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As a trainer and a Nutrition Education & Weight Management Specialist, I am constantly reminding my clients about the importance of water not just as an aide for weight loss, but as one for their health.

The human brain is made up of 95% water; blood is 82% and lungs 90%. A simple drop in our body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on smaller print. Mild dehydration is also one of the most common causes of daytime fatigue. An estimated 75% of Americans have mild, chronic dehydration. Water is an important mechanism for our body. In fact, all the cells and organ functions depend on water for their functioning.

• Water serves as a lubricant
• Water forms the base for saliva
• Water forms the fluids that surround the joints
• Water regulates the body temperature
• Water helps to alleviate constipation
• Water regulates your metabolism

In addition to the daily maintenance of our bodies, water also plays a key role in the prevention of diseases.

Water is approximately 55%-70% of your body weight. Water is probably the biggest factor in determining what you weigh in the early weeks of a weight-loss
exercise program. If you go about losing weight the wrong way, you will lose a lot of water weight and think you are having great success. Don’t be fooled. I can’t stress this enough. Losing water creates the illusion that you are losing body fat, but will actually inhibit your loss of body fat.

Here is why: A primary source of your muscles’ fuel is carbohydrates, but in order to store carbohydrates in your muscles the body must first convert it to a substance called glycogen. In order to do this you must pair it with water (approximately 2.5 to 3 grams of water per gram of carbohydrate). When you radically reduce the number of calories you take in, in the form of carbohydrates you eat (as in a lot of the fad diets), your body then eliminates the water and the numbers on the scale go down. However, you have lost pounds, but it’s primarily pounds of water. What’s wrong with that? For one thing, you haven’t lost fat and, for another, water helps keep your metabolism revved up and (all bodily processes, including fat metabolism) operating properly, ensuring that you burn calories at an efficient rate, which is what is going to help you lose body fat. That’s why many people who thought that they achieved success on a low-carbohydrate diet get surprised when the numbers on the scale jump back up as soon as they normalize their diet. Also, since they are dehydrating their body, it is causing their kidneys to work harder than normal, which can lead to kidney problems and other health issues. It’s important to understand that holding onto water is very beneficial both because of how it enhances your ability to burn calories and because your muscles need it to perform well. Whenever you increase your activity level your muscles will store more glycogen, and thus more water, to help them keep up with the demands you’re placing on them. You will also add water to your bloodstream, increasing your blood volume and resulting in an increased ability to deliver oxygen, which in turn will increase your capacity to burn more calories.

These changes will cause you to gain, not lose, water weight in the beginning stages of your workout program. I know that this can be disconcerting to some people. When you have increased your activity, are eating more regular meals, and are adhering to an evening cutoff time for food, as a trainer would recommend in a weight-loss program, you would expect the scale to drop. For many people it will, but for others it may fluctuate and even go up temporarily. It’s critical to remember that the water your body is holding onto because your muscles are using it to store fuel hides the fact that you’re losing body fat. Don’t be discouraged. Bear in mind that you want water stored in your muscles and available to keep your metabolism fired up and your muscles operating in high gear so that you don’t get fatigued and short yourself on calorie-burning activity. This can take up to 4-6 weeks for your initial water-weight gain to get to where it’s working for you and you notice it.

So next time you start to have a coke or adult beverage to quench your thirst, drink water instead!