Drinking water and hydrating properly is not a sexy topic. It is easily one of the most overlooked parts of a nutrition plan. It is EXTREMELY important to improving body composition, as well as to overall health and wellness.
As a nation, we are chronically dehydrated, which is a problem that anyone serious about their fitness needs to address.
Specifically, hydration assists with:
- Digestion and mental clarity.
- Increases the removal of byproducts from metabolism.
- It is the key to proper recovery from heavy, intense training.
- Last but not least, maintaining adequate hydration can lead to better cosmetics.
When your body is even slightly dehydrated, it senses that it must “hold” water for future survival. However, when hydration is adequate, your body will more quickly turn over its water stores, allowing for a leaner (and often times more vascular) appearance.
How Much To Drink
As a rule of thumb, you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces per day, where 1 ounce equals 29.5 ml. For a 200 pound male, this would be 100 ounces or 3 liters (0.5 x 200 = 100).
Important: THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE WATER CONSUMED DURING TRAINING. I recommend adding another 500 ml (17 oz) of water per hour when training.
As an athlete, you need to consider the following key facts when it comes to hydration:
- At just 1% dehydration, you are looking at a performance decrement of up to 10-12%. In case it isn’t obvious: this is HUGE! Now, most people will use thirst as a regulator for hydration, but when thirst kicks in, it means we’re already dehydrated and losing performance. Don’t lose performance for something so easy to fix!
- The environment you train in can also impact your needs regarding water intake. At higher training temperatures, the amount consumed per hour must increase due to elevated sweat loss and increased body heat/cooling rates. Intake per hour can increase to upwards of 800 ml (27 oz) per hour of training.
- Water is essential to performance, but it is also essential to recovery. By remaining hydrated we will replace lost fluids, and we will also remove metabolic waste byproducts.
- Dehydration is harmful both physically and mentally. Decreased performance is a sign of dehydration, but dehydration can also cause mood swings, decreased mental focus, and lethargy
Timing Your Water Intake
While getting the right amount of water is important, when you drink your water can be equally important. Large amounts of fluid intake during meals can cause inefficient digestion due to diluted gastric acids and enzymes, and this is especially true of people with IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis, Hypochloridria, and GERD. Therefore, you can reduce water intake during the eating process, and instead wait until 30 minutes after a meal to best optimize digestion. Remember, we can eat all the steak and broccoli we want, but it won’t do a bit of good if it is poorly digested and absorbed!
Coffee: Coffee has gotten a bad rap in the public eye as being an unhealthy diuretic, but it’s not! In fact, there are numerous nutritional benefits to coffee, including its antioxidant profile and the thermogenic effect of its caffeine content. Not only that, it is (and has been repeatedly proven to be) an ergogenic performance enhancer. Of course, despite all of these benefits, quantity must be considered. Dependence on coffee is something we see quite often, along with the ability to drink copious amounts and not be “wired.” This is a classic sign of adrenal dysfunction, which needs to be addressed promptly.
Teas: If you’re trying to decrease caffeine intake or just want an alternative to coffee, tea is a great option. Green tea is commonly thought of as a “fat burner” due to compounds found within it called catechins. Combine this with its high antioxidant profile and you’ll see why green tea has become a very popular beverage! Catechins are also found in white teas.
Alcohol: While alcohol’s role in nutrition warrants its own book, I will only touch on it briefly here. First, the good news: alcohol—specifically, red wine—has been proven in studies to bear general health benefits for the average person. But as an athlete or someone seeking performance and/ or cosmetic enhancement, it is important to recognize that alcohol consumption does have some negative repercussions. Specifically, alcohol consumption negatively affects hydration status, fatty acid synthesis, hormone production, and quality of sleep.
Track your intake in your food log. If you’re using MyFitnessPal, there is a section you can add this in to ensure you’re getting the amount you need. Moving forward, it is important to be aware of this. By nature, we are diligent about our training (and to some extent, our food intake), so let’s not overlook something so simple but important as staying hydrated!
On average, most people fall into the range of 2.5-4 liters per day of water intake. A simple way to ensure that you are meeting this number is to carry around a liter-size bottle of water with you, and refill it the appropriate number of times.