Hydration levels are essential if each cell is to function at its best. In sporting terms this equates to better strength, better endurance, improved mental focus and maximum recovery rates. The key factors we need to examine to achieve optimal hydration levels are water intake, glucose storage, electrolytes and exertion levels.
Glucose Levels: each gram of glucose (glycogen) stored in the muscle will attract an additional 3 grams of water with it. Glucose levels in the muscle are dependent on adequate carbohydrate consumption in the meals leading up to the event (including previous days) and consumption of carb/ electrolyte drinks during exercise. Particularly during longer exercise sessions/sports carbohydrate drinks will be needed to maintain blood glucose levels. As Blood and muscle glucose levels fall, both energy production and muscle hydration levels can fall.
Water Intake: Intense sessions, namely long duration sports and exercise during the hot summer months will cause excessive sweating to keep the body cool. Unless the sweat is replaced with water or Electrolyte/ Carb drinks then muscle hydration levels will fall and with it so will performance.
Strength and VO2 max can be impaired with as little as a 2% loss in bodyweight (1.6kg for 80kg man). While performance loss is more noticeable in endurance events, dehydration has been shown to also decrease sprint times. This is a big problems for sports like football, hockey and basketball – first to the ball wins.
For bodybuilders dehydration will cause a loss in blood volume, leading to problems obtaining a “pump”. The pump is not only useful for carry nutrients to working muscles and carrying waste products away. A good pump will also signal natural anabolic processes with-in the targeted muscle, promoting growth.
The simplest way to gauge dehydration is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. Any lost water weight needs to be reintroduced back into the body asap. For example team sports participants are encouraged to get their weight back to pre-game levels before leaving the sports venue. Protein shakes and post exercise specific drinks are a good way to start replenishing the body to kick-start the recovery process.
Electrolytes: Sodium is not the only electrolyte that needs replacing after intense exercise. A good Electrolyte replacement drink will also contain potassium (most abundant electrolyte in muscles), magnesium (muscle relaxation) and calcium (muscle contraction). A good food source of potassium is bananas, magnesium is almonds and calcium is abundant in diary.
The body recovers quickest when it is properly hydrated. If you want to achieve the best possible recovery between training sessions or after a game, then it makes sense to be properly hydrated every day, not just game day.
See our “Post Exercise Meal Choices” article for what foods to eat after exercise for optimal recovery!