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 (1).
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.
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.
During exercise, your body also shifts a lot of water into your muscles.
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.
Summary Regular exercise can help you maintain a natural balance of body fluids and sweat out excess stored water.
Sleep may also affect the sympathetic renal nerves in the kidneys, which regulate sodium and water balance (9).
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.
Summary A good night's sleep may help your body manage its fluid and sodium balance and lead to reduced water weight in the long term.
This may occur because stress and cortisol increase a hormone that controls water balance in the body, known as the antidiuretic hormone or ADH (11).
ADH works by sending signals to your kidneys, telling them how much water to pump back into your body (10).
Summary Stress increases cortisol and the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which directly affect your body's 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 (12).
You should tailor your electrolyte intake to your water intake. If you drink large amounts of water, you may need more electrolytes (13).
If you exercise daily or live in a humid or hot environment, you may need additional electrolytes to replace those lost with sweat (14).
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.
Summary Electrolytes control water balance and cell hydration. Electrolyte supplements can be beneficial if you drink a lot of water, exercise a lot, live in a hot climate or don’t eat salty foods.
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.
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 (19).
Summary Salt or sodium plays a key role in fluid balance. Try to avoid extreme changes, such as excessive salt intake or the elimination of salt.
Magnesium is another key electrolyte and mineral. It has recently become a very popular supplement for health and sports performance.
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.
Summary Magnesium intake should be optimized, as it plays a key role in hydration levels and body water content.
Dandelion, also known as Taraxacum officinale, is an herb used in alternative medicine to treat water retention (23).
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 (24).
However, even though it's already in popular use, more research is definitely required on dandelion supplements.
Summary Dandelion is a popular herb often used by bodybuilders and athletes who need to lose water weight.
Interestingly, being well-hydrated can actually reduce water retention (25).
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.
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.
Summary Dehydration or over-hydration can lead to water retention. Make sure to drink balanced amounts of water each day.
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 (31).
The following foods and herbs are often recommended by alternative practitioners to drop water weight. Some clinical evidence supporting their use:
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.
Summary Certain foods and herbs can act as diuretics and reduce water retention. Combine them with easily digestible foods that don't cause bloating or intolerances.
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.
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.
Summary A low-carb diet can cause a rapid decrease in water weight because of reduced glycogen stores and lower insulin levels.
Caffeine and beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee and tea, have diuretic effects and may help reduce your water weight.
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 (44).
That being said, even though caffeine has a mild diuretic effect, it doesn’t lead to dehydration in habitual consumers.
Summary Moderate amounts of caffeine from coffee, tea or caffeine supplements may help you drop excess water.
One of the best changes you can make is to reduce your intake of processed foods and excessive salt consumption.
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) (45).
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 (45).
Finally, over or under consumption of water, alcohol, minerals, caffeine and salt can all cause water retention. Find a healthy, normal balance.
Summary Avoid eating excessive amounts of processed foods, salt and caffeine and limit your alcohol consumption.
Prescription diuretics and water pills are sometimes used to treat excess water retention (46).
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.
Summary When looking into diuretic medication or pills, consult with a medical practitioner and take prescribed drugs under supervision.
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.