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August 22, 2023

The power of hydration in sports and fitness

Tatyana Grechina

The power of hydration in sports and fitness

With the summer heat creeping in and the added humidity from afternoon showers (not complaining), staying hydrated becomes especially essential for performance and recovery. 

Drinking cold fluids in the heat feels amazing because they reduce your core temperature and make your fluids more palatable. Still, aside from the fact we seem to soak up water like a thirsty plant, why is it important that we hydrate?

Water accounts for about 60% of an adult’s body weight. Along with quenching our thirst, water carries nutrients to your cells, flushes bacteria from your system, and helps to restore fluids lost through sweating, breathing, metabolism, and waste-removal. 

It lubricates joints and tissue, maintains healthy skin and proper digestion, and keeps our equilibrium in balance (thermoregulation) so we don’t overheat. When we feel thirst, our body is signaling to us that it’s running low on water. 

Just as what we put into our bodies matters, it’s equally crucial that we replenish our bodies with an appropriate amount of water that sustains our lifestyle and climate – especially if you lead an active lifestyle.

Hydration also plays a critical role in athletic performance, endurance, and recovery. Whereas dehydration can lead to a decrease in physical performance by affecting cardiovascular function, thermoregulation, and muscular function, proper hydration helps athletes maintain peak physical and mental performance during training and competitions. 

When dehydrated, the body’s ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to muscles is compromised, leading to reduced strength, power, and endurance. It can also lead to early fatigue, decreased exercise tolerance, and an increased perception of effort. 

Additionally, athletes who adequately hydrate tend to make better strategic choices during competitions, as dehydration can negatively impact cognitive function, leading to decreased focus, attention and decision-making abilities.

Staying hydrated helps athletes perform at their best for longer durations, and maintain a sustainable practice over time that helps them achieve their goals.

Image: Mike Thurk.

The secrets of hydration

About 20% of our total water intake comes from water-rich foods like cucumbers, celery, leafy greens, lettuce, bell peppers, summer squash, berries and melons. If you’re getting some of those into your diet, you’re already winning. 

The rest you can get through intentionally drinking water throughout the day (in moderation, beverages like coffee and tea can also contribute to total daily water intake.) 

The National Academy of Medicine suggests an adequate intake of daily fluids of about 9 cups and 13 cups for healthy women and men, respectively, with 1 cup equaling 8 ounces. That’s 72 ounces for women and 104 for men. That translates to roughly two to three 32-ounce water bottles a day.

And that’s just the standard. If your lifestyle requires a lot of physical activity or intense training, or you live in a warm climate, that suggestion becomes the bare minimum. 

During more intense, sports-focused sessions, focus on intentionally hydrating before and after you train. 

Aim to consume about 8 ounces of water 30 to 60 minutes before exercising or training. While training, try to drink three to six ounces of fluid every 20 minutes. Within two hours after training, aim for 16 to 24 ounces of fluid to replenish. 

To stay on your hydration game, carry a water bottle with you regardless of your activity. It will help you have access to fluids more often and remind you to maintain hydration. 

[What To Drink While Working Out]

Hydration for recovery

Proper hydration is crucial for post-exercise recovery. Replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes helps restore glycogen stores, repair damaged tissues, and reduce muscle soreness after intense workouts or competitions. It also aids in the removal of waste products and toxins from the body, and helps prevent muscle cramps and early-onset muscle fatigue. 

When you sweat, you lose not only water but also electrolytes, minerals such as sodium, potassium and chloride that help your body function. The loss of water and electrolytes can lead to an increase in core temperature. 

Image: Mike Thurk.

Proper hydration helps dissipate heat through sweating and aids in preventing heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Adding electrolytes to your routine becomes crucial — especially in summer months, when you sweat more and lose more fluids than you would normally.  

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to replenish depleted electrolytes! Look for electrolyte mixes that have sodium and/or magnesium and potassium in them to help replenish what you lose in sweat. LMNT or Gatorade make great options here,  as well as supplements like Ladder Hydration and those by Bare Performance Nutrition.

Boulder-based Skratch Labs also offers electrolytes to avoid the after-training crash and help keep muscles from cramping up. For homemade options, mix some water with a half teaspoon of a quality salt and lemon juice (option to add honey!) 

Beat dehydration + stay healthy

While we can sometimes overlook drinking water, we should never overlook the consequences of dehydration. Namely – your body screaming at you with headaches, weakness, dizziness and sluggishness, or even fainting and heart palpitations. Do yourself a favor and stop it before it ever has a chance to start. 

There are a few factors within our overall health that contribute to our state of hydration aside from exercise and climate. When we’re sick with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, our body loses more fluids. Other conditions that might require increased fluid intake include bladder infections and urinary tract stones. Also, pregnant people and those breast-feeding may need additional fluids to stay hydrated.

Even when you’re not doing anything intense or out of the ordinary, take care not to underestimate yourself.  Sometimes recreational fitness enthusiasts can think that since they’re not focused on pushing themselves to extremes, they can skimp on added hydration. Don’t!

You can get dehydrated just from spending time outside and on your feet. Even a day on a film crew at a playground can leave you with a headache the entire night if you don’t keep yourself hydrated. Your body also naturally loses fluids and electrolytes during sleep – especially if you snore or breathe through your mouth, which can result in waking up dehydrated and thirsty.

Whether you just want to maintain a proper fluid balance or want to perform at a higher level for a more extended period, dialing in your hydration will change your game. Listen to your body, and you’ll learn to work with its thermoregulation in a way fully unique to you and your needs.

And don’t forget! Drink before you’re thirsty. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.


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