Water for Weight Loss

I often see that establishing a habit of drinking water is a platform off of which other healthy habits tend to grow. For instance, when you start to drink water, you may start to pay a little bit more attention to the quality and quantity of your diet, how you are moving your body, how much sleep and self-care you are getting, etc. As a result, something as simple as drinking more water can have a much greater impact when you consider the scale of the dominoes of healthy habits that may follow.

Water for Nutrition and Weight Loss

By: Jeremy Partl, RD

We know that water is probably the number one beverage that humans are supposed to drink. Quite a while back, Barbell Logic covered the importance of water for lifters in this article.

To briefly review, roughly 60% of your body is composed of water. Interestingly, I learned that, depending on age and physiological status, the range is between 45%–75% of body weight.[1],[2] The main functions of water for the body are transporting nutrients, regulating body temperature, being solvent for many organic and inorganic materials, lubricating joints and internal organs, and providing structure to cells and tissues, among others.[3]

When it comes to thinking about hydration, lifters should really approach pretty much the same any athlete does. With normal intakes, water helps preserve bodily functions and prevents any sort of negative physiological effects associated with dehydration.

Even if we know it is helpful for our bodies to function properly, we also are often told to drink more water when it comes to eating for improved body composition and weight loss. So, what is so special about drinking aqua that makes it beneficial when it comes to our physiques?

Below, I cover some of the potential mechanisms that have been researched and discussed.

Satiety

Your stomach is not really a calorie-counter. It doesn’t measure the content or caloric density of what you send its way. Instead, it responds to the volume and stretch of the stomach. Water, being both beneficial and calorie free, is the perfect beverage to signal satiation to your body.

Numerous studies have shown that water consumed before or with a meal reduces sensations of hunger, increases satiety, and can reduce overall calorie intake. For example, one study found that consuming water 30 minutes before a meal reduced overall calorie intake at that subsequent meal.[4] Furthermore, when combined with a calorie restricted diet, consuming roughly sixteen ounces of water prior to each main meal led to greater weight loss than the same diet protocol without the pre-meal water. [5]

Overall, when analyzing the research, a review on the topic of water consumption and energy intake found that increased water consumption throughout the day reduces energy intake, especially in older, but not in younger, subjects.[6]

Dietary Displacement

Water is a calorie free beverage. However, our society has shifted towards drinking other beverages like sodas, energy drinks, and fruit juices that contain a fair amount of calories. It has been estimated that over the last couple of decades, energy intake from sweetened beverages (i.e., soft drinks and fruit drinks) has increased by roughly 222 calories per day. [7]

We have added a significant amount of calories to our diets through these sugar-sweetened beverages without much influence on hunger and satiation. Even with the large amount of data showing water intake to be very beneficial for hunger and calorie control, we know that energy from beverages is less satiating than the consumption of solid foods. [8]

One of the easiest ways to reduce your overall calorie intake is to replace sugar-sweetened beverages (yes, even your foo foo coffee) with good old aqua. Studies suggest that energy intake is significantly lower in water drinkers than in non-water drinkers, which may contribute to weight loss and, consequently, to obesity prevention. For example, the replacement of caloric beverages with noncaloric beverages as a weight loss strategy for six months resulted in average weight losses of 2% to 2.5%. [9] Additionally, other research has found that drinking water, compared to the intake of caloric beverages, lowers total energy intake. When researchers had participants replace all sweetened caloric beverages with drinking water, they observed a decrease in average total energy by 200 calories per day over a 12-month period.[10]

Metabolic Rate

Another potential mechanism is the so-called “thermogenic” (energy-consuming) effect of ingested water. The theory is that energy is involved in warming up the water to body temperature, creating a negative calorie effect when energy expenditure is increased with no added energy intake.

While the evidence is not too strong, there have been a few studies that have found a 20–30% increase in resting energy expenditure over the subsequent 60-90 minutes after drinking cold water.[11],[12],[13] That estimated excess energy expenditure in these studies amounts to about ~20 calories.[14],[15]

Overall, the thermogenic effect of water consumption has not been confirmed by many experimental studies and appears to have minor significance.[16]

Habit Changes

Additionally, while this is not super well supported by research, I have found while working with clients, and for myself, that drinking water is a keystone habit that brings other health-promoting behaviors into your lifestyle routine. Essentially, I often see that establishing a habit of drinking water is a platform off of which other healthy habits tend to grow. For instance, when you start to drink water, you may start to pay a little bit more attention to the quality and quantity of your diet, how you are moving your body, how much sleep and self-care you are getting, etc. As a result, something as simple as drinking more water can have a much greater impact when you consider the scale of the dominoes of healthy habits that may follow.

Wrapping Up

In the most recent review on the effect of water intake on weight loss, the included studies resulted in up to twenty pounds of weight loss with an average weight loss of 5.15% of body weight. [17]

Still, It’s a far-fetched wish that you could wake up lighter simply by sipping water before bed (or any other time of day). There are countless ways that staying hydrated with water might have long-term benefits on keeping you lean. If you aren’t already, drinking more water is a habit with many possible benefits and almost no downside.

References

[1] Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews, 68(8), 439-458.

[2] Jéquier, E., & Constant, F. (2010). Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. European journal of clinical nutrition, 64(2), 115-123.

[3] Laja García, A. I., Moráis-Moreno, C., Samaniego-Vaesken, M., Puga, A. M., Partearroyo, T., & Varela-Moreiras, G. (2019). Influence of Water Intake and Balance on Body Composition in Healthy Young Adults from Spain. Nutrients, 11(8), 1923.

[4] Van Walleghen, E. L., Orr, J. S., Gentile, C. L., & Davy, B. M. (2007). Pre‐meal water consumption reduces meal energy intake in older but not younger subjects. Obesity, 15(1), 93-99.

[5] Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle‐aged and older adults. Obesity, 18(2), 300-307.

[6] Daniels, M. C., & Popkin, B. M. (2010). Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Nutrition reviews, 68(9), 505-521.

[7] Duffey, K. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2007). Shifts in patterns and consumption of beverages between 1965 and 2002. Obesity, 15(11), 2739-2747.

[8] Dennis, E. A., Flack, K. D., & Davy, B. M. (2009). Beverage consumption and adult weight management: A review. Eating behaviors, 10(4), 237-246.

[9] Tate, D. F., Turner-McGrievy, G., Lyons, E., Stevens, J., Erickson, K., Polzien, K., … & Popkin, B. (2012). Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the C hoose H ealthy O pt i ons C onsciously E veryday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 95(3), 555-563.

[10] Stookey, J. D., Constant, F., Gardner, C. D., & Popkin, B. M. (2007). Replacing sweetened caloric beverages with drinking water is associated with lower energy intake. Obesity, 15(12), 3013-3022.

[11] Dubnov-Raz, G., Constantini, N. W., Yariv, H., Nice, S., & Shapira, N. (2011). Influence of water drinking on resting energy expenditure in overweight children. International journal of obesity, 35(10), 1295-1300.

[12] Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Franke, G., Birkenfeld, A. L., Luft, F. C., & Jordan, J. (2007). Water drinking induces thermogenesis through osmosensitive mechanisms. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(8), 3334-3337.

[13] Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., Tank, J., Adams, F., Sharma, A. M., … & Jordan, J. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(12), 6015-6019.

[14] Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Franke, G., Birkenfeld, A. L., Luft, F. C., & Jordan, J. (2007). Water drinking induces thermogenesis through osmosensitive mechanisms. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(8), 3334-3337.

[15] Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., Tank, J., Adams, F., Sharma, A. M., … & Jordan, J. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(12), 6015-6019.

[16] Muckelbauer, R., Sarganas, G., Grüneis, A., & Müller-Nordhorn, J. (2013). Association between water consumption and body weight outcomes: a systematic review. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 98(2), 282-299.

[17] Castelo, G. B., Gascón, M. B., & Cruz, A. J. (2019). Effect of water consumption on weight loss: a systematic review. Nutr Hosp, 36(6), 1424-1429.

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