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The essential guide to hydration and performance

Water is essential for each and every one of us. Hydration is so important because water makes up most of our body (depending on size and gender, it’s about 60 percent of our body weight).

Given its importance, how much do you need to stay hydrated? Do the rules change when you’re working out heavily? What else needs to be taken into consideration? What does fluid actually do in the body? And why is it so bad to be dehydrated?

I’ll answer these questions, and more, throughout the course of this article. If you’re jonesing to learn everything you’ll ever need to know about hydration, read on.

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Why you need to be hydrated

Fluid helps regulate body temperature, blood pressure, and it aids the movement and transport of essential nutrients – things you need for energy.

Your core temperature is the temperature in the deep structures of your body – where all the vital organs, like the liver, call home. Core temperature is maintained in a pretty narrow range, which is necessary for your vital organs to function. Significant drops or elevations for any prolonged period of time are bad news bears since it’s completely incompatible with human life – a.k.a. you’ll die.

Fluids in the body help keep you alive by keeping your core temperature within its functional range.

Blood pressure is the force circulating blood exerts on the walls of blood vessels. Blood pressure too high and you risk stroke, heart attack, heart failure, arterial aneurysms, or chronic kidney failure. Blood pressure too low and vital organs, like the brain, may not get enough blood to deliver it the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function.

Fluid helps regulate blood pressure by adding to blood volume or subtracting from it.

Carbohydrates, protein, fats – the essential macronutrients – are transported in the fluid of the body. No fluid, and the cells relying on these macronutrients for energy aren’t going to be getting what they need.

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What dehydration does to performance

At this point, we know the dire consequences of no water – a person can go a maximum of a week without any source of hydration before they keel over and die.

But what about subtler amounts of dehydration? It’s estimated up to 75% of the American population is functioning in a chronic state of dehydration. What is inadequate hydration of this sort going to do to you?

Subtle, but measurable, reductions in mental and physical performance.

Less fluid in the body means a decreased ability to regulate core body temperature and blood pressure: body temperature increases and the heart beats faster to compensate. Exercise of any kind will also feel harder.

Research suggests you’ll begin to feel these effects at a loss of fluid equal to 2% of body mass. Beyond 2% and may begin to feel nauseous, get diarrhea, or experience other gastrointestinal problems.

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How to stay properly hydrated

Hydration begins long before you exercise.

As a baseline, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests 3.7 liters of fluids for men and 2.7 liters of fluids for women. Individual needs will vary depending on your health, how active you are, and where you live. But this is a start.

Monitor your fluid loss as a result of exercise. This means weighing yourself pre-exercise and post-exercise.

1 liter of fluid should be consumed for every kilogram lost during exercise. For example, if you weighed 70 kilograms before you exercised, and you weighed 68 kilograms after, you need to consume 2 liters of water to completely rehydrate.

But, we still need to tweak the equation to account for the sweat and urine you’re still losing after you’ve finished working out (you continue to sweat during recovery, of course). To account for these losses too, add 25% to your original estimate.

25% of 2 liters is 0.5 liters. This means we can be reasonably confident we’re adequately rehydrating by consuming 2.5 liters of fluid in the 2-6 hours following a workout.

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What to drink

Plain water does a pretty good job if you’re thinking about hydration alone. To kick performance and recovery up a notch, there are sports drinks and supplements available.

During exercise, muscle carbohydrate stores (glycogen) are one of the major endogenous sources of energy. Having a hydrating beverage with carbohydrates maintains glycogen levels to extend peak performance.

You lose more than just fluid during exercise. You also lose vitamins and electrolytes – sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

There are a variety of sports drinks and rehydration supplements on the market that will help replace the vitamins and electrolytes you’ve lost during the course of a workout.

Contact me and I can tell you more about your options and guide you in the right direction.

Is it possible to go overboard?

Yes, but it rarely happens.

Overhydration can lead to water intoxication. When you drink a lot of water really quickly, your kidneys can’t keep up removing the excess fluid in your urine. Too much water accumulates in your bloodstream and the salt and other electrolytes in your body are essentially swamped.

The symptoms can range from mild (headaches and disorientation) to really severe (coma and death). But, again, it rarely happens.

It’s tough to do. You have to drink liters and liters of water really, really fast.

A good indicator of your hydration levels is your pee. Pay attention to it. If you’re peeing, and peeing, and peeing, and peeing, and your pee is clear ever time, give your kidneys a chance to keep up and stop drinking for a while.

If it’s dark, you’re dehydrated, and you need some fluids.

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How much fluid you need on a regular day and on a training day varies with the individual. Paying attention to a few things, such as the color of your pee and how much body weight you lose during the course of a workout, can give you an indication of how much you need to stay adequately hydrated.

Let me know what you think of the article in the comments below. If you’d like to talk more about hydration and hydration options, contact me anytime, I’d love to talk to you.

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Have a great week!




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