By Mattie Schuler
Our weight can fluctuate daily, which can be highly frustrating for those who have a competition coming up or are trying to hit a goal weight. One strategy is to shed water weight — but what's the best way to do it? And what is water weight anyway?
According to personal trainer and nutritionist Josh Schlottman, CSCS, your body may hold onto water weight because your kidneys, in their role of regulating fluid balance, retain it rather than flush it out in urine. This excess water, like the type experienced after a junk-food-filled weekend, is temporarily pushed out to your skin and organs, which can make you appear bloated and puffy.
Thankfully, you can learn how to lose water weight by avoiding certain foods while enjoying others. Read on for our top ways to reduce water retention.
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When you load up on salty junk food, your body will respond by holding in extra water weight. "Sodium helps your body absorb and retain water," says Schlottman, which is why it factors prominently in workout supplements like LADDER Hydration. "This is useful if you're trying to stay hydrated during a basketball game, but not great if you're trying to look your best."
So avoid high-sodium foods before a weigh-in. That includes any cured, salted, or smoked meats, salted nuts, frozen breaded meats or frozen meals, regular and processed cheeses, and prepackaged or processed foods.
If you aren't able to consistently avoid salty foods, eat ones that contain potassium instead. Potassium found inside cells works with sodium outside of cells to help maintain fluid balance, says Schlottman. Studies have found a direct relationship between poor cardiovascular health and diets that are low in potassium and high in sodium.
The same study concluded that people who consume a high-salt diet will benefit from increasing their potassium intake, especially if they're sensitive to salt. Now, that doesn't mean you can throw salt around with abandon, but increasing dietary potassium can help restore balance if you happen to consume a lot of sodium and experience water retention.
Whether you're trying to develop healthy habits or cut some water weight, aim to eat foods containing potassium like avocados, coconut water, dried apricots, bananas, legumes, and leafy greens. Other sources of potassium include milk, coffee, chicken, orange and grapefruit juice, and potatoes (though, of course, avoid salty French fries).
Dandelion root supplements may help rid your system of extra water. More research is needed, but animal studies indicate the different parts of the herb serve unique functions:
Plus, dandelions are also high in potassium, so you'll be getting a double dose of water-expelling benefits.
For a quick fix to flush extra water weight, spend 15 to 20 minutes in a sauna. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, you can sweat out about one pint of fluid with a short stint in the hot house. One reason saunas help eliminate excess water is that as your pulse rate increases in the heat, your heart nearly doubles the amount of blood it pumps each minute. That extra blood flow is circulated to the skin in the form of sweat.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, an easy way to avoid retaining water (and its subsequent weight) is to hydrate. "If you're not drinking enough water, your body will store what water it has in reserve," says John Gardner, a certified NASM personal trainer. "Also, when you don't drink enough water, the kidneys do not flush out the extra sodium and water it contains, which adds to water weight."
How much water should you be drinking daily? According to The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine:
And don't worry — bubbly water counts!
"When you eat more carbs than your body needs, the excess is stored as glycogen," says Gardner. "For every gram of glycogen stored in the body, three grams of water is stored, too. That's why one of the best ways to lose water weight is to reduce your carb intake."
Following a low-carb diet like the paleo or ketogenic diets can help you lose weight quickly, which often results in lost water weight. A 2021 analysis from the National Center for Biotechnology Information noted that a strict keto diet (there are also lazy keto diets) may yield quick weight loss, but for most the outcome is mostly due to a diuretic effect, i.e. a loss in water weight. Cut carbs if you're looking to lose a few pounds quickly or need to make a weigh-in for a competition.