The human body contains around 60% water, which plays a key role in all aspects of life.
Yet, many people worry about water weight. This especially applies to professional athletes and bodybuilders who wish to meet a weight category or improve their appearance.
Excess water retention, also known as edema, is a different issue. Though it’s usually harmless, it may be a side effect of serious medical conditions, such as heart, liver or kidney disease.
Women may also experience water retention during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.
This article is for healthy people and athletes who wish to reduce their water weight. If you have a serious edema — swelling of your feet or arms — consult your doctor.
Here are 13 ways to reduce excess water weight fast and safely.
1. Exercise on a Regular Basis
Exercise may be one of the best ways to reduce water weight in the short term. Any form of exercise increases sweat, which means you will lose water.
The average fluid loss during one hour of exercise is anywhere between 16–64 ounces (0.5–2 liters) per hour, depending on factors such as heat and clothing.
During exercise, your body also shifts a lot of water into your muscles.
This can help reduce water outside of the cell and decrease the “soft” look people report from excessive water retention.
However, you still need to drink plenty of water during your training session.
Another good option to increase sweat and water loss is the sauna, which you could add in after your gym session.
2. Sleep More
Research on sleep highlights that it’s just as important for health as diet and exercise.
Sleep may also affect the sympathetic renal nerves in the kidneys, which regulate sodium and water balance.
Adequate sleep may also help your body control hydration levels and minimize water retention.
Aim to get a healthy amount of sleep per night, which for most individuals will be around 7–9 hours.
3. Stress Less
Long-term stress can increase the hormone cortisol, which directly influences fluid retention and water weight.
This may occur because stress and cortisol increase a hormone that controls water balance in the body, known as the antidiuretic hormone or ADH.
ADH works by sending signals to your kidneys, telling them how much water to pump back into your body.
If you control your stress levels, you will maintain a normal level of ADH and cortisol, which is important for fluid balance and long-term health and disease risk.
4. Take Electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge, such as magnesium and potassium. They play important roles in your body, including regulating water balance.
When electrolyte levels become too low or too high, they can cause shifts in fluid balance. This may lead to increased water weight.
You should tailor your electrolyte intake to your water intake. If you drink large amounts of water, you may need more electrolytes.
If you exercise daily or live in a humid or hot environment, you may need additional electrolytes to replace those lost with sweat.
In contrast, large amounts of electrolytes from supplements or salty foods, coupled with a low water intake, can have the opposite effect and increase water weight.
5. Manage Salt Intake
Sodium, which you obtain daily from salt, is one of the most common electrolytes in the human body.
It plays a major role in hydration levels. If sodium levels are too low or too high, it will lead to imbalances within the body and therefore fluid retention.
A high salt intake, usually due to a diet with lots of processed foods, may increase water retention. This is particularly true if coupled with low water intake and no exercise.
However, this seems to depend on the individual’s current daily sodium intake and blood levels.
One study suggests you only store excess water if you drastically increase or change your habitual daily intake.
6. Take a Magnesium Supplement
Magnesium is another key electrolyte and mineral. It has recently become a very popular supplement for health and sports performance.
Research regarding magnesium has been extensive and shows that it has over 600 roles within the human body.
Studies in women show that magnesium can reduce water weight and premenstrual symptoms (PMS).
These changes occur because magnesium plays an integrative role with other electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. Together, they help control your body’s water balance.
Magnesium supplements have numerous other potential health benefits for people who are lacking it in their diet.
7. Take a Dandelion Supplement
Dandelion, also known as Taraxacum officinale, is an herb used in alternative medicine to treat water retention.
In recent years, it has also become popular among bodybuilders and athletes who need to drop water for aesthetic purposes or to meet a weight category.
Dandelion supplements may help you lose water weight by signaling the kidneys to expel more urine and additional salt or sodium.
This is supported by studies showing that taking dandelion supplements increases the frequency of urination over a 5-hour period.
However, even though it’s already in popular use, more research is definitely required on dandelion supplements.
8. Drink More Water
Interestingly, being well-hydrated can actually reduce water retention.
Your body is always trying to achieve a healthy balance, so if you’re constantly dehydrated your body tends to retain more water in an attempt to prevent water levels from becoming too low.
Achieving an optimal daily water intake can also be important for liver and kidney health, which may reduce water retention in the long term.
The benefits of drinking more water don’t stop there. Other research shows that good hydration is also important for general health, including fat loss and brain function.
As always, achieving a balance is optimal. If you drink excessive amounts of fluid you may increase your water weight.
Simply drink when you’re thirsty and stop when you feel well hydrated. You should also drink slightly more in hot environments or when exercising.
You can also monitor your urine color to assess hydration. It should be light yellow or fairly clear, which is a good indicator that you’re well hydrated.
9. Focus on Certain Healthy Foods
There are several foods that you may wish to include in your diet to combat water retention.
Potassium-rich foods are often recommended, as potassium can help balance sodium levels and increase urine production, helping you drop excess water.
Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, bananas, avocados, tomatoes and yogurt or other dairy products are all healthy and potassium-rich.
Magnesium supplements or magnesium-rich foods are also recommended. These include dark chocolate, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
The following foods and herbs are often recommended by alternative practitioners to drop water weight. Some clinical evidence supporting their use:
- Corn silk
Although bloated belly is usually not caused by water retention, you may also wish to limit or temporarily remove foods that may cause bloating.
These include highly processed foods, foods with lots of fiber and sometimes beans and dairy. You can also try sticking to low-FODMAP foods for a while to see if that helps.
10. Cut Carbs
Cutting carbs is a common strategy to quickly drop excess water. Carbs are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, but glycogen also pulls water inside along with it.
For every gram of glycogen you store, 3–4 grams (0.11–0.14 ounces) of water may be stored with it. This explains why people experience immediate weight loss when switching to a low-carb diet, which reduces glycogen stores.
Carbs also lead to a rise in the hormone insulin, which can increase sodium retention and reabsorption of water in the kidneys.
Low-carb diets lead to a drop in insulin levels, which then leads to a loss of sodium and water from the kidneys.
Try altering your carb intake and see what works best for you.
11. Take Caffeine Supplements or Drink Tea and Coffee
Caffeine and beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee and tea, have diuretic effects and may help reduce your water weight.
It has been shown to increase short-term urine output and decrease water weight slightly.
In one study, a glass of water with or without caffeine was provided to participants in doses of 2 mg per pound (4.5 mg per kg) of body weight.
When combining caffeine with water, participants’ urine volume significantly increased.
That being said, even though caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, it doesn’t lead to dehydration in habitual consumers.
12. Change Your Habits
One of the best changes you can make is to reduce your intake of processed foods and excessive salt consumption.
Also, avoid sitting all day or for long periods, which can reduce your blood circulation. Physical activity can improve circulation and help you sweat out excess water.
Certain medications may also cause water retention, so check with your doctor or medical practitioner if you take medication daily and believe it may be causing swelling (edema).
Although not related to water retention, consider paying attention to the foods you eat and making sure they’re not causing digestive issues and bloating.
Finally, over or under consumption of water, alcohol, minerals, caffeine and salt can all cause water retention. Find a healthy, normal balance.
13. Consider Prescription Water Pills
Prescription diuretics and water pills are sometimes used to treat excess water retention.
They work by activating your kidneys to flush out excess water and salt through urine.
These diuretic pills are often prescribed to those with heart or lung issues and to help with blood pressure, prevent fluid buildup and reduce swelling.
It’s important to note the difference between prescription diuretics and over-the-counter or online water pills.
Prescription pills have been clinically tested for long-term safety, whereas over-the-counter pills may lack clinical research and have not always been tested for safety.
Either type may help combat medically diagnosed edema or excess water weight.
Speak to your doctor before trying these.
The Bottom Line
If your water retention problem persists, seems severe or increases suddenly, it’s always best to seek medical attention.
In some cases, excess water retention can be caused by a serious medical condition.
At the end of the day, the best way to combat excess water weight is to identify and treat the cause.
This may be excess salt intake, lack of electrolytes, inactivity, excess stress or the regular consumption of processed foods.
Some of these are also among the main causes linked to poor health and disease, which may be even bigger reasons to avoid them.