One thing is certain if you’ve been in the military for more than 5 minutes you’ve been told “Drink Water” a few dozen times.

As an athlete, proper hydration can be incredibly important for everything from helping prevent injuries to maximizing your performance during training.

Raise your hand if you felt sluggish during the day, tired during your workouts, and sore from a hard training session the day before.

Raise your hand if you’ve been hitting the gym consistently but aren’t getting the results you want.

Chances are your training and training program aren’t to blame.

I have clients ask me all the time to help them with their nutrition in an attempt to speed up their results and body composition changes. The first questions I ask them is: “How much-uninterrupted sleep are you getting each night?” and the second questions I ask is: “How much water do you drink each day?”

I ask these questions for a number of reasons and the answers are very telling of what the underlying issues are.

If you are in search of a nutrition plan to [gain muscle | lose fat] and you are making sure your lifestyle is in order (i.e. proper sleep and hydration) then what are the chances you are 1) going to be successful with a new layer of lifestyle complexity (daily planning of all your meals) and 2) going to get the results you really want to see?

Not great.

You need to make a habit out of tending to your hydration each and every day in order to optimize performance and recovery.

Your performance

In fact, a number of studies show that with only mild dehydration (~3%) you could lose upward of 11% of your VO2max (A measure of your aerobic performance). A lower volume of body water can make your blood more viscous slowing down your ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells that need them.

Dehydration has also been linked to a number of hormonal changes including a significant increase in cortisol (a stress hormone) as well. In this same study, dehydration was shown to:

1) strongly enhanced the catabolic hormonal response to resistance exercise; 2) alter the anabolic hormonal response to resistance exercise; 3) increased circulating concentrations of metabolic substrates

Which ultimately means that you’re not getting the most bang for your training buck if you aren’t paying attention to your hydration needs. It was also noted that dehydration was shown to significantly decrease testosterone as well by 10-16%, which is never good.

It has also been noted that when dehydrated, muscle cells may fail to properly metabolize proteins and other nutrients making them unable to repair themselves after a hard training session.

Your tissues

In addition to the metabolic and hormonal problems being dehydrated can cause you to need to be concerned with the soft tissues issues and stiffness a lack of water will also cause.

The body is made up of a lot of water and your joints and the sliding surfaces between tissue layers rely on that hydration for proper function.

The muscle, skin, and fascia all work together to make you an awesome athlete and one of the most important ways you can ensure they are moving, sliding, and gliding the way they are supposed to be by drinking enough water. Without proper hydration, these tissues get “stuck” together and can cause a number of mobility and recovery problems.

Hydration also helps your joints function in a healthy manner. With proper hydration, the cartilage in your joints will glide and move correctly without the joint destroying friction that comes with dehydrated cartilage.

Your body temperature

Water is also incredibly important in the thermoregulation of your body temperature. This may not be a surprise for those of you that have seen a buddy go down and be rewarded with a silver bullet.

Heat injuries such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are fairly common and all completely preventable with the proper precautions in place.

Drinking enough water is one of those preventions and is fairly easy to take care of.

So we can agree, hydration is important right?

Hopefully, you’re convinced that hydration is incredibly important…

Drinking enough water will:

  1. Improve your performance
  2. Improve your recovery
  3. Help prevent injuries (Soft tissue & heat related)

So how much water should I drink?

Here lie a very important question and one that can’t be answered without considering your individual needs as well as your electrolyte consumption.

Drinking too much water can be a major problem as well.

Hyponatremia is caused by the over-consumption of water and a dilution of the sodium content in your blood. This is a very common problem, especially in the endurance world, with a reported 3 million cases in the US each year. The worst case scenario is that your brain swells and you die. Not great.

On average, a human may lose around 3 liters of water each day through normal processes such as sweating, respiration, and peeing so this is a fairly safe baseline to start with and test out.

If 2-3 liters of water each day sounds daunting to you then there is a good chance that you are chronically dehydrated.

It is highly recommended that this water is consumed either with food or with an electrolyte solution or at a bare minimum a pinch of salt. The goal is not to just slug back bottle after bottle and rapidly increase the number of trips you make to the bathroom, the goal is to get this water to “stick” and be absorbed by your system to ensure you don’t end up dehydrated.

Adding salt to your water or an electrolyte solution is super important. This is especially true in the hotter months (it’s 113° right now in AZ) and if you are training outside (Like in my hot ass garage).

Here is an easy way to make sure your hydration habits stick

First, grab yourself a reusable bottle such as a Nalgene (My favorite because you can literally run it over with a tank and it doesn’t break (Personal experience… don’t try at home!)).

Second, pick up some sort of electrolyte. Here is a list of my favorite 3 in no particular order:

Third, start off by setting a goal to fill up and drink that 32oz Nalgene a minimum of 3 times each day. Carry it around with you everywhere you go and when you’re thirsty, take a drink. If you are drinking in between meals then spike that bottle with one of the electrolytes above (Salt Stick is a pill you swallow, the other 2 dissolves in your water).

Do that for a week straight and make sure you note any changes in your energy levels, mood, recovery, and performance. Chances are, if you are one of the millions out there that are chronically dehydrated, you’re going to feel a whole lot better.

Our friend Dr. Kelly Starrett says, “You should be able to perform basic maintenance on yourself” and ensuring that you are properly hydrated is one of the best and easiest ways to do so.

Now, drink water!

References

Judelson, D., Maresh, C., Yamamoto, L., Farrell, M., Armstrong, L., Kraemer, W., … Anderson, J. (2008). Effect of hydration state on resistance exercise-induced endocrine markers of anabolism, catabolism, and metabolism. Journal of Applied Physiology, 105, 816-824.

Starrett, K., & Murphy, T. (2014). Ready to run: Unlocking your potential to run naturally. Victory Belt Publishing.