Top 10 Tips to Beat Water Retention

loose jeans on a slim femaleWater retention is an excessive build-up of fluid in the circulatory system, body tissues, or cavities in the body. Bloating and water retention often go hand in hand. It isn’t uncommon for a person’s weight to vary by up to 5-7 pounds due to shifts in fluids alone. In fact, the temporary weight gain that you experience following a night (or weekend) of indulgence is often due to water retention.

Water Retention Causes

Water retention can be caused by many things, including:

  • Excess sodium in the diet
  • Alcohol intake
  • Sugar and carbohydrates
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Some medications
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Physical inactivity
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Severe protein deficiency
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Kidney disease

Top 10 Tips to Beat Water Retention

1. Limit sodium.

Sodium increases fluid retention, so try using pepper or other herbs and spices to flavor your food. More importantly, cut down on fast food and processed foods because (even if they don’t taste salty) they are packed with sodium.

2. Keep carbs balanced.

When we eat carbohydrates, our body stores them in our muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is an important fuel source, especially for athletes.

For every gram of carbohydrate stored, three grams of water are stored along with it. That’s why many people experience rapid weight loss in the initial stages of a low-carbohydrate diet. While glycogen is important, most of us don’t need our stores filled to the brim. Aim for a diet balanced in carbohydrates (45-50% of calories should come from carbs), and be sure to choose high quality whole grains, fruits, and vegetables rather than refined grains and sugars.

3. Keep alcohol in moderation.

Excessive alcohol consumption not only damages almost every organ in the body, but it also results in dehydration which, ironically, causes fluid retention. If you do choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. That means one drink per day for women and up to two a day for men. If you choose to consume more than the recommended amount, try to at least drink a glass of water in between each adult beverage to help you stay hydrated.

4. Stay active every day.

Lack of exercise is a major reason for water retention. When you exercise, you force the veins to carry back waste products and used-up blood to the heart, which, in turn, cleans that blood, with the aid of other organs. This promotes the secretion (much of it through the bladder) of excess fluids. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and avoid long periods (an hour or more) of sitting or standing in one place.

5. Eat a healthy diet.

Nutritional deficiencies (vitamins B1, B6, and B5, and protein) can also trigger water retention. While nutrition deficiencies are relatively uncommon in the United States, it is still smart to give your body the nutrients it needs by filling up your diet with a variety of unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

Many fruits and vegetables are also considered “natural diuretics” which can help flush excess fluid from the body naturally. The next time you wake up feeling heavy and sluggish, try including some of the following foods in your diet: cranberry juice, cabbage, watermelon, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, carrots, and oats.

6. Drink plenty of water.

A failure to remain properly hydrated is one of the most common causes of water retention. The body has a whole host of measures that it will take to protect itself when deprived of vital nutrients and substances. This is especially true with water. When there is an insufficient intake of water on a routine basis, the body will often make up for this insufficiency by storing or retaining the water that it already has. Unbelievably, one of the fastest ways to eliminate water retention is by consuming more water.

Rather than chugging a lot of water at once, it is best to sip on water throughout the day. Get a reusable water bottle, and keep it with you at all times. Make a special effort to see how many times you need to refill it. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try adding slices of fresh fruit or cucumbers.

7. Consider your medications.

Many medications can cause fluid retention. These usually include steroids (corticosteroids, etc.), contraceptives containing estrogen, high blood pressure drugs (nifedipine, diltiazem, and verapamil), antidepressants (phenelzine, tranylcypromine, and desipramine), hormones, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs may interfere with the natural processes of fluid removal from our bodies by affecting electrolytes, interfering with hormonal levels, or putting unhealthy pressure on vital organs.

You should not stop taking a medication because of water retention without first consulting your doctor. However, you should make your doctor aware of any changes in your body as a result of taking any medication.

8. Eat foods rich in calcium and potassium.

Potassium, calcium, and sodium are important nutrients (electrolytes) that help to balance the fluid in our bodies. The typical American diet tends to be very high in sodium and low in potassium and calcium. When these electrolytes are out of balance, fluid retention can occur. Aim to get more potassium and calcium in your diet by regularly consuming foods such as bananas, yogurt, milk, avocados, oranges, apricots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens.

9. Include a warm-up and a cool-down with your exercise.

Lactic acid is produced and stored within the muscles in response to strenuous exercise. When this occurs, the body will begin cushioning the fatigued muscles by storing water in the areas that have been over-worked. The additional water helps to cushion and protect the affected muscle tissues until the body has made any necessary repairs and processed the lactic acid that has been stored. This is often why extended periods of strenuous physical activity are often followed by a slight weight increase.

To avoid seeing weight increases when fitness activities are kicked into high gear, always perform both warm-up and cool-down activities to avoid straining the muscles and help work out the lactic acid.

10. Talk to your doctor.

Some of the more common medical conditions that can be associated with fluid retention include high blood pressure, chronic venous insufficiency, cirrhosis of the liver, malignant lymph edema, hypothyroidism, allergic reactions, liver disease, kidney disease, and congestive heart failure (CHF). If you have, or suspect you may have, any of these conditions, it is important to talk to your health care provider.

Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email woodsarah@missouri.edu.

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Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

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