Optimizing Hydration For Athletes

Watching timeless NFL quarterback Tom Brady make his 10th Super Bowl after tearing up opposing defences every Sunday at the age of 43, makes me think that there has to be some sort of method to his madness. It’s probably a result of all the avocado ice cream he’s been eating or even the resistance band workouts he’s been crushing. There’s also a very good chance there’s not one single thing that makes him great, but it’s the combination of championship habits that puts him above the competition. Regardless, one pillar of his TB12 Method that I’m quite fascinated with and always seems to stick out, is the importance he places on hydration.

I wanted to write this article for all the athletes that have been told they should be drinking enough water but have never had it explained as to why, or even how much is enough to drink, and is it possible to drink too much? This can also be a great tool for coaches to share with their athletes to shed light on just how important maintaining fluids is, and hopefully, help improve performance as a whole unit.

No matter who’s reading, this is a full guide on everything you need to know about hydration for athletes and I believe that everybody can take something away from it. If not, well that sucks and I’m sorry, but I’m still stoked to have this resource available for my athletes as a simple guide to follow when trying to maximize their performance, so I’m calling it a win.

Photo of Coach Ozzy's Nathan Waterbottle

Here’s an artistic photo of my water bottle that I took in Ontario on a road trip across Canada. I call my bottle Nathan because it says Nathan on it.

Why Is Hydration Important For Athletes?

Performance

As talked about in two of my previous articles on Sleep and Active Recovery, one of the main goals that your body is constantly trying to achieve is homeostasis. When you exercise, blood flow has to increase to be able to supply the working muscles with nutrients, in turn, making you feel more heat than at rest. To counteract that and return to homeostasis, you sweat to try and cool yourself off. Obviously enough, the more you sweat, the less fluid you have for your body to use for its normal functions.

If not replaced, the fluid loss suffered from exercise will result in less blood volume and therefore lower blood pressure, decreasing the amount of blood that can reach exercising muscles and skin. In an effort to get blood to these areas, heart rate increases beyond an individual’s normal hydrated levels while exercising. Higher than normal heart rate and the hindrance of heat dissipation will end up decreasing athletic performance.

One particular study that has since been redone to many different extents showed that dehydration resulting in a decrease of roughly 2% body weight can decrease running velocity by up to 6.7% while running for long distances(1). For all the nerds out there like me who love the experimental aspect of this topic, go ahead and give “Effects of dehydration on athletic performance research” a search, you won’t be disappointed.

Photo of Endurance Athlete Sweating Heavily

It’s crucial for endurance athletes to stay hydrated or else performance is destined to drop-off.

Recovery

Adequate fluid supply is also necessary from a recovery standpoint. If there’s limited blood flow, your muscles will have a harder time getting the nutrients needed for fast, efficient adaptation. As learned in my Active Recovery blog, blood flow is necessary for a quick turnaround on rest days.

Here’s a quick summary list of all the areas that dehydration can have negative effects on athletes:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Slower recovery
  • Decreased heat dissipation
  • Increased core temperature
  • Decrease in blood flow to the working tissues and skin
  • Increased perception of fatigue
  • Overall decreased performance

Overall, we can clearly see that having a high enough fluid intake is absolutely crucial for performance in both workouts and sport, but how much water is enough to maintain a hydrated state?

How Much Water Should Athletes Drink?

According to Tom Brady’s book, The TB12 Method, on active days Tom slugs back about 4.4 litres on any given day and a ridiculous 2.3 Gallons of water on an active day. There’s no way I would tell you to drink over 8 litres of water, but hey, you can’t argue with results.

Calculation

Instead, after doing some research, I’ve come up with the conclusion that drinking about half your body weight in ounces is a good place to start. This can obviously be scaled depending on how active you are or how hot it is on a particular day, but as a starting point, I like this calculation.

Weight in lbs:



Can You Drink Too Much Water?

I recently received this question from an athlete that I train with who was concerned that during activity, they drank too much and felt as if this could have repercussions on their performance. The simple answer is yes, but it would be hard to.

Hyponatremia

It is called hyponatremia when the sodium concentration in your body gets below a certain level, and it can be very harmful. I’m not going to dive too deep into the explanation because hyponatremia is extremely uncommon, but effectively it is when fluid levels are excessively exceeded and sodium levels in the blood are super low. This can lead to headaches, poor balance and nausea, or in more severe cases, seizure, inability to think, or even death.

Smaller Scale

The other repercussions resulting from excessive water intake would be bloating and increased weight due to water. In sports like volleyball or basketball that require constant jumping and quick movements, these factors could definitely decrease performance and put higher than normal loads on joints.

Of course, it depends on the individual athlete, but my recommendation would be to drink the most amount of water that you can while still feeling like the dynamic athlete you are. The psychological benefits of feeling light and powerful are also important in maximizing performance.

In my opinion, there’s no reason to crush as much water as Tom Brady does on game day, but it’s safe to say that after 6 Super Bowl wins (maybe 7 next week), there might be some science behind his whole operation. Either that or all the avocado ice cream he’s been eating (after making out with his children) has had a couple secret ingredients slipped in.

Photo of Basketball Players learning the importance of hydration

A player who’s sport depends on them being a certain weight might feel slow or sluggish after drinking too much water.

Strategies To Stay Hydrated

Drink more water. I wish that could be the end of this section because it’s that simple, but getting on a good hydration routine can be super challenging. I’ve laid out a couple tips to help you start drinking more water, but just like in my Sleep Series, the most important strategy I can give you is to build a routine and hold yourself accountable to it. After drinking lots of water for a couple weeks, your body will adapt to this wonderful new lifestyle and will present you with the reward of not having to hit the washroom nearly as much as in the beginning, I promise.

Tips to staying hydrated that you should try:

  • Set up a plan to ease yourself into a new routine and stay there. A sample plan could be to track your water intake for a week, and then increase your intake by 500mL/week until you reach your goal. This will probably seem more doable and end up being more sustainable than shooting for your goal right away. Whatever your plan is, it’s important to hold yourself accountable.
  • Add flavour to your water to make it more enjoyable. Obviously, be aware of ingredients and nutrients that might affect your performance and health. A good way to avoid this is by making your own flavoured water instead of purchasing it from the store.
  • Track your water intake. Just like sleep, this can be a natural way to hold yourself accountable and see where you’re at. There are tons of easy to use apps out there to help you with this.
  • Get a large, reusable water bottle and bring it everywhere you go. Let it serve as a constant reminder to drink more water.
  • Before, after, and during a workout, make sure to drink lots of water to maintain fluid levels.
Photo of Cucumber Water

I find cucumber water disgusting, but hey, if it helps you stay hydrated, power to ya!

Ozzy’s Action of The Week

At Sled Dog Development, we look to maximize all the areas of performance that are controllable. This week, I want you to dial in your hydration. I want you to calculate how much water you should be drinking on a daily basis, and then use some of the strategies listed above to try and crush your goals.

Call out your teammates, friends, and family and get them in on the challenge. Kick their ass and let them hear it to feel great about yourself and then continue to feel better than them because of how much more water you drank! A win-win situation if you ask me.

Disclaimer: Might lose friends.

References

  1. Armstrong LE, Costill DL, Fink WJ. Influence of diuretic-induced dehydration on competitive running performance. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4033401/

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