It's no mystery that water is beneficial to our health. The majority of our bodies are made up of water since this critical component regulates body temperature, lubricates your joints, helps with digestion, along with many other metabolic processes. If you’re not properly hydrated, your body can’t perform at its highest level.
But how important is hydration for swimmers and will it really impact your overall athletic performance?
Why is water important for athletes?
Water is used for countless metabolic processes, many of which affect recovery. From muscle repair to protein synthesis to nutrient absorption, water and hydration levels play a huge role since our muscles are about 73% water. In brief, you cannot recover properly without adequate hydration. Since recovery is such an important part of a swimmer's nutrition and training plan, it is critical that you provide your body with the elements it needs to do this process. Having your post-workout recovery shake with water will ensure that you are getting optimal nutrition to support muscle repair and your recovery process. Also, when muscles burn glycogen, they simultaneously release about 2.5 units water for every 1 unit of muscle glycogen. When your body is hydrated properly, this process helps protect against dehydration. Another reason hydration for swimmers is important is because our blood is made up of 93% water and blood helps transport nutrients to give you energy and keep you healthy. Since your blood transports oxygen and other essential nutrients to your cells, the right amount of water will help your heart pump your blood more effectively.
What are the signs of dehydration?
One of the easiest natural detection systems for dehydration is thirst. But, unfortunately, by the time this warning sign kicks in you are likely already dehydrated. As little as a two percent loss of hydration will affect your athletic performance. Also, a simple urine test is helpful to know if you're getting enough water. Your urine should be almost clear to light yellow; anything darker than that is a warning sign that you are not getting enough water. Aim for two nearly clear urine tests a day.
Additionally, be extra cautious of hydration levels if you are exercising in hot or humid weather since that is when heat illness can occur if the body is dehydrated and can’t cool itself effectively during exercise. If you experience any of the early symptoms of heat illness, get some hydration immediately. Early symptoms are usually heat cramps which include painful muscle spasms in the legs, stomach, arms, or back.
Another symptom of dehydration is overall fatigue and stress. Since your brain tissue is about 70% to 80% is water, when you're dehydrated, your mind is stressed, you feel tired, and you become irritable, all of which will impact your performance in the pool.
How much should I drink?
The exact recommendations are different for every body type, but in general, when you're well hydrated, you can exercise longer and stronger without hitting the wall and running the risk of dehydration. For regular workouts, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 16 to 20 ounces at least four hours before exercise and three to eight ounces every 15 minutes during exercise. If you’re working out at a high intensity, weigh yourself before and after exercise to get a more accurate idea of how much water you’re losing. For every pound lost, it is recommended to drink 20 to 24 ounces for optimal performance and health. Use the change in your body weight to know if you're at risk for dehydration and are getting enough fluids. Here's a quick guideline:
Well Hydrated -1 to +1%
Minimal Dehydration -1 to -3%
Significant Dehydration -3 to -5%
Serious Dehydration > -5%
Of course, water is the best way to hydrate, but we know that you'll want to change it up every once in a while and it's good to know there are other ways to get your recommended dose of fluids. Healthy food sources of water include yogurt, oatmeal, grapefruit, grapes, watermelon, broth, and even chicken breasts. Make your own flavored water and enjoy it with your meals at home or take it with you for on-the-go refreshment. You'll stay hydrated without adding extra calories or dangerous ingredients that are sometimes found in store-bought flavored and "vitamin" waters. Try adding slices of cucumbers, chopped strawberries, or a handful of blueberries for added flavor and nutrition. Or if you're drinking your Nutriboost shake, try making it with water for extra hydration. If you've got more time, try our recipe for an iced tea that is a delicious way to hydrate and stay healthy all season long.
RECIPE: Jasmine Honey Iced Tea
- 1/4 cup loose green jasmine tea, or 12 green jasmine tea bags
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, plus whole sprigs for garnish
- 4 cups simmering water
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup honey
- 4 cups cold water
1. Steep loose tea (or tea bags) and mint leaves in simmering (not boiling) water for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Strain the tea (or remove tea bags and mint leaves) and pour into a large pitcher. Stir in lemon juice and honey until the honey is dissolved. Add cold water. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours. Serve over ice with mint sprigs, if desired.