Most of us have heard of the typical advice to drink eight cups of water each day because water is necessary for life. In fact, monitoring water intake has inspired various forms of water bottles to encourage and ensure proper water intake. Options range from a 32-ounce Giotto water bottle with time markings and motivational statements priced at $23.99 on Amazon to a more intense bottle, such as the Hidrate Spark Smart Water Bottle, which glows to remind the user to drink water ($79.99 on Amazon).
But do these water bottles accurately monitor water intake, and are they worth the investment?
Before determining if these water bottles are helpful, it is important to establish the parameters for proper water intake. The eight-cups-a-day rule of thumb has a long history, rooted in an early study and eventually becoming a recommendation by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council in long-ago 1945.
“The truth is it came from a paper published almost 100 years ago where a guy measured his own urine and realized that he lost about eight cups a day and that is where the recommendation came from,” reads an article by the American Health and Wellness Center.
Despite this rule’s outdated nature, it is not far off. Dr. Andrew Harveson, associate professor of kinesiology, said the eight-cups-a-day rule is “a fine place to start,” but guidelines now recommend about 3.7 L of fluids for adult men each day and 2.7 L for adult women, according to a study by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. However, unlike the former guidelines, these numbers include fluid from both food and drink during the day. Considering this, Harveson said that men should drink about 12 cups (3 L) of water each day and women should drink about 9 cups (2.2 L) of water each day, which parallels recommendations distributed by the Institute of Medicine.
However, water intake is more complicated than these cut-and-dry guidelines. Everyone is different and therefore has different needs. For example, Harveson said water needs will change based on exercise levels, sweat levels and environment.
“Athletes, those who sweat heavily and people living in hot or humid climates should certainly have greater intake,” Harveson said.
Since water needs vary, water bottles can only help so much.
“Without inputting your specific anatomy, activity levels and the heat index in your area, the water bottle can only go by general guidelines for the average person,” Harveson said. “This is a good starting point, but it’s important to keep in mind that nutrition is highly individual, so for the person who is a heavy sweater, or exercises a lot, or lives in a hot or humid environment or someone with greater than average muscle mass — their needs will be different, so we always want to take that into account.”
However, Harveson sees positives in water bottles that prompt water intake because such prompts can help those who struggle with hydration.
“I have never tried one myself, but I think that they can be helpful for a person that is goal-oriented,” said Brittney Helget, senior biology major. “I am an advocate for gathering what my body needs, which is going to be different everyday due to differing environments, activity levels and metabolism.”
Helget makes an effort to prioritize fluid intake. Her hydration routine starts with a glass of water right when she wakes up and she drinks water with nearly every meal and finishes a 32-ounce water bottle each day.
Harveson said hydration is vital for temperature regulation, as well as fluid and electrolyte balance, which influences cognition. In fact, electrolyte and sodium intake are so important that to drink nothing else but water would not be enough.
“Fluid replacement with only water can lead to hyponatremia (water intoxication),” Harveson said. “Symptoms include dizziness, fainting, seizures and death. Symptoms mimic dehydration — dry mouth, dry skin, high body temperature — so we always want to be aware of proper electrolyte intake.”
Since resources to monitor water levels can only take people so far, one should monitor their own water intake to ensure proper hydration. There is one indicator that Harveson emphasizes as the most accessible way to determine your hydration levels: pee.
“While it always gets a laugh or two, urine color and volume is the easiest indicator,” Harveson said. “‘Clear’ or ‘light yellow’ are what we should be aiming for. Volume should be urinating every one to two hours during the day.”
Luckily, technology is also advancing to help monitor water needs in a more personalized way. Harveson points to integrations between smart water bottles and fitness tracking devices as progress to more customized hydration plans. However, ultimately Harveson encourages relying on your body’s indicators to direct hydration habits.
“There are numerous apps and devices out there to help, but at the end of the day, our bodies are pretty good at telling us what they need, if we listen closely,” Harveson said. “Thirst is an important cue that’s worked pretty well for us for thousands of years, so I would start here. As your situation dictates, you may want to explore higher-tech options to find what works best for you. Just don’t overcomplicate it.”