​​We’re constantly reminded of the benefits of staying hydrated, but drinking enough water can be tricky, even if you’ve found a water bottle you love. But can drinking too much water be bad for you? And if so, how do you know you’ve had too much?

Overhydration can cause symptoms ranging from mild and slightly annoying to life-threatening. The good news is that while drinking a couple more glasses of water on top of your typical hydration may cause an uptick in your bathroom runs, mild overhydration won’t get you close to extreme risk. Rather, the life-threatening risks lie in drinking excessive amounts of water, particularly when combined with a loss of key electrolytes.

“Drinking too much water can result in a condition called hyponatremia, which is a dangerous drop in blood sodium levels,” says Kristin Koskinen, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Richland, Washington.

Sodium is an important electrolyte that acts as the body’s traffic guard, regulating where water is distributed throughout the body and how much is sent to the bladder. “Though it’s relatively uncommon to attain water intoxication, it can happen if you outdrink what your body can excrete,” says Koskinen.

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Hyponatremia situations are rare, but when they occur, it’s usually in ultra-endurance athletes or people with particular health conditions. The life-threatening scenario happens during or after bouts of extreme sweating and fluid loss when someone hydrates with plain water instead of a combination of water and electrolyte-replacement drinks. While water is the best choice most of the time, there are benefits to consuming sports drinks that contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium when conditions contribute to excessive sweating. For ultra-endurance athletes, sports drinks aren’t just good to have if available but are usually required by the body to maintain fluid and electrolyte equilibrium.

Water intoxication and hyponatremia aren’t issues most people need to worry about when it comes to daily hydration. That’s because your body will naturally trigger you to slow or halt your water intake by bringing on these mild—and slightly annoying—side effects.

Signs You Are Drinking Too Much Water

1. Your Pee Is Pretty Clear

The color of your pee—and how often you run to the bathroom—can be a good indicator of your hydration status, says Koskinen. Urine color typically ranges from light, almost clear to pale yellow, thanks to a combination of the pigment urochrome and the amount of water you drink. If your pee is clear more often than not, it can be a sign that you’re drinking too much water in a short time or that you’re taking in slightly too many fluids overall. One word of caution: Some dietary supplements turn your pee darker, so monitoring urine color may not always be the best approach in that case.

2. You’re Peeing Frequently

Going to the bathroom more than usual? It may mean you’re drinking too much water. Caffeine and alcohol consumption can also cause more frequent urination. “On average, people urinate 6 to 8 times a day, though going up to 10 times a day is within the realm of normal for the water-drinking high-achievers,” says Koskinen. On the one hand, these bathroom runs can help you get steps in and act as a mini de-stressor by forcing a momentary break from your computer. However, if the uptick in bathroom trips compromises your job or day-to-day activities and your pee is clear, you may want to consider cutting back in the liquids department.

3. You Feel Bloated or Nauseous

“The kidneys have limitations of how much water they can excrete at a time, which is a maximum of 800 to 1,000 milliliters per hour,” says Koskinen. “Anything that exceeds that amount essentially waterlogs the body.” When the body can’t rid itself of excess water, cells swell to accommodate it. As a result, you may feel puffy and bloated until you slow your water intake so your kidneys can catch up. A stomach full of water also makes many people feel a little nauseous. so if contemplating drinking more fluids makes you feel a little sick to your stomach, that may be a sign that you need to slow your hydration.

4. You Have a Headache or Brain Fog

Sodium levels decrease slightly when the body becomes waterlogged, causing cells to swell. Because the brain is enclosed in the skull, there’s almost no room for cells to expand, says Koskinen. This creates pressure, causing headaches and even brain fog. There’s no exact data on what level of sodium in the blood causes these early symptoms—it probably varies from person to person. Fortunately, for the average person, drinking too much water usually leads to nothing more than an increase in bathroom breaks. Ironically, being dehydrated can also cause a headache, so it’s important to pay attention to your hydration habits and adjust accordingly.

How Much Water Should You Drink?

Calculating your fluid needs isn’t an exact science. The Institutes of Medicine recommends consuming around 3.7 liters (15 to 16 cups) of water per day for males and 2.7 liters (11 to 12 cups) for females for adequate hydration. But before you start chugging down a certain number of glasses, know that hydration needs fluctuate day-to-day based on the weather, how hydrating your diet is, how active you are, and other beverages you sip.

One of the easiest ways to fine-tune your hydration habits is to stop looking at it as a water-centric practice and instead shift your focus to include fluids as a whole. “Fluid doesn’t just come from water; it also comes from any beverage you drink and many foods,” says Koskinen.

Roughly 20% of daily fluid intake usually comes from food, and the rest from drinks, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If soups, fruits, veggies and smoothies are a regular part of your diet, then you might not need to replenish as often—the same goes for foods that melt at room temperature or are held in a gel matrix (think: Jell-O or pudding), adds Koskinen. On days when you’re eating a lot of salty foods (like ramen, frozen dinners, fast food and chips), drinking more water will help your body maintain equilibrium.

Nearly any beverage can count toward meeting your daily fluid needs—including coffee. “If a person is a habitual caffeine consumer, their body adapts, and the coffee stops acting like a diuretic. If you’re not a regular caffeine drinker, then these fluids are considered dehydrating and shouldn’t be counted toward your daily fluid intake,” says Susan Dixon, RD, a registered dietitian.

Alcohol and energy drinks, on the other hand, do not contribute to your hydration quota, according to Dixon. Alcohol causes your body to lose more fluid than you get from the beverage itself, while heavily caffeinated energy drinks may have so much caffeine in them that they also act as a diuretic.

When it’s hot or humid out, your water needs may increase, and the same is true if you live in dry climates—whether it’s hot or cold—says Koskinen. If you’re super active or athletic, weighing yourself before and after long, intense workouts (sans clothes) can help you replace fluid losses as accurately as possible. “The difference between the two weights gives you a good approximation of what your fluid losses were,” says Koskinen. For every pound lost during your exercise, drink around 2 cups of water or a sports beverage to replenish, and try to do so over the next several hours following the workout.

The Bottom Line

While most people don’t experience extreme episodes of overhydration, you may occasionally feel mild symptoms when you drink a little more water than you need. It’s important to listen to your body for those subtle signs so that you can adjust your hydration. Even though it’s not 100% accurate, the color of your urine is usually a straightforward indicator of whether or not you need to hydrate. Your pee should be a pale yellow color—if it’s darker, hit the water cooler, and if it’s lighter, hit the brakes.

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