Written by Yiannis Fleming
Your Guide To Staying Hydrated
We’re often so busy worrying about what foods support our goals, and what foods we should avoid, that we forget one crucial element to our nutrition. A single process that is important to performance, recovery and overall health. Staying hydrated is vital to any goal, whether that’s fat loss, building lean muscle or just improving athletic performance.
Why Is Staying Hydrated Important?
When training, your muscles create extra heat in the body, in fact, about 75% of the energy you put into exercise is converted into heat. This heat has to be dissipated to keep your inner body temperature within safe limits. If your temperature rises too high, your normal bodily functions will become offset and eventually heat stroke will set in. The main method of heat dispersal during training is, you probably guessed it, sweating! This is where water from the body is carried to your skin via your blood capillaries, and as it evaporates, you lose heat. Ensuring we are efficiently hydrated is crucial to this process.
Drinking enough water is the primary method to staying hydrated as this assists with the maintenance of normal physical functions, cognitive functions and the balance of thermoregulation.
Sweat loss during training comes down to many factors, but the main two include the length and intensity of training, and the temperature of the environment you’re training in. This means that the average person training for two hours is expected to need more water than the average person training for one hour. Someone training in a hotter climate may also require more water due to the increased body temperature.
What If I’m Not Adequately Hydrated?
Without sufficient levels of hydration, we become what’s known as dehydrated. Dehydration is detrimental to our performance as it can cause cramping, nausea and other side effects. Research has shown that a reduction in just 2% of bodyweight when training can impair performance by as much as 10-20%. If you’re a competing athlete then this is a pretty big deal! At a loss of 4% we can expect to see a 20-30% performance drop, as well as other potentially fatal side effects including vomiting and fainting. This is why replenishing fluid loss is important!
How Can I Spot Signs Of Dehydration?
Most people will wait until they’re thirsty before acknowledging that they need to replace fluids, but did you know that by the time thirst kicks in, you could already be at 1% loss of body weight, meaning you’re dehydrated! One practical way to spot signs of dehydration is if your urine is of a concentrated, dark colour and of smaller volume than normal. However, some multivitamins and other supplements can cause a darkening of urine, so volume is a better indicator than colour if you’re regularly supplementing.
Here’s 3 other ways you can spot signs of dehydration:
#1 You regularly feel sluggish or a general sense of fatigue
#2 You experience regular headaches
#3 You’ve suddenly experienced a loss of appetite
What Steps Can I Take To Ensure I’m Adequately Hydrated?
Regularly sipping water throughout the day will help ensure that you’re hydrated, but the more you train, the higher intake of water you will need. As mentioned earlier, this is because when we train, heat is dissipated through our sweat, meaning we lose fluid from the body.
As a general guide, try adding 500ml of water for every hour of exercise. Be sure to drink before, during and after training to ensure you’re optimally hydrated.
You can estimate how much water you should be drinking during and post-workout by weighing yourself before and after training. Every kilogram decrease in body weight represents a loss of approximately 1 litre of fluid. This means that your average gym goer with a loss of 0.8kg in body weight should be replenishing fluid loss with 800ml of water.
Don’t be fooled though, your mind can override the feeling of thirst which means voluntarily, we only tend to replace two thirds of the fluids we’ve lost. So be sure to drink up!
Water can be found in other foods and fluids we consume, including a number of hot drinks such as tea and coffee, beverages like squash, fruit and vegetables and even our main meals. Numerous research has shown that we can consume as much as 500ml of water a day through food intake alone.
Similarly to spotting dehydration, the simplest and most practical way to see if you are sufficiently hydrated is to check that you are producing dilute pale-coloured urine of moderate volume. Remember though that some supplements can cause a darkening of urine, so as long as you are passing a moderate amount of urine, you should be fine!
What’s The Take Home Message?
Being sufficiently hydrated is crucial to our performance and body composition goals. Without sufficient levels of hydration, we can expect to see a significant performance drop as well as other potentially fatal side effects. Planning ahead by sipping water regularly throughout the day, adding 500ml extra for every hour of training, and weighing ourselves before and after training to estimate fluid loss is a great strategy to ensuring hydration. Finally, passing a moderate amount of urine throughout the day is an indicator of adequate hydration.