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The Law of Hydration: Why Drinking Enough Water Makes You a Better Athlete
If challenges like 75 Hard, where participants drink 3L of water a day, and the Stanley Quencher mug craze tell us anything, it’s that people are big on hydration these days — not just athletes. Of course, humans need water to survive, plain and simple. “Drink enough water” has also long been a staple in fitness plans and diet fads for years. Why? Partially to help you feel satiated and prevent snacking. The other reason is to ensure optimal performance, joint protection, and overall health.
At DRYWORLD, we love doing deep dives into the latest fitness fads and crazes to debunk them and find out what really works for high-level athletes. Proper hydration, however, is something we can get behind — enough to make it our latest law.
“I always say that hydration is the most underutilized tool for athletes.” — Natalie Rizzo, sports dietician
Here’s the Law of Hydration: Why drinking water makes you a better athlete
How Much Water is Enough Water?
As we mentioned in our article about the 75 Hard Challenge, 3 liters of water daily is more than most people need to consume. We need to remember that there are plenty of other water sources outside of just a glass from the tap, such as coffee or tea, juice, and even the water content of the vegetables you eat. We get about 20% of our water needs from our food. Harvard Health Publishing suggests that a healthy person going about their day likely only needs to consume four to six cups of water daily.
That amount changes, however, based on several personal and environmental factors, such as the temperature outside, whether or not you exercised that day, overall health, medications you’re taking, gender, and so on.
If you’re worried you’re not getting enough, try those old tropes like keeping a water bottle with you throughout the day, adding flavor to your water to entice yourself to drink it, drinking a glass of water when you feel hungry in case you’re actually thirsty, and focus on high-water content foods like lettuce, celery, spinach, cantaloupe, and strawberries.
Training days will also require much more water (and sometimes even electrolytes!), so always compensate for hydration lost when sweating. If you become dehydrated, you may experience headaches, fatigue, confusion, hallucinations, cramps, weakness, and slow reaction times.
How Much Water is Too Much Water?
There is such a thing as drinking too much water, but generally, a human going about their day and trying to stay hydrated doesn’t have to worry about it. If you drink more water than your kidneys can eliminate, you can experience hyponatremia, which is essentially a lack of sodium in your system, causing nausea, vomiting, fatigue, confusion, and even seizures or death.
Luckily, our kidneys can expel around 20-28L of water a day. Unless you’re a marathon runner desperately trying to rehydrate while forgetting about electrolytes, you’re in the clear.
What Does Water Do for My Body?
Besides keeping us hydrated, what does water actually do for our bodies, especially as athletes? Here’s a list of some of the things from Harvard Health Publishing:
💧Carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells
💧Normalizing blood pressure
💧Protecting organs and tissues
💧Regulating body temperature
💧Maintaining electrolyte balance
Every one of these items is critical for peak athletic performance, injury prevention, and recovery. Oxygen to your cells and muscles creates smooth movements and endurance. Digestion allows energy to enter your system as it’s needed. Cushioning your joints reduces the chance of injury that knocks you out of games and training, eventually deteriorating your physical condition and performance.
Plus, if you look at the symptoms of dehydration, it should be obvious how they would affect your game performance, for example, slow reaction time. Poor hydration places extra stress on the cardiovascular system, reduces physical capacity, and puts your joints at risk. When you’re properly hydrated (primarily with water!), you keep your body functioning well and also limit excess sugar and caffeine.
A Study on Hydration and Athletic Performance
While this study published in the Journal of Kinetics focuses on Track and Field athletes, we can generalize their findings to many different genres of athletics and act as a warning flag for athletes. Without proper hydration, performance will suffer!
The study found nearly 70% of NCAA Division I athletes were hypohydrated after practice. It also showed that dehydration of 2% or more impaired strength, power, and endurance by 2%, 3%, and 10% respectively. They determined a direct connection between water deficits and the athlete’s ability to create upper and lower body anaerobic power.
While any old water bottle will do (no, you don’t need the Stanley Quencher to fulfill your hydration needs), the important thing is to properly hydrate based on your body’s needs and training regime. Otherwise, you’re letting something as simple as a glass of water or two stand in the way of achieving optimal athletic performance and reaching those goals.
“Hydrating post-workout helps us recover from the stress on the body from exercise.” — Sherry Granader, fitness instructor
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