hydration 101: exactly what you need to know

Your workouts are on point, and your protein grams are measured out along with the optimal intake of quality carbs and healthy fats throughout the day. But, while so much attention has been spent and discussed on the macros and optimal intake, not enough attention is spent on the most basic of needs: water.  

Proper hydration will do much more for you than any protein shake or supplement you might use.

Several years ago, I was working with an NFL Team. During Training Camp, it was over 100 degrees—hot, humid, and pretty unbearable—when I was just standing on the sidelines, but particularly for the athletes in full uniform doing double sessions (one workout inside, one out).

During the on-field practice, one of the athletes was noticeably affected by the heat—he was about 275 lbs, fast, agile, and a starter at his position, but he was off.  The coach pulled him to reprimand him for not playing up to his normal skills. On his way off the field, the strength coach and I noticed something was going on. It turned out he was down almost 10 lbs from his starting weight—about 4% of his total body weight—and ultimately needed serious rehydration (including an IV). 

Yes, that’s an extreme example but even for you, at home, rowing away on your Hydrow, spinning on your Peloton, or crushing your workout in your favorite Box, hydration is essential.  

So fill up your Rhone reusable water bottle—obviously—and scroll a little further to see just how optimizing your hydration can make or break both your physical and mental performance. 

The most common question I get as a dietitian is, “How much water should I drink?”

Of course, like most nutrition questions, there’s no clear-cut answer. 

The truth is, “it depends,” but bear with me. 

Don’t close out of The Pursuit just yet. I’ll give you some better guidelines than just that, so by the end of the article, you’ll have an idea of how to hydrate for optimal functioning.

 

How does water impact performance?  

Water transports nutrients, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, organs and helps cardiovascular function. Further, water is about 45-75% of a person’s body weight (and muscle mass is about 70-75% water), making even the slightest bit of dehydration a negative.  

More specific than just being negative, check this out—a 1-2% loss of body weight from fluids can start to have a negative effect on how you feel, act and perform by impacting cognitive performance. 

One to two percent may seem like nothing but let’s put that into perspective - if you weigh 160 lbs, 1% body weight loss is less than 2 pounds. 

The NFL example I gave earlier is not typical. I get it, but even if you’re not an elite athlete, hydration plays a role in your workout and even how well you focus, concentrate, and simply function. Remember, just 1-2% body weight loss starts to impact cognitive functioning at the very least, while higher levels of dehydration can be even more serious and dangerous.  

If you want to find out how much fluid you lose during a workout, simply weigh yourself pre- and post-workout (without clothes) and measure the difference. 

Any weight loss during your workout is fluid (not body fat, so don’t get excited).  This fluid loss needs to be replaced.  In fact, for every 1 pound lost during a workout, it takes about 2 cups of fluid to replace that loss.  That means for the athlete I talked about earlier, he would have needed about 20 cups of fluid just to bring him back to where he started (hence the IV fluids he received). But again, that’s a bit more of an extreme example.

OK, so how much should you drink?  

At the most basic level, I recommend drinking half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces each day.  Going back to the 160-pound example earlier, that’s 80 oz (which is 10 cups) or just three of the Rhone reusable bottles over the course of a day.  This is my preferred method because I know how much the bottle holds, and then I can easily record how many bottles I drink daily. I weigh 200 lbs, so I fill up my Rhone bottle four times and also enjoy other sources of fluids each day.  That’s a bit more than half my body weight, but I know I’m losing a bit more with sweat when I’m working out.

Half your body weight in ounces, though, is just a starting point. Depending on where you live, if you’re exercising outdoors in a hotter environment, along with knowing your current fitness level, body weight, etc., you may sweat even more and need more than just that basic recommendation. That’s for you to decide.

If drinking that much water sounds challenging, keep in mind that water isn’t the only way to hydrate. In fact, every liquid you drink (outside of alcohol) counts.  Yes, that even means coffee and tea (which are both 99% water) and also includes the water in fruits & vegetables, so we get fluids from many different sources.  

An easy way to measure your hydration status is by looking at the color of your urine: pale lemonade is good, apple juice is not.  We had urine color charts taped in front of all the urinals in any locker rooms I worked in with the athletes to remind the athletes to make sure they stayed healthy and safe.  You can quickly search for “Urine Chart” online and find these if you want to get a better idea.

 

Here are 5 Tips to Optimize Your Hydration

  1. Calculate how many ounces of water you should drink daily (again, half your body weight in ounces).  Then, find out how much water your reusable water bottle holds (if you have the Rhone bottle, it holds 28 oz). 

  2. Hydrate when you wake up and before meals.  The first liquid I recommend you put in your body is water.  I fill up my bottle the night before, put it in the fridge, and aim to drink half of it before my first sip of coffee.  Next, aim to drink 2 cups (16 oz) before each meal.  Here’s one cool benefit of that: a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects who did that lost more weight than those who didn’t.

  3. Eat Your Water.  Like I mentioned earlier, produce (fruits and veggies) is full of water, so make sure you’re enjoying those throughout the day.  Other foods contain some water too, but produce is your best food source of water.

  4. Sip Water During Workouts.  I always keep my reusable water bottle in the gym with me and aim to finish one during my workout. That’s another 3+ additional cups.

  5. Flavor Water to Make it More “Exciting.” People often tell me water is boring. Consider seltzer or add fruit or vegetables to your water to flavor it and make it a bit more palatable if drinking water is a challenge for you.

 

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