The 6 Things Every Athlete (and Wannabe) Should Know about Hydration

If you’re an athlete or a beginner with a New Year’s resolution to get fitter, hydration is an important element you can’t ignore. It’s just as important as the exercise itself so take note of our top 6 things you need to know when it comes to your hydration.

1. Hydration Isn't One-Size-Fits-All

So you’re ready to improve your performance or maybe take those first steps to a leaner, meaner you. You know you need to drink water but you aren’t sure exactly how much is enough. You’re not alone. Most people have no idea how much they’re supposed to be drinking each day and few actually get it right. The CDC found fewer than half of adults drink less than four cups of water per day and of those, 36 percent drink only one to three cups a day.

These numbers sound bad but we can’t really say because each person is different. We don’t know what their activity levels are, their body types, their climate, their age, their general health, or what other fluids and water-containing foods they might be consuming. That brings me to point number one - hydration is personal.

What you need to drink to stay adequately hydrating is going to be different from your workout partner or your trainer. While they may be breathing down your neck to drink more, they don’t actually know how much is enough. They can tell if you are not performing at your best or if you are exhibiting signs of dehydration but without any evidence, they aren’t exactly sure. That’s because hydration is an exact science.

Just like your blood pressure and heart rate will differ from your friend, so does your hydration requirements. The only way to truly know how much you need is to tap into science. Smart water bottles now measure your fluid intake and sync with activity monitors, like FitBit, to compute your exact hydration needs.This is a really cool metric because hydration plays a key role in how you feel and how you perform - in your workouts and your daily life.

2. When You Drink Matters

We’re often told to hydrate before a big workout. This is true but have you ever tried to run with a belly full of water? Not fun. When you drink fluids is important because just as with many things in life, timing is everything. We want to be hydrated but we can sabotage a workout and recovery if we don’t drink at the right time.

Hydration begins the day before a workout. When you sleep, you are fasting. This means your body is using up a lot of water for bodily functions, like digestion. We also may sweat at night which releases more water. When we wake up, we likely haven’t had anything to drink for eight hours or more. Drinking a full glass of water upon waking is a good way to return those fluids to the body.

If you work out in the mornings, you may not want to have much more than a cup or 12 ounces of water before you go. Water sloshing around in your stomach doesn’t feel good and can lead to side stitches and indigestion. Give yourself at least 30 minutes after drinking a significant amount of water before you begin your exercise, particularly if it is a sport with lots of running or jumping.

During your workout or sporting event, try not to guzzle water. Instead, sip on water throughout. Time can easily get away from you during your exercise, so set a timer to alert you every 15-minutes. Better yet, invest in a smart water bottle that is linked to your wearable device that will send you reminders automatically.

After your workout or event, your body will need replenishing. Exercise releases toxins and can build up lactic acid in the tired muscles. Flush these out throughout the remainder of the day and drink fluids until you feel satiated. If you own one of those smart sports water bottles, it will continue to monitor your fluid intake and send you recommendations on when and how much to continue drinking throughout your day.

3. What You Drink Matters Even More

Water is important but it isn’t the end-all. You can consume lots of fluids from other liquids and foods. The CDC found that among men, only 30 percent of total water consumed was plain water, with the remainder from other foods and liquids. Women consumed a bit more plain water. at 34 percent.

If your excuse for not drinking water is that it takes too much effort, plenty of people find the time and energy to fill a glass with juice, grab a soda or sip on a cup o’ joe. While these technically count as fluid intake, they can also be laden with sugar, caffeine and other ingredients that can actually dehydrate and add extra calories you may not want. You can drink these beverages in moderation, water is still your best friend here. It has zero calories, can be easily found and has no weird ingredients.

Keep in mind that beyond caffeinated drinks, like coffee, tea, and energy drinks, alcohol also dehydrates. If you like to kick back a cold one after a long workout, be sure you compensate with water. Many athletes (and those trying to pace themselves) will alternate one alcoholic beverage with a glass of water. This technique may stave off a nasty hangover while also ensuring you don’t become dehydrated.

Related: Drinking Alcohol and It’s Effect on Hydration

If you just can’t stand to drink plain water all day long, you can always flavor your water with fresh citrus, fruit, herbs and/or veggies like cucumber. These natural ingredients will make your water more palatable without adding unnecessary ingredients that can derail your fitness and health goals. You can also use powdered hydration mixes - just be sure to read the ingredients. What seems like a harmless powder can contain all of the ingredients you shunned from sodas and sports drinks. Artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and ingredients you can’t pronounce don’t belong in the body that you are killing yourself to improve.

If you are interested in foods that have the highest water content, these are healthy picks. Just keep in mind that how you prepare them matters. The water content percentages provide represent the foods’ raw state. Steaming will add more water while baking and roasting will subtract water.

  • Cucumbers: 97%
  • Lettuce: 96%
  • Tomato: 95%
  • Celery: 95%
  • Radishes: 95%
  • Cauliflower: 92%
  • Watermelon: 92%
  • Broccoli: 91%
  • Spinach: 91%
  • Strawberries: 91%
  • Grapefruit: 91%
  • Carrots: 90%
  • Cantaloupe: 90%

4. Keeping Track of Your Fluid Intake Shouldn’t Require Math

It may sound complicated to keep track of all of your fluids, both in all liquid forms and food, but it really doesn’t have to be that hard. Thanks to cool technology that can track everything for you, all you have to do is sit back and wait for the algorithms to work for you. When you connect your activity tracker to your smart water bottle with an app, you are good to go.

These water bottles are worth their investment if you don’t need a calculator to figure out how much water you still need to drink. Plus, the app will send you nice little reminders that it’s time to drain another eight ounces. No math required.

Some smart water bottles include measuring devices that subtract each ounce you drink from your overall requirements. Others use more precise ultrasonic waves that can measure down to the smallest sip. The most convenient smart water bottles will have their measurement feature located in a cap that can be used on any standard-sized water bottle so you aren’t married to just one bottle. The app should also let you input fluids drunk without the smart water bottle so no drop is missed.

5. Performance Is Directly Linked to Hydration

If you are exercising, you are likely sweating. That may sound like a simple conclusion, but sweat is fluid the body excretes in order to cool itself. Not only do you lose fluids in the form of sweat, but your hot muscles are consuming fluids as well. That’s a one-two punch that isn’t always easy to calculate.

Your capacity to perform is predicated on your hydration. If you lose as little as 2.5 percent of your body weight in sweat and dehydration, you can expect your performance will diminish by up to 45 percent. I don’t know about you but if taking in the right amount of water is all I need to do to nearly double my performance capacity, fill me up! I don’t think any other single effort could have such an impact.

If you are curious about how much water you are losing when you sweat, all you need is an accurate scale. Weigh yourself naked before and after your exercise with no fluid intake. A one-pound drop in weight is equivalent to a loss of 16 ounces of sweat.

6. Dehydration Can Hit Hard or Take Its Sweet Time

I won’t stay long here, but dehydration is a slippery thing. It can start off with mild symptoms and then hit you over the head with fainting or worse. You need to know the signs so you can intervene before it causes damage. Of course, just like hydration is personal, so are the symptoms of dehydration. Here are the most common:

  • Increased thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headache

If your body has some fluids in reserve, you may only mildly suffer from the above symptoms, however, your body can quickly lapse into more emergent scenarios where doctor intervention is required. Be smart and know your body.

Staying hydrated means staying healthy. Consider your personal hydration as part of your overall fitness and health plan. When hydration is properly maintained, you’ll feel and perform significantly better (and look better, too).

If you still aren’t convinced, keep a journal of your workouts and how you perform and feel before, during and after - without changing your fluid intake. Then challenge yourself you stay properly hydrated for two weeks, following the recommendations from your smart water bottle. Keep journaling so you can compare your performance and how you feel with your earlier entries. I’d be willing to bet you’re going to see a big change for the better.

Tags: hydration, peak performance, trago, water, wearable technology