Written by: Kevin Cann
We often write about the importance of mobility work and nutrition in terms of recovering from the rigors of training. We know that sleep is critically important as well. However, there is an often overlooked piece of the puzzle. This critical component is not only key to recovering from training, but it is also essential to life. This essential piece is hydration.
Roughly 75% of all Americans are dehydrated. It becomes easy to bypass the water when we are surrounded by beverages such as coffee, soda, and alcohol. A good amount of the 75% of dehydrated Americans also spend money on supplements to aid in their training and recovery when all they really need to do is drink some water.
Water plays a critical role in wound healing. It delivers oxygen and nutrients necessary for healing. Not having enough water in our system can delay healing by starving the tissue of those nutrients and oxygen. The same goes for training.
When we train we actually do damage to our tissue. We often discuss the importance of eating nutrient dense food for recovery, but without water these nutrients cannot be delivered to where they need to go. This can delay recovery and negatively affect our training by leading us to be sore.
Research has shown that dehydration can actually increase delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (1). All pain changes movement patterns. Think of the first time that you worked out and how sore you became. Was it any easier to walk up and down stairs? Chances are you hobbled your way around. These changes in our movement patterns can lead to less effective training because our body is too damaged to perform at its highest level. This can even increase injury risk.
Studies have also shown that being dehydrated can actually decrease muscle strength. One study looked at ten weight trained males that completed two testing sessions. One test was done in a mildly dehydrated state and the other was performed 2 hours later after rehydration. Researchers found that there was a 1.5% decrease in bench press strength when the males were tested in a dehydrated state (2). Instead of taking your pre-workout maybe all that you need is a little more water in your life.
Not only does being dehydrated decrease strength, but it also has a negative effect on a number of other physiological factors. Being dehydrated leads to an increase in core temperature, early fatigue, and decreased performance (3). Hydration also plays a critical role in blood sugar balance.
When we are dehydrated our body releases a hormone known as vasopressin. Vasopressin tells the kidneys to hold onto more water and the liver to release glucose into the blood. This can limit oxygen getting into the working cells as well as decreasing our glycogen stores, which limits our performance.
Dehydration can also negatively affect our mood and cognition (4). These are often overlooked factors in performance. If our cognitive abilities decrease so does our ability to react to external stimuli. Also, if we are overly anxious it can negatively affect our performance. We often discuss athletes as “cracking under pressure” in certain situations.
The signs and symptoms of dehydration are for one, being thirsty, dry skin, fatigue, and headaches. In more severe situations confusion, irritability, and extreme thirst. I recommend that all of my clients drink a gallon of water a day to avoid dehydration. A good way to know if you are properly hydrated is through urine color. We want our urine to be a pale yellow color. If it is darker, than we need to drink more water. If it is clear we can lay off of the water for a bit.
With that said you can consume too much water. This is known as hyponatremia. This is when the body takes in more water than it can rid itself of through urine and sweating. This leads to a rise of water in the blood and a decrease in sodium. This leads to swelling of the cells by taking in too much water to try and balance the body’s sodium levels. The cells eventually burst and the outcome can be fatal. Drinking a gallon of water and adding a little bit of salt to your meals can help avoid both dehydration and hyponatremia.
Before you go out and spend a ton of money on supplements to help increase energy and aid in recovery, look at your water intake throughout the day. 75% of Americans are dehydrated and chances are that you are one of them. Try drinking a gallon of water a day and add a little bit of salt to the diet and see how your recovery and energy levels respond.