Water retention (i.e., water weight) is something we've all dealt with at one time or another. And it's one of the factors that can lead to wild swings in your body weight from one day to the next.
These fluctuations can make it seem like your fat loss diet isn’t working, which can discourage and derail your hard work to lose weight and get fit.
In reality, it’s not that you’ve hit a weight loss plateau or gained body fat. You’re just carrying around excess water in your body.
Today, we’ll discuss what causes water retention, what foods cause water retention, and what you can do to help lose water weight.
Let’s start at the top.
What Causes Water Retention?
There are multiple causes of water retention.
Some of the most common ones are:
Consuming foods that are high in sodium and/or carbohydrates can lead to water retention. Additionally, having a deficiency in either potassium or magnesium can also cause you to store more water weight.
You don't need us to tell you that exercise does a body good. It helps build muscle, lose fat, boost cognitive function, and heighten your mood.
Sitting or standing in a fixed position for too long negatively affects circulation, which causes water retention and possible swelling in the limbs (e.g., swollen ankles).
Water retention is a common side effect of many medications, including contraceptives and anti-inflammatories.
If this water retention seems concerning, you should consult with your doctor regarding your medication.
Natural hormone fluctuations that occur during a woman's monthly cycle can result in water retention in the week before menstruation.
It’s also common during this time to crave salty and or carb-rich foods, which can further exacerbate water retention.
Heart or kidney disease disrupts the normal flow of blood throughout the body. This disruption of blood flow can lead to fluid accumulation, water retention, and swelling.
What Foods Cause the Body to Retain the Most Water?
By and large, the foods most likely to cause water retention are foods that are in high sodium and/or foods that are high in carbohydrates.
If you’ve ever gorged on Chinese take-out food before, you know all-too-well that the combo of sodium and carbs is a one-way ticket to water retention.
Other high sodium or high-carb foods to be on the watch for are:
- Deli Meat (ham, turkey, roast beef)
- Cured Meats (pancetta, pepperoni, prosciutto, etc.)
- Frozen Meals
- Canned Goods
- Store-Bought Bread (and other packaged baked goods)
- Soy Sauce
- Fish Sauce
Anything processed or packaged that you will find at the store is likely to be high in carbs and/or sodium (unless you purchase a low-sodium or salt-free version of the product).
8 Ways to Lose Water Weight
Decrease Sodium Intake
Sodium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance in the body. It also plays a critical role in nerve and muscle function.
While some amount of sodium is required for health, the average person consumes too much.
According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, individuals are advised to limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. However, recent estimates suggest that the average American consumes in excess 3,400 mg every day! <1,2>
A by-product of consuming too much salt in a short period can lead to immediate water retention.
The reason for this is that the body tightly regulates the balance of water and sodium. Consuming more sodium means that your body has to hold onto more water to keep everything in balance.
Therefore, one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to lose water weight is to limit the number of high sodium foods you consume.
Processed foods (basically anything in a box, bag, or wrapping) are notoriously high in sodium. As such, if you want to limit water retention and help shed some unwanted water weight, you may want to consider reducing your intake of bread, cold cuts, canned goods, and frozen foods.
In place of these high-sodium foods, try incorporating more unprocessed whole foods into your diet, which will naturally help lower your sodium intake, and prevent excessive water retention.
Increase Water Intake
This may seem counterintuitive, but increasing the amount of water you drink each day can help reduce water retention.
As we just discussed, the body maintains a tight balance of water and sodium levels in the body.
When you are dehydrated, the body enacts various measures that help it conserve the water that it does have.
Consuming enough water each day is also essential for liver and kidney function, both of which play critical roles in detoxification as well as the amount of water the body stores.
Now, be aware that you don’t need to have a constant stream of water pouring into your body as consuming excessive amounts of water can lead to hyponatremia, which is a condition resulting from a lack of sufficient electrolytes in the body.
The takeaway here is that you should drink enough water such that you are no longer thirsty and feel sufficiently hydrated.
For the wealth of benefits that regular exercise has to offer, it comes an as little surprise that it also helps reduce water retention.
Even better is that just about the form of exercise increases sweating, which means your body is losing water.
Depending on the duration and intensity of exercise as well as the conditions in which he/she is exercising, an individual can lose between 16-64 ounces of water per hour. <3,4>
During exercise, your body also shifts a lot of water into your muscles.
Keep in mind that you still need to be sufficiently hydrated to perform optimally, as even as little as a 2% drop in hydration can lead to fatigue, cramping, and decrements in performance.
Sitting in a steam room or sauna is another effective way to lose water weight since sitting in these hot environments increases sweating, which means you're losing water.
Chronic stress increases cortisol levels in the body, which has a direct impact on water retention. <5>
The reason for this is that cortisol influences the actions of the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which impacts water regulation in the body.
ADH tells the kidneys how much water to pump back into the body.
Keeping stress under control (or at least improving the way you handle stress) may help keep cortisol from being chronically elevated, thereby promoting a more normalized ADH level.
Ultimately, this helps maintain fluid balance, not to mention your overall health and wellness.
Reduce Carbohydrate Intake
Reducing one’s carbohydrate intake is one of the quickest ways to drop water weight.
The reason for this is that for every gram of carbohydrate stored in the body, it also stores an additional 3 grams of water.<6>
Cutting carbs forces your body to tap into its glycogen stores, which helps lose water weight.
Note: cutting carbs is the main reason why low-carb diets initially lead to such large drops in weight. Keep in mind this weight loss is mostly water weight, not actual fat loss.
Make Better Food Choices
As we mentioned above, consuming too much sodium and processed foods can cause water retention.
By increasing your intake of minimally processed whole foods, you are simultaneously reducing your sodium intake while increasing your intake of other essential nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B-6.
These micronutrients support the kidneys’ job of flushing extra water and sodium from the body.
Research notes that supplementing with vitamin B-6 and magnesium is effective for relieving various symptoms of PMS, including water retention. <7>
After implementing the previous lifestyle changes to help lose water weight, you can also try using various supplements to help eliminate unwanted water weight.
In addition to vitamin B-6 and magnesium, several other all-natural supplements have been noted to enhance water removal from the body as well as help reduce bloating and puffiness.
Noteworthy ingredients to keep an eye out for include:
- Corn Silk
- Juniper Berry
- Nettle leaf
- Uva Ursi
The Best Supplement to Reduce Water Retention
Instead of having to source each of these supplements individually, (which is both time-consuming and expensive), SteelFit has created an all-natural and comprehensive water elimination supplement in Hydra Steel®.
Hydra Steel® contains 11 nutrients that help reduce water retention and support a lean, toned midsection.
We’ve also included valuable electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins (including potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B-6) to support proper hydration and muscle function.
Click here to learn more about Hydra Steel® and how it can help eliminate unwanted water weight.
- "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines." Home of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion - Health.gov, health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
- "Sodium Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Nov. 2018, www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_sodium.htm.
- Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J., Montain, S. J., & Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(2), 377–390. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597
- Hackney KJ, Cook SB, Fairchild TJ, Ploutz-Snyder LL. Skeletal muscle volume following dehydration induced by exercise in heat. Extrem Physiol Med. 2012;1(1):3. Published 2012 Sep 4. doi:10.1186/2046-7648-1-3
- Dugue, B., Leppanen, E. A., Teppo, A. M., Fyhrquist, F., & Grasbeck, R. (1993). Effects of psychological stress on plasma interleukins-1 beta and 6, C-reactive protein, tumour necrosis factor alpha, anti-diuretic hormone and serum cortisol. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation, 53(6), 555–561.
- Kreitzman, S. N., Coxon, A. Y., & Szaz, K. F. (1992). Glycogen storage: illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight regain, and distortions in estimates of body composition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56(1 Suppl), 292S-293S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/56.1.292S
- Ebrahimi E, Khayati Motlagh S, Nemati S, Tavakoli Z. Effects of magnesium and vitamin b6 on the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms. J Caring Sci. 2012;1(4):183–189. Published 2012 Nov 22. doi:10.5681/jcs.2012.026