Hydration For Beginners
“Drink more water”
I’m sure you’ve heard these before – they are messages which are relayed to us throughout our lives, right from childhood when we play out in the sun or are at a schooldesk trying to concentrate, to being adults when we are sporadically recommended to sip by doctors or gym instructors.
But these instructions are rarely said alongside any justification other than ‘it’s good for you’, and as such it’s difficult to make hydration a priority or even something that you think about on a regular basis. After all, if you don’t know WHY you are doing something, there’s just about no chance of you sticking to it (even when you do remember).
This week, therefore, we are not just going to tell you to drink more water – no, that horse has been flogged enough – we are going to tell you WHY you need to drink more, what happens when you don’t, and then give you practical recommendations of how to increase your water intake.
Most people think that they drink enough as it is, and this might include you, too. It’s a fair point, which needs addressing because on one level you are correct.
If you are reading this that means there has been no point in time where you have died of thirst. That means that your hydration levels aren’t awful. The problem, though, is that there is a gap between “enough water” and “the right amount of water” and that’s what we’re addressing here.
Dehydration is defined as a loss of 5% of the body’s fluid, with moderate dehydration coming in at 5-10% and 10-15% being considered severe. Most people will only ever experience the first one, with the second being something that is rare but something which can happen on especially hot days or during intense prolonged exercise. The third is a serious medical condition that requires a hospital visit and beyond the scope of what I’ll talk about here.
Because most people only really ever experience mild to low-moderate dehydration – and in fact often live life with mild dehydration all of the time - we’ll just put out focus here.
An average man is around 60% water by weight, and an average woman 50% (the difference largely due to differing amounts of muscle mass, which is a primary storage site for water). What this means is that for a typical 70kg woman, 35kg of her body is water. What this also means is that a loss of only 1.75kg of water is considered mild dehydration – a condition I would say that the vast majority of us are in almost all of the time. But what are the symptoms?
Dehydration, even in a mild form, can cause
- Poor concentration
- Low energy levels and tiredness
- Poor skin and hair condition
- Dry/chapped lips
- Cramping (including the exacerbation of menstrual cramps)
- Poor gym performance
- Poor gym recovery, and more soreness after training
Progress this on to moderate dehydration and all of these symptoms worsen, at severe levels you are prone to hallucinations, blackouts, vomiting, diarrhoea and even death. Again, though, most of us only ever experience mild dehydration – so what’s the big deal?
One of the reasons that we have all heard that we need to drink more water almost every day since birth is that there is a milieu of benefits to proper hydration. It’s not just a case of ‘avoiding bad stuff’, but ‘feeling awesome’ - and when you start to hydrate properly, the difference in how you feel at work, in the gym and during leisure activities really can be night and day. Because dehydration only requires a small amount of water loss to cause and because a lot of the symptoms are something that you can ignore until you don’t really notice them – you don’t really notice them.
That is, until you start to drink more water and notice how much better you feel.
Proper hydration will allow your brain to ‘fire on all cylinders’. Often when people reach for a coffee in the morning they do so to pick themselves up and wake up ready to tackle the day, but one of the main reasons we feel a little sluggish in the morning is because of dehydration.
During the day, including during sleep, we exhale around 700ml of water at rest, of course more when exercising because we breathe more, but also because our body produces more ‘water vapour’ for exhalation while performing the chemical reactions in our cells needed to produce energy.
This 700ml is partly lost while we sleep, along with a steady amount of gentle sweating which occurs during sleep, especially in heat, and along with the steady filling of our bladder which forms our morning pee. In short, we lose a lot of water during our sleep and this is one factor which causes us to feel tired in the morning. By rehydrating at this critical time you will notice almost immediately that you feel a LOT better, and might not even need that morning coffee at all!
On top of this, increasing water intake improves concentration on finer tasks through the day, and gives us the power to attend to things. If we are dehydrated, our mind wanders and it’s hard to focus on one task without getting ‘mind fog’ and losing our momentum. Hydrating during your working day WILL make you more productive and therefore make work feel like less of a chore if you currently aren’t drinking water at your desk.
And when it comes to the gym? Just MILD dehydration can reduce athletic performance by a SIGNIFICANT margin. It causes an increase in core temperature because you aren’t able to thermoregulate properly, meaning that you feel tired a lot faster, it causes those energy producing cellular reactions mentioned earlier to slow down meaning you have less ‘in the tank’ and it also reduces your muscles ability to contract to their full potential.
Then, when you are finished your session water is a vital part of your body’s ‘’detoxification’’ pathways whereby you get rid of all the nasty byproducts of training, which ultimately leaves these things floating about in your muscle cells for far longer. On top of that, water is needed within your cells to repair the small bits of damage you do with resistance training.
In effect, you aren’t able to train as hard so you burn fewer calories and cause less muscle growth, then you hurt even more after you train because you can’t recover properly. Grim.
As a final issue, water is required in the process your body performs to burn up bodyfat. Yes, you read that correctly – if you aren’t properly hydrated your body finds it VERY difficult to burn body fat.
By sipping water through the day and then taking some water with you while you work out, you avoid all of the above entirely, with no real negative drawbacks – you have nothing to lose!
Practical Tips to drink more
So, now that we have your attention – here’s what we recommend to you for increasing your hydration levels, feeling better and training harder every day:
Drink 500ml water upon waking, before your morning coffee. This will help you wake up, and will get you off to a really good start.
Buy a cool water bottle. I don’t have any research to back this up, but if you have a cool water bottle that is almost like an accessory then you are more like to carry it around.
Fill said water bottle and drink it during the day. Try to drink before you get thirsty, as thirst is there to tell you when you are already dehydrated – we are wanting to avoid this! A few sips every half hour is a great move. Feel free to set a small reminder on your phone while you are developing the habit.
Get some citrus fruits or even sugarfree squash to mix into your water to make it taste great. Experiment with different concoctions and find ones you like – fresh mint leaves and limes is a personal favourite.
During exercise, drink at least 500ml water per hour, more if it’s really hot.
Include ‘watery’ foods during the day, especially if work or other things make drinking difficult. Watermelon, cucumbers, most vegetables, yoghurts and other similar things all have liquid in and they all help towards optimal hydration.
Finally, during the day (not necessarily your morning pee) your urine should be clear to a pale yellow. If it’s any darker, you may need to up the intake!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you find that you are urinating more than every 60-90 minutes on a regular basis, if you have to get up more than once to urinate or if you drink a LOT of water but feel thirsty all of the time then you may be drinking too much water. There are very few people who need to drink more than 3.5 litres of water per day, and even this is on the high side. If you find that you are creeping over this mark and feeling any of the symptoms above, lower your intake.
IMPORTANT NOTE 2: This will be covered in the Intermediates guide in much more detail, but electrolytes are important for hydration, too (meaning salt), so do not avoid salt, and feel free to salt your food. If your sweat doesn’t taste at all salty, you may not be getting enough. It should taste like diluted seawater.
1 – If a female is 75kg, approximately how many kilograms of water are there in her body?
A – 37.5kg
2 – How much water would she have to lose in order to be considered mildly dehydrated (ml)?
A – 1875ml
3 – How much water, approximately, does the average person exhale through the day, even at rest (ml)?
A – 700ml
4 – True or False – You should wait until you are thirsty before drinking water.
5 – True or false – You cannot drink too much water.
A - False
Notes to self: Intermediate PDF will include info on electrolytes; Advanced will give ml/kg recommendations and calculations.