If you thought energy drinks were the key to a performance-packed workout, you’d be wrong. Drinking water is not only the most vital component of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s also the easiest way to earn a boost in your physical performance.
Here’s why anyone seeking maximize their workout potential should be drinking more water before, during, and after hitting the gym.
Fortunately, the health benefits of drinking water extend to everyone, regardless of fitness level. But why is water so beneficial to the human body? Here are a few perks of topping up your water reserves, regardless of your health or fitness level.
In a study of over 18,000 participants, researchers found that people who drank more water reduced their overall calorie intake. Not only that, but they also decreased their consumption of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol.
People who drank up to three more cups of water than usual ate up to 200 fewer calories throughout each day. The benefits were the same whether participants drank tap, bottled, or fountain water. It makes sense, since filling up on water (or other beverages) tends to make you feel less hungry come meal time.
As Mind Body Green explains, drinking enough water throughout the day keeps your brain healthy and hydrated, meaning you’re less likely to lose concentration or feel fatigued. Since our brains are waterlogged (not to mention the rest of our bodies, too), high fluid levels are vital to their function.
A person who is dehydrated has difficulty thinking clearly, so the more fluids, the better. At the same time, dehydration can cause headaches. Often, people assume headaches are typical, but people who maintain proper hydration experience far fewer pains than those who don’t.
Water helps your organs flush toxins and other undesirables out of your system. It also helps keep your bowel movements regular. Sweat and urine both excrete waste, too, so the more water you take in, the more waste goes out.
Without water, your body is unable to flush out harmful elements, meaning buildup begins to happen inside. Also, organs like your kidneys require plentiful water to perform their regular functions.
When your body’s moisture stores are in balance, your skin stays supple and smooth. Plus, you can avoid wrinkles by making sure your skin doesn’t dry out. Further, hydrated skin won’t show as many visible signs of stress or adverse environmental factors as skin that’s dry and vulnerable.
When your body has plentiful water stores, your joints and muscles receive the lubrication they need to function correctly. This also means you have less chance of injury than if you’re perpetually dehydrated. Minor aches and pains often subside when you have enough to drink.
The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study in 2002 that showed a reduced risk of heart disease in populations who drank more than five glasses of water per day. While the Journal admitted that the findings don’t mean that you can drink away heart disease, choosing to up your water consumption can only do good things for your body.
Staying hydrated has everyday benefits no matter who you are, but fitness conscious people should also consider the performance effects of their water intake. Maintaining proper fluid levels will help you achieve fitness goals and continue to excel in the gym and the outside world.
The biggest risk to any athlete, regardless of sport, is dehydration. When you engage in physical activity, your body is running multiple systems concurrently. Between cardiovascular, thermoregulatory, metabolic, and central nervous functions, there’s a lot of action happening that can be influenced by dehydration.
Particularly when it’s hot outside (or in the gym), your body is at higher risk of becoming hydrated and experiencing a systems failure of sorts. Studies note that even during short-duration physical activity, dehydration can impair performance. This is due to a combination of both environmental factors and the fact that the human body uses sweat to cool down.
As you sweat, your body sloughs off toxins and undesirable elements, but it also loses electrolytes. With that fluid loss, the body is more susceptible to dehydration simply because more is going out than is coming in. Mild dehydration also means aerobic and endurance activities will be that much harder to handle since your body turns inward to focus on cell-level concerns.
Drinking enough water is the first step in preparing your body for everyday living, but it’s also an essential precursor to strenuous physical exercise. Maintaining a high level of fluids helps your body deal with outside temperature changes and helps it adapt to changing conditions.
Without sufficient water while you’re working out, your heart begins to work harder. In fact, for every 1 percent of body weight loss from dehydration, the heart starts beating from 5-8 beats per minute faster than average.
At the same time, cardiovascular function declines, temperature increases, and blood volume decreases. These factors contribute to reduced performance in the gym or on the field and pose a significant health risk to athletes.
Conversely, with a reasonable daily water intake, your heart receives the support it needs to continue to function at optimal levels while you exercise. Further, one trial found that with each liter of fluid an athlete consumed, his or her core temperature lowered, the heart rate lowered by an average of 8 beats per minute, and cardiac output increased.
Fortunately, drinking more water is a reasonably simple method of supporting your overall health as well as increasing athletic performance through augmented cardiovascular function.
For people who are new to physical fitness as a way of life, losing weight and reaching personal goals can pose a challenge. But high-level athletes aren’t the only ones who benefit from calorie-reducing water consumption.
Drinking water instead of other beverages (particularly those that are high-calorie) keeps you from turning toward sugar and caffeine in place of proper hydration. Further, consuming food that contains a lot of water, like fruits, vegetables, broth, oatmeal, and beans, WebMD notes, will make your body work harder for the same number of calories.
The benefits of regulating calorie intake also extend to a person’s physical range. If you begin your fitness journey carrying excess weight, drinking more water can help you lose it. As you drop weight, you’ll be able to safely enjoy an array of physical activities that were impossible before.
Your skin isn’t the only part of your body that suffers when you have insufficient fluid intake. Internal systems are at a disadvantage when you either don’t drink water or replace it with caffeinated or sugary drinks.
Cells can shrivel when they don’t receive enough fluids and electrolytes, meaning your muscles feel the impact too. It’s dehydration, but on a cellular and potentially dangerous scale. Upping your H2O intake can prevent lags in performance due to cell shrinkage, helping muscles reach full capacity.
In all athletic activities, particularly strength training, proper balance is paramount. But even mild dehydration that goes unnoticed can impact an athlete’s balance. As one study determined, dehydration can have severe effects on stability and pose a risk of injury to athletes who are affected.
Dehydration can cause increased heart rate, hyperthermia (increased body temperature) and higher-than-normal oxygen consumption. While the body struggles to address these issues, athletic performance suffers. Studies note that this is true even when the level of dehydration is around 1-2 percent.
Studies also note that fatigue that results from exercise combined with dehydration can lead to lowered muscle efficiency. This form of fatigue disrupts the body’s sensitivity mechanisms that tell it how and when to move various muscle groups.
In summary, the studies surrounding balance and water intake found that athletes who did not maintain adequate hydration during exercise were more likely to alter their normal posture than athletes who drank water throughout their workouts. This means the affected athletes went off balance due to their bodies’ attempts at managing the internal symptoms of dehydration.
Working out without maintaining adequate hydration is one of the leading causes of muscle cramps. Any exercise can result in cramping, and muscle spasms are common in situations where a muscle is overworked or injured. However, drinking water can help relieve and prevent cramps in many instances.
Similarly, low levels of minerals like potassium and calcium can also wreak havoc on your muscles. However, drinking enough water not only balances your caloric intake and keeps you hydrated, but it also helps your body manage its nutrient and mineral stores more efficiently.
If you often feel lightheaded or lose focus while working through your fitness routine, dehydration may be the culprit. Not drinking enough water can lead to athletes feeling out of sorts, sleepy, or lightheaded. It can also adversely affect mental performance.
By the time you even feel thirsty, you may already have lost about 10 percent of your mental function! That’s a critical issue in the gym, especially when you’re working with heavy equipment with other people around. Rather than pose a hazard to yourself and others around you, opt for optimal hydration to stay alert.
The more water you drink, the better your hand-eye coordination, and the more alert and revitalized you’ll feel. Your memory, attention, concentration, and reaction times will also increase as you track your water intake and avoid dehydration.
If a certain lift or move has you feeling overwhelmed and overly challenged, your lack of fluids could be to blame. An increased feeling of “perceived effort” goes hand-in-hand with the other symptoms of even mild cases of dehydration.
Whether you’re addicted to diet soda or have a preference for fruit-flavored sports drinks, choosing water is always the healthiest choice. Also, opting for alternative beverages can also pose serious health risks to people, athletes or not.
While the marketing ploys are clever, sports drinks aren’t much more than water, sugar, and some added minerals. But the public clamors for them, and for all the wrong reasons. As Harvard Health notes, overhydration is a serious concern for athletes and many turn to sports drinks in an attempt to maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes.
The problem is the extra calories, sweeteners, and minerals may not be what our bodies need. When athletes follow their thirst to water, their bodies avoid an infusion of extraneous calories and a concoction of nutrients that we may not be lacking in the first place.
If you’ve ever read a soda label, you already know that soft drinks pack a ton of calories and sugar into an otherwise nutritionally deficient form. But drinking soda, and particularly drinking soda in place of water, has significant health risks.
Studies have found that people who drink soft drinks are more susceptible to weight gain than those who don’t drink carbonated beverages. People who choose soda also consume less milk and therefore less calcium, putting their bones and other internal systems at a disadvantage.
Overall, the biggest risk to people who regularly consume soda is the heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Although this risk is specific to non-diet soft drinks, diet soft drinks are not a healthy alternative to the standard sweetener versions. Ultimately, the caffeine and miscellaneous flavors and additives are only extra unknowns in the soda versus health equation.
When it comes to potential health benefits, coffee is a leader compared to soda and sports drinks. While some studies found a correlation between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality, it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutritional power.
Most notable is the fact that high consumption of coffee correlates with “mild elevations in cholesterol levels". However, the biggest problem with coffee comes down to what you add to it. While black coffee may not impact your health either way, adding cream, sugar, or any other additives adds more calories and fat to your diet without any nutritional perks.
Although the potential benefits of caffeine consumption receive a lot of attention, the main consideration is whether your daily cup is adding nutritional value or simply replacing the water your body truly needs.
At the same time, many people believe that drinking coffee causes dehydration. Although coffee is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate more than other fluids, caffeine won’t have much of an impact on your hydration state unless you’re dehydrated in the first place. That’s good news for athletes who enjoy an unadulterated cup of coffee as part of their morning routine.
Calcium has a reputation for preserving bone mass not only in athletes, but everyone in the general population. But that doesn’t mean its calories are worth chugging glasses per day instead of sipping water throughout.
Although milk contains vitamins, two servings of 2 percent milk have nearly as many calories as a Snickers bar. It’s safe to say, drinking your calories is never a good idea, especially when you could drink calorie-free water for your body’s health instead.
The Mayo Clinic advises that women drink about 11.5 cups of fluids per day while men consume 15.5 cups per day. In fact, the recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day has shady origins to begin with, so don’t rely on that measure for optimal intake.
If you have major gains to make in hydration, try a few of these techniques to bump up your numbers.
If you make drinking more water part of your lifestyle, it will eventually become habit. Therefore, the first step is to incorporate regular water consumption into daily routine.
For instance, try drinking a glass at recurring times during your day:
By consuming water right before your afternoon and evening meals, you'll fill your stomach and will thus require less food to feel full.
If you’re at home often, it may not prove so difficult to refill your glass throughout the day. For instance, I keep two frozen liter water bottles in my freezer at all times.
I take one water bottle out in the morning and one in the afternoon. This ensures that I always have ice-cold water at the ready throughout the day.
But if you’re on the go, keeping water conveniently at hand may not be so simple. But if you can plan ahead to keep water close-by, it will help you reach your hydration goals more easily.
Whether you buy water bottles by the case, purchase a personalized container, or stock up on gallon-size jugs, make sure water is always near (or at the very least, more easily accessible than a vending machine).
If the bland taste (or lack thereof) of water keeps you from meeting your intake targets, add some fresh fruit, vegetables, or herbs for a hint of flavor. This type of beverage is known as infused water.
In recent years, the market has been flooded with water bottles made specifically to infuse water with the just about anything you can imagine. These containers provide a simple way to achieve your water intake goals while also getting those much-needed vitamins and minerals.
If you think that drinking from a bottle or cup is the only way to up your water intake, you’ll be happy to know that many foods contain plenty of water that counts toward your goal. Many fruits and vegetables contain as much as 96 percent water per volume.
The next time you need to chug a glass but you're not feeling it, consider the following water-rich foods instead. You can use these handy food charts to determine how much water you're consuming per serving.
Hitting your hydration target and maintaining it long-term are both crucial steps to using water as a performance advantage. That means making water part of your daily routine is the first step toward higher physical output.
There are a multitude of ways to track your water intake, from the archaic to bleeding-edge tech. Many times a combination of simple hacks and digital tools is enough to track your long-term success.
Using water bottles to track your fluid intake makes a lot of sense. The easiest way to determine how much you've drank is to purchase bottles with progress markers. You can even purchase bottle with inspirational quotes if that's what it takes.
Another option is to go high-tech and purchase a Bluetooth-enabled water bottle that can connect to a mobile app. This approach will take the guesswork out of things as you'll know exactly how much water you've consumed each day.
Going digital with a water tracking app lets you set reminders, track ounces, and meet your goals each day. Here are a few apps with plenty of features that are free to download.
I started building a home gym out of necessity following my divorce. I quickly learned that I could build-out a complete workout space for cheaper than it would cost me for a multi-year gym membership. I enjoy trying out new equipment and evaluating different products to expand my gym and learn more about home-based workouts.