January 09 2022
HYDRATION AND EXERCISE
Despite its importance, most people don't drink enough water. Learn more about water's role in our body and guidelines for staying hydrated.
Everybody needs water. Our hydration affects everything from our body composition to our ability to focus. It is one of the foundational elements of our health, and a large determiner in our performance on all fronts. Water is the most abundant element in our body—in fact, 95% of the human brain is made of water! Muscles are 76%, blood is 83%, and lungs are 90% water as well.
Despite its importance, most people do not consume the recommended amount of water per day. On top of this, most people aren’t even aware of how much water they should be drinking, much less keeping track.
For the average Jane, maintaining a healthy diet is enough to help your body recover effectively and replenish lost nutrients and water. However, athletes often push their bodies to physical limits and are tasked with both recovering and improving their fitness quickly.
Here are a few tips on how to build a recovery meal designed specifically to give your body the best environment to progress quickly and stay energized.
For your pre-workout meal, you’re going to want to focus on consuming complex carbohydrates. These carbohydrates take longer to digest, and the energy is released at a slower pace. This helps to sustain energy during long-races without getting fatigued.
A meal heavy in complex carbohydrates (3-5g per pound of body weight) the night before an endurance event is beneficial, and should include foods such as whole-grain pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, or quinoa with lean proteins and veggies.
This will raise the glycogen stores within your body and prepare you for endurance work. You’re then going to want to top off these glycogen stores 2-4 before your workout with whole-grain bread, pasta, sweet potatoes, broccoli, oatmeal, or beans (aim for 0.2-0.4g of carbs per pound of body weight).
HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD YOU BE DRINKING?
A guideline per day plus more if you exercise.
While 8 cups is considered the standard recommendation, you should actually consume a bit more than this to meet the latest water intake recommendation. At the end of 2020, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine came out with a recommendation for men to consume 15.5 (3.7 liters) of water per day and women to consume about 11.5 (2.7 liters) per day.
While this may seem shockingly high for many, this includes both food and drink, so the amount of pure water you need to consume may be lower than this, especially if you eat lots of hydrating fruits and vegetables. Typically, about 20% of your fluid intake comes from food.
For athletes, the amount of water intake should be raised. Sweating is one of the primary causes of water loss and dehydration... some athletes can lose up to 3 liters of fluid per hour from sweating!
To replace lost fluid and prevent dehydration from setting in, you should aim to drink lots of water both during and after your workout.
WHY IS HYDRATION IMPORTANT?
Keeps your body functioning at its best.
When your body is hydrated, there is a balance created in our internal systems. Water is responsible for bringing oxygen to the cells (including muscles), lubricating joints, cushioning organs, and much more. When you lose fluid, your body’s ability to function rapidly decreases.
Fluid is lost throughout the day through urinating, sweating, and even exhaling. If we are sick or having digestive issues, even more water is lost. Athletes can quickly lose fluids during exercise, especially if they are in hot or humid environments.
WHAT IS CHARACTERIZED AS DEHYDRATION?
Mild dehydration is when you lose 2-3% of your body weight in water. This can typically be found by weighing yourself before and after exercise. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds before exercising and weigh 147 pounds afterward, you’ve lost 2% of your body weight in water. This is a sign that you may be on the verge of dehydration and should drink more water.
For exercise under 1 hour, water alone should be sufficient, as you should not lose much more than 3% of your body weight in water. However, exercise in extreme heat or much longer than an hour requires supplementation.
When you exercise for prolonged periods of time, you can lose from 6-10% of your body weight in water. Not only is this a lot of water to lose, but it is a lot of electrolytes as well. Electrolytes are responsible for healthy signaling and functioning of cells, so dehydration can quickly lead to decreased athletic performance in athletes. Exercise drinks with electrolytes should be consumed to replace these fluids.
When you lose electrolytes, the effects of dehydration will become apparent more quickly. Your movements will feel more difficult, your body temperature will rise, and you may become lightheaded.
A typical sweat rate is 1-3L/hour, and the sodium in sweat is typically 0.5-2g/L. This can come out to up to 6 grams of sodium lost per hour through sweat alone!
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU'RE HYDRATED?
20% of your recovery meal to reduce inflammation
The best method to estimate your hydration is through urine color. As a general indicator, clear or light-yellow urine indicates a good hydration status. If your urine is dark, or you seem to be urinating much less frequently than normal, you are likely dehydrated.
Other indicators include a dry mouth, muscle cramps, lightheadedness, a fast heartbeat, and not sweating when exercising.
Another good method of measuring hydration for athletes is to weigh yourself (ideally without clothes on) at the beginning and end of an athletic event. You should try to drink 1.5 times the amount of fluid lost in order to replenish lost volumes.
WHEN SHOULD YOU DRINK WATER?
Get a dose of the good stuff.
You should listen to your body’s cues and up water consumption during vigorous exercise, but a general guideline is as follows:
- Drink at least 2 cups of water 2 hours before athletic activity
- Drink 1-2 cups right before exercising
- Drink 1 cup every ~20-30 minutes during exercise
TIPS TO CONSUME MORE WATER
30% of your recovery meal for muscle health and recovery
There are a few methods that can significantly increase your water intake. For one, start carrying around a water bottle with you! One of the primary reasons people say they don’t consume enough water is because they don’t have it available to them throughout the day. Think of this as an “out of sight, out of mind” concept. You specifically want water to be in your sight and in your mind.
Flavoring your drink can also be a fun way to get more water. Natural flavors such as fruits and herbs, as well as artificial flavorings like Crystal Lite, can turn your water into a tasty flavorful beverage.
If you have trouble keeping track of your water intake, apps such as Waterlogged and Hydro Coach can provide an easy way to keep track of your consumption throughout the day. Give it a try for a normal day and see your baseline, then set small goals from there!
Whatever the method, staying hydrated is important for overall wellness, not to mention athletic performance. Try setting a personal goal and sticking to it for a week, you might be surprised how good you feel!
Josie has always had a passion for food and cooking. From a young age, she was always in the kitchen mixing up new recipes and making her family try her way-too-elaborate meals. She was a competitive gymnast for 12 years, which inspired her to pursue her bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering, emphasizing her studies on biochemistry and biomechanics. She is currently a graduate student studying nutritional epidemiology and loves combining her knowledge of science with her love of food to provide athletes with high-quality, up-to-date nutritional information and research.