice, hydrate throughout the day, and make sure I was taking in enough sodium through my diet along the way.
With Lund’s words of wisdom in my mind, I began my quest for better hydration, and to be honest, I learned a lot. Here are the most important takeaways I noticed.
1. I went to the bathroom—a lot.
I expected this going in, but assuming you’ll pee every 20 minutes and actually doing so are two different things. This is because your body flushes out the water it doesn’t actually need. I kind of got used to my frequent bathroom trips, but I’d be lying if I said the whole thing wasn’t annoying on some level. For example, there were times I was really in the zone at work, but my bladder was screaming at me to get up and pee, which interrupted my flow. The upside to this was that it forced me to get up and move more, so I guess I can’t really complain.
I was initially worried that this urge to pee would sabotage my workouts and my sleep, but thankfully, I was always too focused on the workout to even realize I had to pee, and while I woke up a few times in the beginning to go to the bathroom, my body eventually adjusted, and I slept through the night. Fortunately, none of my fears were ever realized.
When it came to life outside exercise and work, I felt a little self-conscious constantly excusing myself to go to the bathroom during dinners and drinks with friends, but most of them knew that I had committed myself to drinking so much water anyway, so they understood.
2. I snacked less throughout the day.
Usually in the hour or two after eating lunch, I get hungry again. So I turn to the office vending machine for a solution. While it stocks healthier options than a regular vending machine (like dark chocolate peanut butter cups instead of Reese’s), I still feel like it’s not the best option.
But because water takes up space in your stomach and made me feel full or generally less hungry. The result? For the most part, I stopped ravenously munching on everything I could get my hands on between lunch and dinner.
Overall, I started to become more in tune with how my body worked and was able to really listen to what it was telling me. I became aware of the times of day where I felt more hungry and was able to figure out why that might be. So if I felt like I needed a snack or a little something extra to get me through the day, I allowed myself to have it.
3. I had more energy.
This perk was a bit of an unexpected one. While I’ve heard and read that upping your water intake translates into a noticeable energy boost, I never quite believed it. I was one of those people who needed that afternoon cup of coffee (in addition to my morning one)—I didn’t want to chance nodding off at my desk.
But about two weeks into my challenge, I surprised myself by declining to join a few of my coworkers for our usual afternoon trip to Starbucks. Why? I just didn’t feel like I needed it. For the first time in what felt like forever, I wasn’t completely exhausted by the time 2 p.m. rolled around.
“Water plays a large role in how our bodies function and the health of our metabolism,” Lund says. “Even in the early stages of dehydration, one can experience fatigue and diminished exercise capacity due to increased body temperature, increased respiration rate, increased pulse, and increased perception of effort.”
4. It got easier.
On day one of the challenge, I honestly thought there was no way I’d be able to do this. Five 25-ounce water bottles a day? Yikes. I was especially worried about not being able to hit the amount on weekends, since I’m usually out and about—not just sitting at my desk with a water bottle right in front of me.
In the beginning, I created the following chart to stick to in order to make sure I was drinking enough:
- 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Drink bottle 1
- 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Drink bottle 2
- 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Drink bottle 3
- 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Drink bottle 4
- 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Drink bottle 5
Five 25-ounce bottles got me to just under a gallon, so I made sure to sip a little extra throughout the day. But it really only took less than a week for me to get used to this new normal. I stopped having to force myself to follow the chart I made and think about how many bottles I had to drink each day and at what times—I just did it.
Even now, a few days after this challenge “officially” ended, I write this while sipping from my third bottle of the day. And while I might not hold myself to super strict standards of drinking exactly a gallon, I definitely think I’ve created a good habit of being conscious about staying hydrated.
Should you try this, too?
It’s especially important for athletes to stay properly hydrated, since “performance can start to decline with as little as 2 to 3 percent bodyweight loss from sweat,” Lund says. And while there’s really no “one-size-fits-all” hydration approach, it’s generally fine for most people to consume a gallon of water a day. However, if you experience any negative side effects—like the ones associated with hyponatremia—slow down your rate of consumption immediately, Lund advises.