There’s this funny trend among bodybuilders and weightlifters. They go to fitness forums looking how to “get swole,” and soon after, they start something horrible: they begin carrying around a gallon jug of water.
Because that’s how you get big, bro.
In today’s article, let’s talk about why (for the average person) this is completely unnecessary and is most likely more harmful than helpful for the average person.
And yes… that goes for you too, amateur bodybuilder.
Seriously… Please Don’t Drink a Gallon of Water a Day
When it comes to getting fit, I think most of us are experts at ignoring the laws of the universe.
When someone suggests, “you should be pounding down a gallon of water, and peeing ten times a day, because that’s the best thing for your body,” we ignore logic.
For example, what happens when you drink too little water? You get dehydrated. What happens if you completely stop drinking water or any fluids? You die of dehydration.
What happens when you drink too much water? Something else happens that your body does to compensate for consuming too much water (in this case, the research mostly cites hyponatraemia).
It’s just like eating food.
What happens if you have too little food? You start losing weight, you begin starving, then eventually die. What happens if you overeat? You gain weight, you might get diabetes, and possibly, other illnesses related to weight gain. The chance of heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, alzheimer’s and plenty of other fun stuff goes way up.
It’s the same for everything else in the universe. Drink too much coffee, and you could get anxiety, heart palpitations, or get acid reflux.
The law of logic is the most important law of the universe… and unfortunately, we often throw it out the window first. Just like with the laws of nature, if the ocean’s water level is too high, it begins flooding the surrounding areas. When it’s too low, then it exposes certain areas.
This law of nature, of the universe, also applies to your body. Well, how much does it affect your body?
Water Intoxication. One study here observed a subject with normal, i.e. healthy, renal function found that drinking 10-15 liters of water started producing early signs and symptoms of water intoxication (hyponatraemia).
Is drinking more water actually worse for you than drinking less? One piece of research particularly looked at drinking water in endurance athletes (in this case) marathon runners.
“While the mild form [of hyponatremia from overconsumption of water] may be asymptomatic, severe hyponatraemia causes confusion, seizures and death. In contrast, there does not appear to be a single report of the death of an athlete in which dehydration was the clear cause.
A recent prospective study of runners in the Boston Marathon revealed a 13% prevalence of hyponatraemia (serum sodium <135 mmol/L) and a 0.6% incidence of critical hyponatraemia (serum sodium <120 mmol/L) in race finishers.”
We also get water from food – more than you think. Another interesting thing is to consider the water intake that comes via your diet. One study suggested that fluid water intake makes up 70-80% of our water consumption, and 20-30% comes from solid food. Additionally, coffee can be considered a source of fluid, and even alcohol, which does not result in significant water loss.
One particular spread shows the findings of one metanalysis of several studies – how people change their food intake when water is included/removed from meals.
In seniors and adults, people ate more (8.7%) when water was not drunk before a meal. How much people overate increased (8.6%-14.8%) for both people that were overweight and those that weren’t.
However, for young to middle aged adults, changes in how much they ate did not correlate with how much water they drank (including before the meals).
Is more than 3 liters necessary (roughly 3/4 gallon)? Another study here concluded, ” The recommended total daily fluid intake of 3,000 ml (3L) for men and of 2,200 ml (2.2L) for women is more than adequate. Higher fluid intake does not have any convincing health benefits…”
Does Drinking More Water Help In “Weight Gain Diets?”
One particular piece of research wanted to show what happens when people overdrink water by 1.5 liters per day. The researchers talked about how drinking a lot of water is highly recommended in weight loss regimens, which I find interesting, since most people touting the “gallon of water a day” thing are young men looking to gain weight.
However, there’s not that much research supporting it, so they wanted to see the results for themselves. They had female participants drink 1.5 liters of water over what they would normally be drinking, and then they tested their body mass index, body fat, appetite score, and more.
After eight weeks, the researchers decided to reevaluate these women, and guess what they found.
All of the above numbers went down. Their body weight, their body fat, their composition—all decreased (a good thing if you’re trying to lose weight).
Was it anything magical? Probably not. The participants were most likely just more full.
If you’re trying to gain weight, realistically what this is going to do is just make you more full, on top of the foods you’re already trying to eat in order to gain muscle. You’re more likely better off drinking water normally.
If you’re sitting all day in an air-conditioned room, you probably don’t have to pound down a gallon of water a day unless you’re working out and doing labor outside. You’re better off probably actually eating the food for those extra calories.
But What About Bodybuilders Drinking a Gallon of Water?
Okay, okay. But my bros at the gym told me that I need to drink a gallon of water a day to get huge!
Well, let’s deconstruct this a little bit.
Most amateur weight lifters in the gym imitate guys they see in magazines, because apparently that roided-out look is what young men want.
Let’s think about why bodybuilders drink so much water:
- They workout a lot (often two sessions of two hours in the gym), and thus sweat a lot.
- They do it to prevent kidney stones (possibly from very high protein diets). As some researchers mentioned in one study, “urine must be supersaturated with solutes to form a crystal, the first step to form a stone. Low fluid intake will lead to low urine output. When urine volume is low, the urine can theoretically be easily supersaturated with various solutes, such as calcium, oxalate, phosphorus, and uric acid… Only if the supersaturation is very high does the crystallization start. The most direct way for patients to decrease risks of supersaturation is to increase the urine volume with oral fluids to above 2.5 L/d of urine volume.”
- It may assist the function of some supplements or possibly steroids e.g. creatine absorption (which puts water in the cells). Another study compared two groups of people exercising – one group that did not consume water with exercise, and one group that did. Researchers compared the growth hormone released during exercise and found that the exercise-induced Growth Hormone response was less when they did not drink water.
- It helps with fluid retention.
Now the question here is simple: are you a pro bodybuilder?
Do you workout four hours a day and eat 300g of protein per day?
If not, you probably don’t need to be drinking a gallon of water per day.
Searching for Miraculous Cures
When it comes to reaching a goal, it’s tempting to throw logic to the wind and just go with “what makes sense.” Especially when it comes to looking for shortcuts.
We keep on searching for a new method—something more interesting—and then we throw logic out the window.
Does it logically make sense to do that? (E.g. take a few pills you bought on amazon that give you a massive “diarrhea detox” for a few days).
Does it logically make sense to carry around a gallon of water every day and be sipping on it? (E.g. force down water when you aren’t thirsty, peeing ten times a day?).
Sometimes, the best “proof” comes from logic – the body has a natural balance, and any extreme measure of excess (more) or less will affect it somehow.
Could most of us feel better from drinking more water? Of course. And we should especially if we drink a lot of soda, fruit juice, or coffee (even though these count as water intake too).
But a gallon a day?
Think I’ll pass…
Have you tried drinking plenty of water in order to lose weight? How did it pan out for you? Share your experience in the comments.