It’s really no secret that the human body is made up of between 50% and 65% water. Your brain is nearly 85% water, as is 80% of your blood. Muscles are comprised of nearly 70% water, and did you know that the balance of water and electrolytes is what determines how nearly all of your bodily systems function?
Water plays an important role in the removal of waste. It controls your body temperature, you blood pressure, and your heart rate. Water even plays a role in your body’s ability to metabolize foods correctly.
Many people may think they’re getting enough water when they actually aren’t, which leads to dehydration. For some, it’s only minor dehydration. For others, it’s more severe, but regardless of which category you may fall into, dehydration is a serious issue and, if not taken care of, can have drastic effects.
Hydration: The Statistics
- The average person drinks approximately 16,000 gallons of water over the course of his or her lifetime
- Solid foods may provide 3-4 cups of water every day
- When you sweat, urinate, and exhale, you lose around 10 cups of water every day
- A water loss of 9% to 12% of your total body weight can be fatal
- When it’s hot out or you’re exercising, you can lose up to 2 quarts of water every hour
It’s not hard to see that proper hydration is a very important part of optimal health for all of us. However, if you’re an athlete, that importance can double, even if you’re just committed to an exercise routine and aren’t currently competing.
Why Hydration Matters for Athletes
So, you’re an athlete. Did you know that losing as little as 4% of the water in your body during exercise or competition can negatively impact your performance as much as 30%?
According to WebMD and Dr. Larry Kenney, PhD, this drastic change can cause physiological changes like increased heart rate and increased body temperature. Even a 2% shift in your body’s water capacity can eventually lead to dehydration when it comes to intense exercise and competition.
When you don’t drink enough water, your body isn’t able to perform at its highest level. You’ll feel fatigued. You’ll get dizzy and your muscle will cramp.
You’re dedicated to your sport. Be dedicated to proper hydration, too. Water is the “oil” to your “machine.” Water keeps your joints lubricated and is what helps move nutrients throughout your body for optimal energy levels and improved health.
Guidelines for Water Consumption
If you’re undertaking moderate to high intensity exercise or competition, The American Council on Exercise makes the following recommendations for water intake:
- 2 to 3 hours before exercise/competition: 17 to 20 ounces of water
- 20 to 30 minutes before exercise/competition: 8 ounces of water
- Every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise/competition: 7 to 10 ounces of water
- Less than 30 minutes after exercise/competition: 8 ounces of water
Follow these guidelines as a starting point, but be sure to listen to what your body is telling you. Because everyone is different, the amount of water your body needs will also be different.
Factors to consider when hydrating include the following:
- Sweat rate
- Heat and humidity
- Exercise intensity and duration
Staying on top of hydration is pretty simple. Check your urine to see if you’re taking in enough water. Colorless or light yellow means you’re hydration levels are good. Dark yellow urine or urine the color of apple juice is one of the most telling signs of dehydration.
Still worried that you may not be getting enough water? Drink more! A great way to pin down good water intake guidelines for yourself is to measure how much sweat you lose. All you need to do is weigh yourself before and after you exercise on a few different days. Be sure to use a digital scale. Take these weights and average them.
If there is weight loss, it’s likely because of sweat loss. Use that number as a guide for your water intake and consider this step, too: Drink between 16 and 24 ounces of water for every pound you’ve lost after exercise.
Dehydration: What to Watch For
The symptoms of dehydration are not to be ignored. If you’re exercising or competing a lot and experience the following symptoms, you may be suffering from dehydration:
- Dark yellow or amber colored urine
- A lower frequency of urination
- Noticeable changes in your skin; hot and cold, or a red or yellow color
- Noticeable weight loss
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Dizziness and/or a feeling of being light-headed
- A dry mouth or eyes
If you experience any of these symptoms, make sure you address them right away. Sip water right away until you begin to feel better. Then drink two large glasses (and more if you need it). Dehydration is no laughing matter, and if it get severe enough, your life could be at stake.
The Simplicity of Avoiding Dehydration
For athletes, staying on top of hydration should come as easy as sleeping, eating, and training does. However, changes in exercise frequency, competition schedule, or a change in climate could all play a role in your chances for dehydration, even if it’s only on the low end of the spectrum.
Take a look at the following tips for avoiding dehydration all together:
- Drink water. This should be a no-brainer. The typical recommendation for the average person is 8 glasses every day. If you’re exercising or competing, you’ll need more. Understand your body and measure your sweat loss to help determine how much water your body needs for optimal health and athletic performance.
- Stay away from beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine. It’s common knowledge that caffeine and alcohol are natural diuretics and can easily cause dehydration. Stick to water or juice instead and, if you’d like, add an electrolyte packet, such as Trace Minerals Stamina Power Paks.
- Try to avoid extreme heat and humidity. High temperatures and humidity levels can cause dehydration to set in more quickly. If you can exercise indoors, do it. If you have to compete outdoors in the heat, double the amount of water you normally drink. As always, add more if you need to.
- Always make sure to catch dehydration early. If you’re experiencing symptoms of dehydration, always act quickly to correct them. Catching it early allows you to take care of the problem before it gets worse.
As an athlete, you want to be the best you can be. You want to challenge yourself to constantly do better. Do it. Make water your sidekick.
Check out the following products I use to stay hydrated:
- Vega Sport Lemon Lime Electrolyte Hydrator from Vega
- Sportmixer BlenderBottle (in Black & Red) from Blender Bottle
What are your favorite ways to stay hydrated? Do you have any methods you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!
Featured Image Credit: Ryan Hyde via Flickr.