A Head-to-Head Guide to Staying Hydrated at Work

Emily Kelley-Brown, MPH, RD, Arivale Coach
Emily Kelley-Brown
MPH, RD, Arivale Coach

If you’ve ever been focused on improving your health, chances are good you’ve considered the foods you’re eating at work. After all, full-time employees spend upwards of 40 hours per week at their job. But, have you also evaluated the beverages you’re drinking at work? Your choice of workplace drink can add caffeine, sugar, fat, and excess calories to an otherwise healthy diet. Talk about derailing your goals!

Here’s a beverage head-to-head to keep you healthfully hydrated at work.

The Matchup: Coffee vs. Tea

A caffeinated drink in the morning can energize you for the day, but too much caffeine may cause side effects like poor sleep, anxiety, and jitters. Keep your caffeine intake under 400mg per day (roughly four cups of brewed coffee or eight cups of black tea) and potentially less if you experience any of the symptoms listed above1. In addition, some people have genetic variants that may make them more likely to experience side effects of caffeine, including potentially serious ones like high blood pressure2.

Meanwhile, creamer, milk, and sweeteners contribute significant calories, fat, and sugar to your diet, so drink your coffee or tea black, or gradually reduce the additions you’re stirring in.

Hot tip: Herbal tea is caffeine-free and a source of disease-fighting phytochemicals, making it a perfect choice at any time of day.

The winner: Either one! Just make sure you keep your total daily caffeine in check and limit the cream and sugar.

The Matchup: Regular Soda vs. Diet Soda

Loaded with sugar – think 9+ teaspoons in one 12oz can(!) – regular soda isn’t doing your health goals any favors. Regularly drinking regular soda is likely to slow weight-loss progress and contribute to late-afternoon energy crashes.

While diet soda is technically calorie-free, the jury is still out on the impact of artificial sweeteners on your body.

The winner: Neither! But if you truly need a soda fix, a Stevia-sweetened soda may be your best bet.


How Much Fluid Do You Actually Need?

The exact amount depends on a variety of factors unique to you, but a good general rule of thumb is at least 8 cups per day3,4. You’ll need more if you’re pregnant or lactating, exercising, or living in certain climates. If you feel thirsty or your urine is bright yellow, then you likely need more fluid. The silver lining to being well-hydrated: each trip to the bathroom equals more steps on your activity tracker!

The Matchup: Protein Shakes vs. Green Juice

Store-bought protein shakes are an unnecessary expense since most of us get plenty of protein from the food we eat, plus they can be high in calories and sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Green juice may seem like a healthier option, but depending on what you’re juicing, it can contain as much sugar as soda and you miss out on important fiber.

The good news is a homemade smoothie that contains a low-fat liquid and variety of fruits and vegetables can be the best of both worlds. You can even add protein using yogurt, nuts, or tofu. Freeze smoothies ahead of time and take one to work for a mid-day boost of nutrients, fiber, and protein.

The winner: Homemade smoothies!

The Matchup: Water vs. Everything Else

Sparkling or still, water reigns supreme when it comes to your health goals. It’s calorie-free and essential for life. Plus, research shows drinking plenty of water may make your skin more radiant5 and even improve your memory and concentration6.

Pump up the flavor of your water by infusing it with herbs and fruit. Try a combination of mint and watermelon, or cucumber, strawberry, and basil. An infusion water bottle, like this one by Savvy Infusion, can make it easy to keep the flavor going all day.

The winner: Water!


  1. Mayo Clinic (2017). Caffeine: How much is too much? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678
  2. Palatini P, Ceolotto G, Ragazzo F, Dorigatti F, Saladini F, Papparella I, Mos L, Zanata G, Santonastaso M. (2009) “CYP1A2 genotype modifies the association between coffee intake and the risk of hypertension.” Journal of Hypertension, 2009 Aug;27(8):1594-601.
  3. Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews68(8), 439-58. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/
  4. Mayo Clinic (2017). Water: How much should you drink every day? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256
  5. “The Benefits of Drinking Water for Your Skin.” University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. https://www.uwhealth.org/madison-plastic-surgery/the-benefits-of-drinking-water-for-your-skin/26334
  6. “Why Your Brain Needs Water.” Psychology Today. Oct. 15, 2010. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/you-illuminated/201010/why-your-brain-needs-water