What’s water retention? – Everything you need to know

A woman is sitting on a weight attached to a barbell. She's in-between sets and her mind drifts." What is water retention, really?" She wonders while waiting for her next set.

Want to know more about what water retention is, causes, remedies, and much more?

What is water retention?

Water usually makes up around 50-60% of an adult’s weight. When the body starts to store more fluids than that, we call it water retention.

You might have experienced being swollen after a long flight or feeling bloated after eating takeaway the night before. While there might be other explanations, we can most likely blame water retention. It might even make your weight fluctuate with several lbs in a single day.

In most cases, it’s not harmful but from time to time, it might be due to other diseases. But more on that later.

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Signs of water retention

Many different symptoms indicate that you might be holding on to too much water. While there are many symptoms, these are the most common.

Swelling or Bloating

We all had days where our stomach feels bloated, our shoes feel a bit tighter than usual, and just an overall feeling of being puffed. You might even experience pain or discomfort in the affected areas.

Swelling and bloating, especially on the abdominal area, legs and arms are common symptoms of retained fluid.

A fast weight gain

Maybe you’ve suddenly gained a lot of weight in the span of a few days or maybe you’ve just gained a couple of lbs overnight. There’s no need to panic.

Weight fluctuations and weight gain, in general, goes hand in hand with water retention.

At times, it’s possible to avoid simply by changing your diet and being more active. In other cases, such as in the creatine loading phase, it’s something you have to accept.

What causes water retention?


The first thing you’ll want to look at if you’re suspecting holding on to retained water is your diet.

Sodium is an important part of the diet. It maintains a normal level of fluids both outside and inside your cells. When you eat too much salt, more water will be stored in your cells and you’ll hold on to more water.

Another thing to look out for in your diet is carbs. Carbohydrates is working as fuel for the body. The energy we aren’t using straight away will be stored in the body as glycogen. Every gram of glycogen comes with 3 grams of water.

Don’t cut out carbs from your diet but be careful of overeating if you’re concerned with water retention.


Contrary to what many believe, being dehydrated will actually make you gain water weight.

When we’re dehydrated, our body thinks that it’s necessary to hold on to the water for survival. Less water and sodium will be flushed from our system and we’ll be left, feeling bloated and soft.


Water retention is one of the most common side effects of the supplement, creatine. Studies have shown that 7 days of creatine loading added on average 1 kg to a group of young athletes.

Another study showed that another group gained an average of almost 2kg after a month of creatine loading.

The weight gain you’ll experience from taking creatine is simply because it draws water into your muscle cells. If you’re gaining weight while taking creatine, it’s a sign that it’s working as it should.

How to reduce it

Funnily enough, reducing water retention is doing the exact opposite of what causes it. By cutting down on salt, carbs, drinking more water, and being active, you should see a change in no time.

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Is it dangerous?

Water retention is in most cases completely harmless and fairly easy to get rid of. A change in your diet and a more active lifestyle is usually enough.

Only in rare cases will retained water be a symptom of an underlying, more serious disease.

If you’re experiencing extreme fluid retention or you’re not able to reduce it yourself, you should always seek medical attention.


In most cases, water retention isn’t something to worry about. Feeling swollen and bloated and a fast weight gain is the most serious symptoms. A change in diet and activity level is often enough to get rid of it.

In rare cases, it might be a symptom of an underlying disease. Seek medical attention if you’re experiencing extreme fluid retention or aren’t able to get rid of it with our simple tips.