Most athletes know to drink a lot of water. However, very few athletes actually do. I myself have been known to drink the occasional Mountain Dew (if you think there is a better soda out there you are wrong) and the daily coffee (a girl has needs, and caffeine is at the top of them). Personally, my biggest issue was always that water got boring to me unless I was out in the hot sun or working out. What ultimately changed my focus on hydration was how much more energized, recovered, and healthy I felt when I had enough water that day. The way I felt made all the difference. And now, when I have the occasional sugary drink (like soda or over-creamed coffee) I actually feel worse, bloated, and foggy. It took commitment, but hydration is the number 1 way to either make or break your performance.
So if I am dehydrated.. What happens? Here are some of the detrimental effects that dehydration can have on you. Fun fact: Even just a 1% decrease in hydration has shown to have detrimental consequences on performance.
1. Depleted glycogen stores. When you are dehydrated, you use glycogen at a much faster rate. This is important because glycogen is the main source of energy our body uses in activities like sprinting, strength training, and power-sport practices (like softball). If your glycogen stores get depleted quickly, fatigue will set in much sooner than it should.
2. Slowed reaction time. Your brain cannot communicate with your muscles at optimal speeds unless you are properly hydrated. So you can expect to see reductions in strength and power. Reaction time is crucial for hitting and defense as well.
3. Decreased ability to burn fat. Cellular hydration needs to be optimal in order for your body to break down fat effectively. Typically, we burn fat with slower, longer activities such as a walk, a long bike ride, or a workout that is low in intensity.
4. Higher stress levels. Dehydration has been shown to increase levels of a not so cool little hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is commonly referred to as the "stress hormone" as it promotes to catabolic (breaking down) processes of muscle tissue. So in order to keep muscles growing, we need to make sure cortisol levels are down, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to stay hydrated.
So how much water do you actually need to drink? As little as a 1% drop in hydration can affect mental and physical performance. A good recommendation for athletes is to drink half of your body weight in ounces per day. For example, if you weigh 200 lbs, 100 ounces of water is what you would need. I personally feel my best when I hit this mark (which is not everyday, I'm not perfect) and I notice significantly less physical and mental issues when I get my adequate amount of water. Where most people run into trouble with this mark is that they think sugary and caffeinated beverages like soda, energy drinks, even gatorade (when you have not been exercising) hydrate you, when in reality its just the opposite. Proper forms of hydration are water and sparkling water (which is a good alternative to soda if you love carbonation like I do).
Here are some tips for keeping hydration levels optimal:
Drink early and drink often. Most people try to catch up with water after having an energy drink or 3 cups of coffee. Try to drink as much water as possible in the morning, and try to get at least 8 ounces of water in you before you drink anything else.
Keep a water bottle with you at all times. This has been a game changer for me personally. Having something to constantly sip on helps me stay sharp and focused and now its a habit.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. In addition to providing excellent amounts of nutrients like fiber and a ton of vitamins, fruits and vegetables also have increased water concentrations and they can aid in hydration!
If you are craving a soda, opt for a sparkling flavored water. If you are a coffee addict, try to ween yourself off cream and sugar. Cream and sugar cause our insulin levels to spike rapidly, all to have them crash within the hour. This is what keeps you going back for more cups. I drink my coffee black or with an occasional splash of almond milk now and it's actually great. I feel more refreshed and less full!
Check your hydration levels. How you know if you're hydrated? One of the easiest ways to check your hydration levels is to look at the color of your urine (I know, a bit gross, but effective). If your urine is dark, like apple juice, you are dehydrated and need to drink some water ASAP. If you urine is light and near clear, like lemonade, you are good, but still need to keep drinking!
*Bonus tip*: Often times we confuse thirst for hunger. So before you dive into a candy bar, drink a glass of water and see how you feel. If you are still hungry, still don't eat the candy bar (hello insulin spike) and reach for some fruit or some vegetables.
Bottom line: Drink your water and drink it often. Happy hydrating!