Why Higher Consumption of Protein Requires More Water

For many attempting to lose weight, a high-protein diet with low amounts of carbohydrates is the way to go. Athletes and bodybuilders also opt to follow high-protein diets to build muscle mass. Does a high-protein diet increase the risk of dehydration? Research suggests that indeed it does.

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Five student-athletes following a high-protein diet were studied as early as 2002. While these athletes did not experience increased thirst, their urine was highly concentrated which is symptomatic of dehydration. Possibly they did not feel thirstier because their kidneys were still able to detoxify waste products with the amount of water they were drinking, but the urine tests didn’t lie.

This is because everything we eat, or drink is broken down once it enters the body. Breaking down protein involves both kidneys and the liver and one important by-product or protein breakdown is ammonia. The liver will convert ammonia into urea which travels to the kidneys and is expelled in urine. When you increase protein intake, these functions can become strained.

Regardless of if you are involved in physical exercise or not, if you are on a high-protein diet, you need to increase your fluid intake. 

How Much Water Should I Drink Daily with a Normal Diet?

There is no golden rule when it comes to water consumption. Much will depend on age, size, climate, and physical activity level. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests monitoring perspiration and urine color.  Urine featuring a lemon or straw color suggests good hydration while darker urine suggests dehydration.

The color of your urine in the morning will indicate exactly how hydrated you are. If the urine is dark, plan on drinking more water throughout the day.

How Much Water Intake Is Necessary for High Protein?

If you are following a normal diet that surpasses the recommended amount of protein 0.8 grams for every 2 pounds of body weight for sedentary adults 1 to 1.5 grams for those exercising, or 1.7 grams for cyclers, then you may be ingesting unnecessary amounts of protein according to a Mayo Clinic dietitian nutritionist Kristi Wempen. Two grams of protein daily for every two pounds of body weight would be considered excessive.

If your diet is centered on high protein intake, including either whole food protein or protein powder, you need to increase your water intake. Urine color is the easiest way for you to monitor if you are getting sufficient fluids.

Justwater.com recommends a daily water intake of 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups of water for women.

However, if urine is dark, or you perspire profusely you should adjust accordingly. Remember that vegetables and fruits with high water content can contribute to your daily hydration needs. 

Physical Activity, Protein, and Water Intake

If you exercise or are involved in sports or manual labor, it’s recommended that you drink following your workout particularly if you perspire heavily or are active in a warm climate. Protein is also a good follow-up to physical activity to encourage muscle recovery.

What If I Use Protein Powder?

If you include protein powder in a balanced healthy diet, you most likely will not need to drink extra water. If on the other hand, you are including protein powder in a high-protein diet, extra water intake should be on your daily list of things to do.

Watch for dehydration symptoms such as dark-colored urine or unwarranted physical fatigue throughout the day. There is no chart to tell you how much water you should be drinking to prevent dehydration due to increased protein intake. Drink enough water so that urine remains a light yellow hue. 

What Symptoms Indicate Dehydration?

Dehydration, regardless of the cause, is serious business. It occurs when your body cannot replace water or fluids necessary for bodily functions that have been consumed or lost. If you do not increase your fluid intake, you will become dehydrated.

While thirst might be considered the first symptom of insufficient fluids, this isn’t the case. Many of us will not experience thirst until after we are dehydrated. This is the primary reason to be aware of water intake so that dehydration does not take place.

Common symptoms of dehydration may include:

  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Dark urine
  • Dizziness
  • Dry tongue and mouth
  • Exceptional thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Little urination 

What Are the Risks Associated with Dehydration?

If you become dehydrated and do not replace necessary body fluids, there can be serious consequences and risks to your health. Several common complications include:

Kidney and Urinary Issues

Prolonged dehydration or repeated bouts of dehydration can lead to the formation of kidney stones, infections of the urinary tract, and in severe cases, to kidney failure. 

Heat Stroke or Injury

If involved in vigorous physical activities that cause excessive perspiration, you can end up with a heat injury. Lesser heat injuries include heat cramps and exhaustion, while heatstroke is life-threatening. 

Hypovolemic Shock

Also referred to as low blood volume shock, this is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. It is a result of blood volume dropping which lowers blood pressure causing the quantity of oxygen in the body to drop dangerously.

Seizure

Water intake is linked to keeping your electrolytes in balance. Electrolytes such as sodium or potassium communicate electrical signals between cells. If these do not function correctly, involuntary muscle contractions may follow causing you to lose consciousness.

Higher Protein Consumption and Dehydration Prevention

Drinking plenty of water is the best way to prevent dehydration and extra work for your kidneys when following a high-protein diet. If you add in fruits and vegetables daily, this will support your fluid intake. Finally, monitor your urine color. It’s the quickest and most continuous method for judging adequate daily water intake.

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