One of the simplest “hacks” you can do right now to immediately boost your performance and how you generally feel overall is to optimize your hydration.
Proper hydration can be incredibly important for everything from helping prevent injuries to maximizing your performance during training.
Because if you’re dehydrated your overall performance will decrease and you’ll probably feel sluggish, fatigued during/after workouts, and extra sore after training.
- Small amounts of dehydration can lead to big performance drops (10%+)
- You need to start off hydrated
- Wake up and drink water
- Eat mostly whole, real foods especially fruits & veggies (Salt liberally)
- Pre-hydrate: Drink between 1/2 bw(lbs) in ounces of water each day
- Adjust this amount based on lifestyle, humidity, temp, genetics, etc
- If you miss this mark, hit 400-600ml (13-20oz) ~2-3 hours prior & 100-300ml (5-10oz) 20mins before exercise
- Prevent exercise induced dehydration: Drink BW / 30 in ounces every 15mins
- Drink back “sweat” or ~3-4:1 Sodium/Chloride:Potassium + 5-9% glucose/fructose
- Measure your sweat rate to dial this in!
- Rehydrate post-workout : Take your body weight pre & post and drink 125% of that loss back
Ok so let’s dig into hydration and talk about some strategies to optimize hydration.
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.
And that means we need to address some of your lifestyle choice.
The most important being sleep, but the second, you guessed it, hydration.
The best designed diet and exercise program in the world can be sabotaged very quickly with poor sleep and dehydration.
In fact, with just 1-2% dehydration your performance can drop upwards of 10%+.
So if you aren’t paying attention to your hydration and taking the steps necessary to make sure you’re getting enough water (and electrolyte) throughout the day (Before, during, and after training) then you’re starting out in the hole.
I bet if I told you I found a supplement that is incredibly cheap, legal, and widely available that can almost instantly boost your output in the gym by 10% you’d start searching for the “Buy Now” button.
Well, good news is, water is that “supplement”.
So don’t neglect your hydration…
Will hydration effect performance?
Well, I’m pretty sure I just answered this above, but let’s keeping digging…
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:
- Strongly enhanced the catabolic hormonal response to resistance exercise;
- Alter the anabolic hormonal response to resistance exercise;
- 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 upwards of 10-16%, which is never good.
Additionally, its 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.
In addition to the metabolic and hormonal problems being dehydrated can cause soft tissue issues and stiffness.
The body is made up of a lot of water and your joints and the sliding surfaces between tissue layers rely on that water 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 everything is moving, sliding, and gliding the way they are supposed to be by staying hydrated
Because without proper hydration, these tissues can get “stuck” together and 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.
Heat injuries such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke can be fairly common (especially in the military) 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:
- Improve your performance
- Improve your recovery
- Help prevent injuries (Soft tissue & heat related)
So how much water should I drink?
If you ask 100 people this question there’s a good chance most of them will say something close to “8 glasses of water a day”.
And while that’s a good start, it’s probably not what’s optimal for you – especially if you’re training hard. So we need to consider that the real answer, like most things fitness & nutrition, is: It depends.
So lets dig into some of the factors we need to consider in order to optimize your hydration.
Drinking too much water can be bad for you.
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.
So if you’re chugging a ton of water each day you could be doing more bad than good.
On average, a human may lose around 3 liters of water each day through normal processes such as sweating, respiration, and peeing.
And with the water loss comes a loss of things such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium – or those electrolytes your body needs to function optimally.
And since some people are sweaty pigs and others barely sweat, the 8 glasses per day standard recommendation doesn’t really cut it.
So let’s talk about the 3 steps you can follow to create a personalized hydration plan for yourself.
Hydration Step #1 – Start off in a hydrated state
Our baseline recommendation for water consumption is 1/2 of your bodyweight in ounces of water. So if you weight 200lbs, your baseline recommendation is 100oz per day.
This is a general guideline since it may vary based on the foods you eat (Fruits & veggies are high in water content) and the climate you live in.
If you live somewhere hot and humid, you’re probably going to sweat more.
That’s a no brainer.
But that doesn’t mean if it’s cold outside you don’t have to worry.
In this article, Why Winter Hydration Matters, Robb notes that cold weather can lead to more urination, a lower urge to drink water, and a potential 2x increase in water loss from respiration.
For more on how cold weather can effect you, definitely check out that article.
Hydration Step #2 – Prevent exercise induced hypohydration
Once you have your daily baseline taken care of, we need to look at hydration during exercise.
And we like to measure this by the amount of body weight lost during exercise.
The best way to figure this out is to run your own n=1 experiment.
The Simple Method
Take your bodyweight and divide it by 30.
Then drink back that much water (+electrolyte) every 15 minutes.
Example: 200lb person would need ~6.5oz of water every 15-mins (200/30 = 6.66)
The More Scientific / Advanced Method
When I taught this concept in my CrossFit Endurance days we’d recommend you follow this sweat rate protocol:
- Weight yourself before your workout (Naked)
- Perform a 60-min time trial (Make sure you put your clothes back on first)
- Weight yourself after your workout (Naked)
- Subtract your ‘after’ weight from your ‘before’ weight
This will give you your personalized “sweat rate” over an hour long workout.
(If you aren’t into long distance endurance, you can really pick any time frame, the 60-mins just gives us a good hourly rate to help us break down a hydration strategy over a multi-hour event.)
Before weight = 200
After weight = 197
Sweat rate = 3lb per hour (Add in any water you drank during this exercise – So if you drank 16oz over that hour, your sweat rate would be 4lbs.)
Which is about equivalent to 48oz of water (16oz in a pound x 3 pounds)
And with that water loss you are also losing the following electrolytes per liter of sweat:
– Sodium – 500-2000mg (Average is ~1000mg/liter)
– Potassium – 100-500mg
– Chloride – 500, 3000mg
– Magnesium – 0 – 100mg (Only have to worry about this is you sweat a lot)
So if we multiply that by 3 (Since our sweat rate is 3lbs) we get:
– Sodium – 1500-6000mg (Average is ~1000mg/liter)
– Potassium – 300-1500mg
– Chloride – 1500 – 9000mg
– Magnesium – 0 – 300mg (Only have to worry about this is you sweat a lot)
So along with that 48oz of water, you need to be replacing those electrolytes as well to make sure things are running optimally.
Hydration Step #3 – Replenishing Post-Exercise
Ok so with our baseline and during exercise hydration needs to be taken care of we also need to consider rehydrating post-exercise.
Since you already know your sweat rate (You skipped that ‘simple method’ above, right!?), this one is pretty easy.
You’ll want to drink back 125% – 150% of what you lost during the workout.
So if you lost 1 pound you’ll want to drink 20-24oz of water (+electrolyte)
Ok so there’s been a lot of talk about electrolyte and making sure you’re drinking back more than just the water you lost but how do we go about that?
Well, you can eat foods high in sodium, potassium, and chloride but that’s not super practical so this is one of the very few times I’ll recommend you turn to supplements.
Another benefit of electrolyte supplements is you can add them right into your water bottle and they are typically flavored – which has been shown to increase peoples compliance in actually drinking (If that liquid tastes good, you’re more likely to drink it)
There are a million different supplements you can try so I’ll list out a few of my favorites below. One thing to note is you’ll want to test these out, since some people have intestinal distress with certain products. So if one makes you feel bad, try a different brand!
Here is a list of a few of my favorite electrolyte supplements in no particular order:
- LMNT – Elemental Labs (The unflavored is my favorite, but I’m weird…)
- Osmo – Active Hydration
- Salt Stick
- NUUN Drink Tablets
- Drip Drop
There are probably a thousand others but those are all ones I’ve personally used and tested. LMNT & Salt Stick are my two favorites and the ones I recommend most.
Wrapping is up
Optimizing your hydration is probably the cheapest and easy way to hack your performance.
If you don’t believe me, just follow the guidelines above for a week and 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.
Now, drink water!
If you enjoyed this article then take a look at an article on one of the other supplements I recommend: Vitamin D
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.
Three Steps to Optimizing Hydration Andy Galpin