THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!
As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.
- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)
I’ve always been curious about this. Sometimes, after drinking a big glass of water, it seems like I pee it all out literally just a few minutes later. Is this just in my head, or is ingested fluid really processed that quickly? A new study by researchers at the University of Montreal, published online in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, takes a very detailed look at the kinetics of water absorption and offers some answers.
The study gave 36 volunteers 300 mL of ordinary bottled water, “labelled” with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen than contains a proton and a neutron instead of just a proton) to allow the researchers to track how much of that specific gulp of water was found at different places in the body. They found that the water started showing up in the bloodstream within five minutes; half of the water was absorbed in 11-13 minutes; and it was completely absorbed in 75-120 minutes.
Here’s what the data looks like:
On the left, it shows how quickly the water was absorbed in the first hour, measured in the blood. On the right, it shows the gradual decay of deuterium levels over the subsequent 10 days, measured from urine samples. This, of course, shows that when I pee after drinking a glass of water, I’m not peeing out the same glass of water! Within ~10 minutes, fluid levels in my blood will have risen sufficiently to trigger processes that tell me to pee — but, according to this data, it takes about 50 days for complete turnover of all the water in your body.
The other wrinkle in this data is that the subjects showed two distinct absorption patterns (shown on the bottom and top), with about half in each group. In the top group, the water is very rapidly absorbed into the blood (possibly because these people get water out of the stomach and into the small intestine very quickly) before running into a slight bottleneck as the water is then distributed throughout the body to all the extremities. The second group, on the other hand, doesn’t hit this bottleneck: the flow of water out of the stomach and into the small intestine is slow enough that extra water doesn’t have a chance to build up in the blood before being distributed throughout the body.
So what does this all mean? I don’t have any particular practical applications in mind — I just thought it was kind of cool.