The importance of hydration for good health and properly functioning body systems cannot be overstated. Because the body cannot store water, we must constantly supply it with water to maintain our body’s many functioning systems. Not only should you hydrate while exercising, you should also hydrate pre- and post-workout to replace fluids lost through sweat. While water contains zero calories, it is considered a nutrient, comprising 55-70 percent of our body’s composition. That said, it’s no surprise that proper hydration is crucial to a variety of essential functions that can impact athletic performance as follows:
• Fluid helps to regulate body temperature: When core temperature rises above normal, undo stress is placed on the body, which can interfere with the body’s energy systems. This interference, in turn, negatively affects both performance and recovery.
• Fluid helps to regulate blood pressure: Effectively regulated blood pressure normalizes heart rate and, therefore, manages stress on the body during training and recovery. Excessive stress can lead to inflammation and other processes that can interfere with both performance and recovery.
• Fluid helps in the movement and transport of essential energy nutrients: Essential macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fats and supporting nutrients that are used as energy for the body are all transported by fluid in the body. In addition, fluids help to remove the metabolic waste that is produced during intense exercise.
Contrary to popular belief, drinking water only when you are thirsty does not promote proper hydration. When the thirst mechanism activates, it is usually a sign the body is already under hydrated (and possibly headed toward dehydration). At this point, the body has to catch up to function properly.
So, how much water is recommended for people who lead active lifestyles? It depends. Water intake is based on several variables. Even within those set of variables, water intake will vary according to the needs of the individual. General considerations of hydration might be based on the length of the activity, environmental conditions such as heat and humidity, and the length and intensity of the activity.
While considering some of the environmental factors of hydration, consideration must be given to the individual needs of that person, such as the weight and age, the intensity level at which that person trains or plays, their current physical conditioning, and the current hydration level. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking four to eight ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise as a good starting point for hydrating athletes.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the following are guidelines for the maintenance of optimal hydration:
• Before Exercise: 16-20 ounces within the two-hour period prior to exercise.
• During Exercise: 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes during exercise.
• Post Exercise: Replace 24 ounces for every one pound of body weight lost during exercise.
For many, the relationship between dehydration and performance will also depend on some factors that aren’t as widely known:
Burn More Fat: Fat is a primary fuel source for lower-intensity and longer-duration activities. Without adequate cell hydration, the body is unable to oxidize fat as efficiently. According to a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dehydration reduced fat oxidation and increased muscle protein breakdown. If you frequently perform low-intensity cardio, be sure to drink sufficient water to increase fat-burning potential.
Glycogen Stores: When you're dehydrated, you use glycogen at a much faster rate. Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored in the muscles and liver and is a primary fuel source. Glycogen is converted to ATP (fuel) through a process called glycolysis. Between short bursts of activity, the body takes about 60 seconds to recover, making glycogen ideal for strength training and high intensity interval training. Furthermore, glycogen is also used in combination with fat to fuel endurance activities. The body can operate on fat stores alone. Nonetheless, glycogen stores water. When glycogen is depleted, the body becomes further dehydrated.
Reduction in Blood Volume and Nutrient Delivery: Without proper hydration, the blood becomes thicker and cannot flow to and from the heart fast enough, causing a reduction in maximal cardiac output. As a consequence, fatigue will occur quickly. A reduction in body water and blood volume could also inhibit the delivery of nutrients to the muscles. Without nutrients like glucose and fatty acids during exercise, your muscles will fatigue even faster. This becomes an even bigger issue with respect to recovery. Muscle tissue is rebuilt through a process called muscle protein synthesis. This process requires amino acids from protein to be delivered to your muscles. Without proper hydration, your recovery will be dramatically hindered.
Gatorade was invented in 1965 by the medical team for the University of Florida Gators. However, it wasn't until 1991 when the company aligned itself with prominent athletes, which significantly increased consumption worldwide. Today, Gatorade has plenty of competition. However, do you really need any of these drinks to sufficiently hydrate? Well, yes, if you're exercising at a reasonable intensity for longer than 60 minutes.
The electrolytes found in sports drinks can be beneficial in regulating nerve and muscle function and replacing electrolytes lost through sweat. For adolescent athletes enduring physical activity for more than 60 to 90 minutes, or for young athletes who practice in high heat and humidity, sports drinks can be beneficial in replenishing lost nutrients. The bottom line, however, is that water (pure water) is essential for an athlete to perform optimally. Often, young athletes refuse to drink water, preferring sports drinks instead. If this is the case, try the following to combat the desire for consuming too much of these drinks:
• Do not buy sugary sports drinks
• Place water on the table at every meal
• Flavor water with fruit
• Provide only water for school and practices
Retailers offer a wide range of water products ranging from vitamin waters to alkaline waters to oxygenated waters. I urge you to do you due diligence and research these products to determine efficacy. Also, consult your health professional when considering water alternatives.
Interestingly, you can actually hydrate too much. Drinking excessive amounts of water in a short period of time can lead to hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication. When excessive amounts of water are consumed, the sodium levels in the body become diluted, and the kidneys cannot excrete enough fluid. This causes the cells to become water logged and the brain to swell. This is a potentially life-threatening situation and requires immediate medical attention. Although hyponatremia is not common, everyone needs to be aware of it, as it is something that can easily be prevented.
You should drink water every day. Most people have been told they should drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day. That is a reasonable goal. However, different people need different amounts of water to stay hydrated. For some people, fewer than eight glasses may be enough. Other people may need more than eight glasses each day. If you are concerned that you are not drinking enough water, check your urine. If your urine is colorless or light yellow, you are well hydrated. If your urine is a dark yellow or amber color, you may be dehydrated.
At the end of the day, the importance of hydration for good health and properly functioning body systems is as important as eating a healthy, balanced diet. Recognizing that hydration is important is a great beginning. Implementing and maintaining good hydration habits will be your long-term challenge VR.
1. Sawka MN, et al. “American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and Fluid Replacement.” Med Science Sports Exercise 2007;39:377-390. Accessed May 3, 2014.
Mark Becker is an account manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 20 years. Becker has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor's in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his Master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For more than 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marklbecker/posts/387591877933686#!/energyatlast. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AlliedMbecker. For more information, access www.vivioninc.com, www.alliedbionutrition.com or www.EnergyatLast.com.