When we think about achieving our fitness goals, we usually think about exercise routine and nutrition (food). Unfortunately, even those of us who are extra careful about getting everything right, in order to get the results we want, tend to forget about the important role that hydration plays in our plan.
Our body is comprised of nearly 65% water which is why proper hydration affects every part of our body and its function. The amount of water intake our body needs varies depending on how much and how fast our body is losing it. That can be affected by outside temperature and humidity, our metabolism, skin quality and, of course, our level of activity.
Proper Hydration Benefits During Workout
Regulates body temperature
This one is the most obvious one. When we exercise, our body cannot release the heat that generates during exercise without enough fluid to sweat it out. This is crucial because when our core temperature increases faster than it should, our heart will be unnecessarily stressed. In addition, when we are overheated our muscles don’t perform optimally which makes it harder for us to achieve our desired results.
Helps Muscles Work Properly and Grow
Most importantly, water is needed to transport nutrients to your cells and transport waste out of the body. Without enough water, that process is not efficient enough. If your body is dehydrated, your muscles will be deprived of electrolytes which can cause cramps. Since muscles are controlled by nerves, without the proper water and electrolyte balance, muscle strength and control will also be impaired.
Keeps Joints Healthy
Water is extremely important to the joints. Synovial fluid contains water; if you become dehydrated, less synovial fluid is available to protect the joints. You should always take care of your joints, especially during long exercises session as damage can cause additional issues, and you’ll have to take a time-out from your usual exercise routines.
Proper Hydration Benefits After Workout
It’s important to understand that exercise causes muscles to become stronger by first breaking them down and then rebuilding them using muscle protein synthesis. This protein synthesis requires that muscles are well hydrated. If you are dehydrated following a workout, the protein synthesis that rebuilds muscles will be slowed and subsequently will delay your recovery from the workout.
Eating enough, and right after a workout, is crucial to refuel your body and replenish glycogen stores. But what’s critical to recovery isn’t just getting the right nutrients in your body but also being able to digest them. Saliva, which helps break down food, is composed primarily of water and is crucial to being able to digest and absorb all of the nutrients you are eating. Rehydrating properly after a workout aids in the efficiency of the digestive process.
Flushing out toxins
One of the many benefits of working out is the cleansing effect it has on the entire body, due to the vigorous movements involved. As you exercise, your heart rate increases, blood floods every organ, and toxins are released. However, this organized process is stopped when there is insufficient water available, so your system can flush out the toxins.
Effects of Proper Hydration on Mood & Motivation
For me, the most important aspect of proper hydration is reducing fatigue and promoting proper brain function. When I’m dehydrated, I’m too tired and unmotivated to drag myself to the gym. More often than not I also get a bad migraine when that happens.
While our muscles are “only” 75% water, our brain is 80% water. Dehydration affects sodium and electrolyte levels in the body, which has also been linked to cognitive changes.
There is limited literature available on how hydration affects human cognitive function, but from my personal experience, my brain function, short-term memory, and attention seem negatively affected by insufficient hydration.
I noticed that dehydration causes my muscles to get tired faster and cramp more. I also feel more tired all together doing my regular workout routine and tend to lose attention quickly. Other than wishing to quit my workout altogether, the damaging consequences of working out while dehydrated include potential injuries or even suffering from heat exhaustion.
Hydrate - Before, During, and After Exercise
How much water you should be drinking depends on many things, among which are your body constitution and the intensity of your exercise. That’s why calculating your water intake requires all these aspects to be taken into consideration.
My general advice would be to drink at least two cups of water, two hours before your activity session. This way, you’ll be sure you are well-hydrated and ready to reach all your activity goals.
Then during activity, strive to drink four to six ounces every 15-20 minutes to keep your muscles well hydrated. For example, if you’re planning an hour-long walk or gym session, take a 16-ounce water bottle with you.
Lastly, drink up after you’re finished with your exercise! If you don’t have a smart bottle that keeps track of your water intake for you or an activity tracker that would guide you to hydrate properly throughout the whole day, the best way to be precise is to weigh yourself before starting an exercise and then again when you are finished. This way, you can calculate exactly how much water you lose during your exercise routine. To make up for all the fluid you lose during your activity, drink 20 ounces of water for each pound of water weight you lose.
What Should You Drink?
For most moderate level activities, plain water is good enough. But if your activity lasts for an hour or more, either fruit juice (heavily) diluted with water, or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates (energy), and minerals to replace electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) lost through your sweat.
Read the label to determine which sports drink is best for you. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per an 8-ounce serving. The drink's carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose -- all of which are easily and quickly absorbed. The drink shouldn't be carbonated, as the bubbles can cause you to bloat and upset your stomach.
Sports drinks are heavily diluted with water and don’t contain a lot of calories. However, if you’re worried about the calorie intake, you can always further dilute your sports drink with water. I recommend you avoid adding ice to the beverage you’ll be drinking when working out, as drinking something that is too cold is an additional shock to your body. Drinking lukewarm water during exercise is the most effective.
I hope my advice helps you gain a greater understanding of the effects hydration can have on all of your fitness goals, as well as your overall well-being. If you struggle with hydration, make sure to check out our smart water bottle, Spring.
Co-founder of Bellabeat