In bodybuilding and in fact most sporting circles, emphasis is regularly placed on achieving optimal macronutrient intake. You don't have to look far to see an abundance of literature and discussion on the ideal carbohydrates, protein and fat intake levels for a certain goal. Whilst macronutrients rightly have their place in determining one's nutritional strategy, one area that if often overlooked however, is fluid intake. Despite being the most abundant compound in the body and having a direct effect on your gym performance, hydration status is not something you will see high up on most recreational athletes' agendas. In fact, if you were asked how much fluid you consume daily, I suspect only a small proportion would be able to answer this question with any accuracy. The following shows why it is important to stay hydrated;
Why is water so important?
1) Keeping hydrated can work wonders for fatigue, headaches, joint pain and many other performance limiting factors.
2) Drinking too many diuretics such as tea and coffee will lead to a loss in water and potentially dehydration. Negative effects on performance have even been seen at relatively low levels of dehydration (<2%) so if you want to make sure you perform at your best in the gym, make sure your fluid intake is optimal.
3) Lack of water can trigger daytime fatigue and loss of focus so be sure to be stay hydrated when aiming to break your PBs.
4) High water intake can actually aid with fat loss for a number of reasons. Firstly, people often confuse thirst for hunger, leading to eating unnecessary additional calories when all they really needed was some H2O. Next time you feel hungry in the day, ask yourself when the last time you drank was as it may turn out you could save a few calories. In addition to suppressing appetite, water will also aid with fat metabolism avoiding issues with dehydration and the associated increased fat stores.
5) Contrary to popular belief, high water intake won't actually lead to increased water retention. In fact, dehydration will cause increased water retention as the body will look to retain as much as possible if it enters 'starvation mode.'
6) Water can also help improve constipation and other digestive issues.
What about overhydration?
Athletes must also be wary of overconsumption of water as this can also have potentially negative effects on both performance and health. Hyponatremia can occur as a result of an electrolyte imbalance when exercising for longer than an hour. Electrolyte imbalances can have serious consequences for both health and performance with effects including disorientation, nausea, muscle weakness and in extreme cases comas and even death. If training hard for more than 60 minutes then always aim to consume a sports drink containing additional electrolytes.
How much water do I need?
Guidelines tend to vary depending on the information source and ideally, daily optimal fluid intake levels should be guided by individual assessment. Individual characteristics such as bodyweight, genetic predisposition and heat acclimatisation state will affect an athlete's sweat rates, however the guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (2007) below should outline a solid pre, during and post-training hydration strategy.
Aim for 5-7ml per kg of bodyweight at least 4 hours before exercise. If you don't urinate or your urine is a relatively dark colour then you can look to drink a further 3-5ml/kg of bodyweight around 2 hours before exercising. By hydrating this far in advance of training, it should allow time for urine output to return to normal so you don't have to keep visiting the toilet during your gym or sports session.
As there are so many factors that come in to play which will affect sweat levels during exercise, there is no "one size fits all" strategy. Measure your bodyweight pre and post-exercise to determine your individual sweat level and use this as a base for individual recommendations.
For rapid and complete recovery from dehydration, aim to drink 1.5 litres of fluid for every kg of sweat lost during exercise. Combine this with the guidelines in our post-workout nutrition article and you should have the foundations of a sound recovery strategy and stay hydrated.