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Hydration for Performance and Recovery

Water is the essence of all life. We all need water to be alive and healthy – water is required in literally every cellular function in our bodies, and it is responsible for the operation of vital organs, essential tissue repair processes, and neurological function.

For athletes, water takes on an even greater importance, as water is needed for the heart to pump blood, for nutrients to be delivered to cells, and for the body to repair during recovery periods. To promote both optimal performance during training and better recovery between sessions, focus on your hydration routine before, during, and after training.

Base Hydration for Health

We’ve all heard the old advice to drink 8 cups of water (64 oz.) per day. However, that’s just the beginning – most people need more than that, depending on their bodies, lifestyles, and activity level. 

For baseline hydration, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to start with drinking 50-75% of your bodyweight in ounces of water each day. For example, a 150 lb. person should start by drinking about 75 to 115 oz. of water per day to support body function and organ health.

Although regular water should be your highest priority, beverages such as coffee, tea, milk, and fruit juice also contribute to your daily water intake. In addition, you can also aim to incorporate more water-containing foods into your diet, such as fresh fruits like citrus, apples, and watermelon, as well as plenty of leafy greens and other hydrating vegetables.

Plan a Hydration Strategy for Training Sessions

In addition to the baseline hydration advice discussed above, it’s also incredibly important to have a hydration strategy in place before, during, and after your training sessions. Even mild levels of dehydration will result in a significant decrease in performance during training, and affect your body’s ability to recover.

On top of your general daily hydration, aim to drink at least 16 to 24 oz. of water within an hour or two of beginning your training session. During your workout, it’s generally good to sip water every 10-20 minutes, although this may not always be realistic depending on the type of training you’re doing.

Since you’ll burn through a lot of water during training through sweating, evaporation, and muscle contraction, always at least replace the fluids you lose. Ideally, you should aim to replace 100% to 150% of any water lost during training. 

You can get a general idea of how much water you lose by weighing yourself before and after a workout. For example, if you lose 1 pound during your workout, you have lost 16 oz. of water and should drink 16 to 24 oz. of water to replenish. Proper hydration will allow your body to recover from your training session and prepare you for the next one.

Keep an Eye on Electrolytes

Electrolytes conduct electrical activity within the body, including skeletal muscle contraction, neurological function, and heartbeat. Crucial electrolytes – including sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride – are lost in larger quantities during intense exercise through sweating. 

Electrolytes play an essential role in fluid balance, and it’s common to experience an electrolyte imbalance when you’re in a state of dehydration. Dehydration and electrolyte loss can cause muscle cramping, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, and sometimes even more severe effects.

If you are regularly participating in long, intense training sessions, be sure that you are maintaining healthy electrolyte balance in addition to staying hydrated. For most people, this can be achieved with a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes plenty of micronutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as a solid daily hydration strategy. Athletes who frequently train longer than two hours, or who train multiple times per day, may additionally benefit from special electrolyte supplements and sports drinks that deliver an electrolyte load appropriate to the intensity of training.

This article is part of our April blog series on athletic performance and recovery. Follow along with us as we explore how Nutrition, Hydration, Stretching, and Rest all contribute to improved recovery for athletes!

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