Hydration for Athletes and The Rest of Us

“Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine”

Slovakian Proverb

As the Summer months come to a close, and I reflect back on the strange past several months, I realize that I’ve been talking about hydration with gym members and clients more than I ever have. Since opening back up and hosting outdoor classes, a steady stream of members have been coming back to their movement practice at the gym, and we’ve been lucky enough to have a ton of new members join. 

Whether they’re long-time, returning members, or new friends, the stories are very similar. The transition from at-home fitness to outdoor group classes takes a bit of adjustment, and one of the most common adjustments seems to be the increased need to hydrate, especially with the unseasonably warm Summer days we had in San Francisco this year.

We’ve all been told by coaches, our parents, and likely by Kelly and other coaches and guests on this site about the importance of drinking water. The importance of paying attention to your water intake and hydration practices is just as important as nailing down a solid sleep routine. Without adequate hydration, your cognitive, physical, and overall systemic health will go down the drain.

Water splashing in a ring to demonstrate the importance of hydration

Why Hydrate?

Depending upon age and gender, the human body is made up of about 70% water. On average about 45-50% of body weight in adult females is water. For adult males, body water is about 50-60%, due to more lean mass, on average. As we age, from childhood through adulthood, and gain and lose lean mass, our body water changes. 

The brain is about 95% water, blood is about 82% water, and lungs are about 90% water. Given these numbers, it’s safe to say water is, hands-down, the most critical, nutritious substance we need to consume. Not one supplement, macro, or drug can take the place of the developmental and nutritive benefits of water. 

Pie chart showing how much of our bodies are made of water to demonstrate how important hydration is
Photo credit: Precision Nutrition

Benefits of Hydration

Aside from staying alive, regularly consuming water throughout the day can help with:

  • Improved Cognitive and Muscular function: Muscles are about 75% water water and the brain is about 95% water. A mere 2% drop in hydration level will affect endurance, speed, agility, reaction time, mental clarity, and thermoregulation.
  • Improved Circulation: Being properly hydrated means the body can more effectively circulate blood, and thus move oxygen and nutrients into muscles and organs, while also removing waste products. 
  • Blood Pressure Regulation: Through the improved circulation, your heart won’t have to work quite as hard to maintain normal blood pressure during and after exercise.
  • Reduce Injury Risk: Through exercise, muscle fatigue is inevitable, which can lead to increased injury risk. Properly hydrated muscles resist fatigue and reduce injury risk, to a point.
  • Improved Thermoregulation: The body regulates heat through sweat, which causes us to lose water. Replacing that water is critical to thermoregulation, which protects us from heat exhaustion, cramps, even heat stroke.

Three people biking into the sunset to demonstrate how hydration improves physical performance

Recommended Intake

There are a lot of thoughts on this, and the reality is that it varies based on activity, intensity, environment, age, and weight. The gold standard that has been kicked around for a long time is to drink eight cups of water per day. That’s likely plenty for those of us who exercise for an hour, then go about our day in meetings and hanging out at home. 

For athletes, especially those who train in more extreme conditions (hot or cold), something closer to 0.5-1oz of water per pound of body weight each day. Plus, keeping an eye on how much weight you lose during practice will help you get a better idea of whether you need to adjust that metric. Typically, you don’t want to lose more than 2% of your body weight during a workout or practice session. Make sure to take regular sips throughout your exercise session, and drink about 24oz of water for each pound of body weight lost during your workout.

Yes, that’s a lot of water, and yes, you will have to pee a lot. It’s a small price to pay for optimal performance. Also, these aren’t hard rules, they’re starting points.

Check out this fantastic doc by Dr. Stacy Sims, Ph.D. on hydration and dehydration. It’s a great quick resource. 

Pitcher of lemon water to illustrate the need for hydration

When?

Water should be consumed throughout the day. From first thing in the morning to the evening. Upon waking up, you’ve likey gone about 7-8 hours without any water. While you’re brewing your morning coffee, drink a glass of water. You get extra points if you add a pinch of salt and some lemon juice to get in some electrolytes and kick-start your digestion.

Keep drinking throughout the day with meals and in-between meals. This can really help with hunger if you’re fasting or cutting calories. Around your workouts is the next big area to focus on. We discussed this a bit in the above section. In the evening, try to taper-off drinking water as you get closer to bedtime. Multiple trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night can ruin a good night of sleep. I think one or two trips max is okay.

Conclusion

Hydration requirements, like any other dietary requirement, are highly dependent on the individual, their physical stress, environment, and physiology. We have some metrics for starting points, but it takes a lot of time and experimentation to find what works best for the individual, and in what circumstances. 

For most of us, making sure we drink water upon waking, during meals, and around exercise will set us up for success. For athletes, especially those in demanding endurance and power sports, it’s worth investing the time in your hydration, just as you likely do in your nutrition. The two go hand-in-hand. Drink your water!

I hope this helps you get into your Ready State.

Resources for This Article:

  1. Andrews, Ryan, MS: All About Hydration: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-dehydration
  2. Beval et al. Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682880/
  3. Children’s Health. The Importance of Hydration for Young Athletes: https://www.childrens.com/health-wellness/the-importance-of-hydration-for-young-athletes#:~:text=As%20athletes%20exercise%2C%20the%20core,heat%20stroke%2C%22%20says%20Williams.
  4. Opex. The Benefits of Drinking Water: https://opexfit.com/blog/the-benefits-of-drinking-water/
  5. Sims, Stacy, PhD. The Science of Hydration: https://www.sportsrd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/The-Science-of-Hydration.pdf
  6. USADA. Fluids and Hydration. https://www.usada.org/athletes/substances/nutrition/fluids-and-hydration/

 

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