Drinking plenty of fluids is essential to fitness and athletic performance. It can even help you lose weight. Not staying hydrated, on the other hand, can hinder your performance and negatively impact your health.
How Much Water?
Drinking a gallon of water a day can increase your effectiveness in performance situations, whether at work, in the gym, or on the field.
People tend to think that it’s impossible to drink a gallon of water a day. These often are the same people who have three cups of coffee in the morning, a couple of diet soft drinks with lunch, and alcoholic beverages during and after dinner. They all provide hydration, but are not nearly as healthy as water.
If you substitute water, you’ll have no problem drinking a gallon a day. Drink two glasses when you wake up, two glasses with every meal, and plenty of water before, during, and after working out. Take a water bottle to work and drink all day. Keep a bottle in the car. If you’re training hard, especially in warmer climates, you may find you actually exceed a gallon a day.
You probably won’t miss the caffeine. If the rest of your nutrition plan is solid, it should help you regulate your blood sugar level, so you won’t feel the need to use caffeine as an artificial energy source.
Hydration and Weight Loss
Proper hydration regulates appetite. A lot of times people think they’re hungry when they’re really just thirsty. If you’re trying to lose weight, have a glass of water before eating, and you’ll have that satiety that keeps you from overeating.
Are You Dehydrated?
How do you know if you’re properly hydrated? Take a look at your urine. Generally speaking, the clearer the urine, the better hydrated you are. If it is a clear-pale lemonade color, you are hydrated. If it is a darker lemonade to apple juice color, you are dehydrated. And if it is dark and cloudy, you are severely dehydrated and should notify medical staff immediately.
Water has a direct impact on the aging process. Because of the dehydration, inactivity, and trauma from daily life, the connective tissues around our muscles and joints dry up over time, sort of like those chew toys for dogs that start out soft and pliable and end up stiff and brittle. Just drinking sufficient water goes a long way toward preventing this process while improving your muscle tissue and flexibility. Recent research suggests that any beverage, even one with caffeine, promotes hydration, but there’s still nothing better than water.
A Healthier Smile
Why drink caffeinated beverages when there’s a perfect, healthier, alternative available? Some people rationalize drinking diet soft drinks because the beverages have no calories. That’s true but they still can damage your teeth and offer no nutritional value. We’d never put the automotive equivalent of diet soft drinks in our cars, but we do it to our bodies all the time.
As far as artificial sweeteners in soft drinks and other beverages go, recent research suggests that modest consumption of artificial sweeteners is a better alternative to high fructose corn syrup and other sugars. Although, we are not fans of diet soft drinks—it is better to drink water—we would rather see you drink a diet than a regular soft drink that’s loaded with sugar (a typical can has about 150 calories, all from sugar).
If you drink coffee, don’t overdo the cream and sugar. Again, goes back to making healthier choices. Consider a healthier alternative such a green or black teas, which have antioxidant properties.
Look for carbs and electrolytes in your sports drink. Drinking 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour (16 to 32 ounces) will provide you with the fuel you need to keep your workout going strong, and 110 to 200 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounces of sports drink will enhance the absorption of the fluid and keep your muscles from cramping.
But don’t assume that sports drinks are an equal substitute for water, especially for people in everyday life. In fact, most are loaded with a ton of high glycemic carbohydrates that elevate blood sugar and ultimately contribute to body fat. Sports drinks are most valuable for endurance athletes competing in prolonged, intense activity. These athletes need to replace sugars immediately. But most of us never reach that level of exertion. A lower-calorie sports drink like a G2 is a good choice for anyone.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of proper hydration for enhancing performance and health. A lack of water is dangerous. In extreme instances, athletes have suffered heat stroke and even died from dehydration.
But it’s also possible to go overboard with hydration. Hyponatremia, also known as “water intoxication,” is a potentially fatal condition experienced by endurance athletes who over-hydrate with water.
This condition is brought on by extremely low blood sodium levels and triggers symptoms from nausea and muscle cramps to coma and even death. A runner died from the condition following the 2002 Boston Marathon, and another spent four days in a coma following a marathon in Jamaica.
The problem happens when there’s too much water and not enough electrolytes (potassium, sodium, and chloride) flowing through the body. Water keeps coming in, but because of a lack of electrolytes, the blood sodium level is low, which throws off your heartbeat and response systems.
People tend to think that water is a better choice than sports drinks, since it has no calories. This is certainly true in everyday life. But when competing in an event or a training session of extreme exertion, it’s important to hydrate with products that can replenish electrolytes. Good choices include Gatorade and Amino Vital Endurance Formula, or you can take products such as Gatorlytes, Gu, or Hammer Gel with water.
-- Research by Evan Gray
- Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body and Your Life. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2004.
- Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance Endurance: A New Fitness and Nutrition Program that Revolutionizes the Way You Train for Endurance Sports. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2007.