Proper Hydration is Critical to Your Fitness

A Beautiful Early June 'Walking, Running or Biking' Day in Lakes Park.  Photo Courtesy of Charly Caldwell II.

The amount of water you need to drink on a daily basis is often the subject of widespread confusion and debate.

We all know that proper hydration is important but how essential is it to your fitness?

More specifically, how does hydration status affect athletic performance, recovery between workouts and is it sport specific?

First, it is widely accepted and understood that water is a medium for numerous physiological process in the body.

Therefore, it makes sense that exercising in even a mildly dehydrated state puts extra strain on the body and in turn affects exercise performance, outcomes and recovery.

Also, being poorly or inadequately hydrated impairs the body’s cooling system. If we cannot effectively cool our bodies, our core temperature, heart rate and perceived exertion all rise as well.

This means that exercising at any given intensity will feel more difficult compared to a person doing the same exercise at the same intensity but who is properly hydrated.

A greater perception can also be likened to a double edge sword. Not only can you not work as hard on the given day, but because you cannot work as hard, your efforts are of diminishing returns.

Inability to give your training your best efforts means inability to reap fitness adaptations which in turn often leads to missed workouts and exercise attrition.

To understand the impact of hydration, as little as 1% dehydration can lead to impaired function.

For example; muscles may be able to contract but not relax and therefore cramping begins.

For a 150-pound person that equates to an approximate fluid loss of only 24 oz./hour.  

As little as 2% loss in body weight can significantly reduce athletic performance and at approximately 3% loss of body weight, cognitive function, like concentration, becomes impaired.

Dehydration can also negatively affect the body’s ability to recover between exercise sessions.

If body water is low, stroke volume – or the amount of blood ejected with each contraction of the heart – is lowered as well. This decrease in stroke volume limits the ability to transport nutrients vital to recovery; like carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes, throughout the body.

Hydration status has been shown to have the biggest impact on aerobic performance and endurance activities.

This means that if your training program is aerobic or includes endurance based activities, hydration status is even more important for you.

So how much is enough?

As a general rule, most adults should consume between 2.5 and 3 liters of water each day.

In addition, we need to replenish any fluids lost during exercise.

A rudimentary but effective way to keep hydrations status in check is to watch your urine.

Ideally it should be the color of straw. If it’s clear, you may in fact be over-hydrated and/or in need of electrolytes.

If it’s apple juice color or darker, it’s time to get some fluids in your body.

If you have any questions or concerns, your best bet is to talk with a registered dietician or your health care provider.

Angie Ferguson is an exercise physiologist and Tony Robbins Results Coach from Fort Myers, Florida. She also is a Corrective Biomechanics Specialist, USA Triathlon Advanced Level 2 coach, USA Cycling coach, has a Specialty in Sports Nutrition certification, and a PhD in results!  


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