5 Tips to Hydrate Like a Pro
Everyone is searching for an easy trick to improve their health and performance. Unfortunately, people spend their money on supplements that come in shiny, flashy bottles that just don’t work.
But what if I told you the best health supplement doesn’t come from a health store? It doesn’t come in a shiny, flashy bottle or have a catchy name either.
It’s water. That’s right. Water.
Water is both the strongest and most ignored part of a healthy life. It is an essential part of our body’s cells and is vital to nearly every function of your body. Here are just a few things we need water to do:
- Nutrient Transport: Your blood is mostly water, and it acts as a superhighway for moving nutrients to your organs, especially your brain and muscles. If you’re low on water, your nutrient highway will run slower. (1,2,3)
- Cushions Joints: Joints use water to make a special fluid and lining that covers bony surfaces called synovium. This helps bones slide over each other and also acts as a shock absorber, preventing injury. (1,2,3)
- Regulate Body Temperature: Sweat is a mix of salts and water that you release when you’re trying to lower your body temperature. The water evaporates, taking some heat with it and cooling you off. (1,2,3)
- Protects Your Airways: Water makes up a large part of the mucus that covers your airways and lungs. The mucus helps prevent your nose and lungs from drying out as you breathe air in. It can also catch dirt, bacteria and other nasty bits that could make you sick. (1,2,3)
- Recover from Exercise: You just worked out, and now your body needs to refuel. You need to replace the water you lost as sweat, but you also need water to help transport the food you just ate throughout your body. This is an essential part of the repair process after workouts. (2,3)
Knowing all this, you’d be surprised to hear that about 75% of Americans are in a state of constant dehydration (4). Dehydration has many symptoms, but the most obvious ones are mental fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, and decreased exercise performance (2,3).
Forgetting to hydrate properly will seriously hurt your body’s ability to perform at it’s best. Drinking more water is easier said than done, though.
So I’ve gathered 5 essential tips from nutrition experts to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Stick to these tips to hydrate like a pro!
1. Watch Your Urine
An easy method to check your hydration levels is to watch the color, volume, and frequency of your urine (2,3).
Our bodies regulate how much water we have at one time in order to maintain an optimal level for performance. When we are dehydrated, we will try to conserve water. On the other hand, if we drink too much water, we will try to flush it out.
Urine color says a lot, so I’ve made a reference table for you to use.
When you are dehydrated, your urine will be a strong yellow color, maybe even a dark yellow mustard color. The volume of urine will be small, and the frequency will be very low (3+ hours between trips to the bathroom).
Over-hydrated urine looks a lot like water because it basically is water. Too much water at one time forces your body to dump it out as urine instead of absorbing it. The urine would look clear and colorless, be of a large volume, and you may be going to the bathroom every 30 minutes. Not a situation you want when you’re in a boat out on the water!
Both situations are not ideal. Instead, aim for a middle ground where your urine is a light yellow color, like lemonade. The volume should not be too big, and you should be going to the bathroom around every 2 hours. This means your body has enough time to absorb the water that you have been drinking (2,3).
Try to drink enough water so that you are in the sweet spot. This volume of water is unique to you and so it takes some trial and error to figure out.
2. Sip, Don’t Chug Your Water
It may seem like chugging a giant water bottle when you’re thirsty would quench your thirst. But it actually makes you more thirsty!
To understand this, let’s imagine you’re watering a small plant.
If you dump a gallon of water on it and then leave it for a few days, that would wash away all the soil that the plant needs to grow. Then, once all that water runs off, the plant has to go several days until you water it next. The plant would be better off if you gave it a modest amount of water daily so it gets its necessary amount of water and still keeps its soil.
Your body works in a very similar way. We can only absorb so much water at one time. Too much water at once and you risk diluting your body and losing electrolytes in your urine. It could even damage some of your red blood cells, which we don’t want to do! (2,3)
Instead of chugging that giant water bottle, spread out that water intake over 1-2 hours by taking medium-sized sips every so often (2,3). You’ll end up absorbing more water and being better hydrated as a result.
3. Use Sports Drinks Effectively
It might be good marketing, but sports drinks do not hydrate better than water (2,3).
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined how effective different drinks were at hydrating a person. Volunteers drank the same volume of either water or some other liquid like a sports drink, skim milk, soda, orange juice, or coffee.
Despite being marketed as being full of electrolytes, the sports drink barely hydrated better than regular water. In fact, drinks like skim milk and orange juice were significantly better at hydrating than sports drinks or water (5).
Why? Well, the electrolytes you need are salts like sodium and potassium, and they are naturally high in milk and orange juice. Sports drinks do have more salts than water, but they mostly are full of sugar.
Now I’m not saying ditch the sports drink for a bottle of milk during workouts. That’d be hard to keep cold, and the carbs, protein, and fat in the milk may upset your stomach while exercising. However, it could be beneficial after a workout!
Sports drinks are useful for providing some carbs during long workouts. The simple sugars are quickly absorbed, and the salts help replace what you lose in sweat. Not to mention, they are usually easy to drink while exercising. For workouts longer than an hour, a serving of sports drink will help keep your energy high towards the end of practice.2,3
Take note that a 20 oz bottle of sports drink is 2.5 servings. You can pour a serving of that into a water bottle and dilute it with water to make it last longer.
4. Hydrate Before and After Workouts
Showing up dehydrated for a workout is a recipe for disaster.
When you’re dehydrated, your body’s performance suffers drastically. Your heart has to beat harder and faster, you overheat, and your muscles cramp up (2,3). This leaves you feeling slow and sluggish.
Hydrating during the day is the best way to prepare for a workout. Consider also having a glass of water (8 oz) about 15 minutes before a workout to ensure you’re ready to row (2).
After a workout, replacing the water lost in sweat is a major key to success. To do this, you need an estimate of how much water you lost.
Simply weigh yourself before and after training. The weight you lost during your workout is mostly water (1 lb = 16 oz water). Athletes can lose anywhere between 1 - 4 lbs of water per hour of exercise, with athletes hitting the high end of sweating in hot and humid weather (2,3).
For example, if you lost 4 pounds of water during a workout, you need to drink 64 oz of water. That’s 8 glasses or 1 quart of water. If you don’t know what that looks like, try using a water bottle of a known volume. You can use a store-bought bottle or reuse a plastic water bottle that you already finished.
Use this to estimate how much water you should drink after your workouts. Remember, sip, don’t chug!
Don’t worry about measuring sweat loss every time you workout. Just do it as an occasional test to figure out if you are an extra heavy sweater and possibly failing to rehydrate. You may have already noticed this if you routinely leave puddles of sweat under your erg!
5. Listen to Your Thirst
Another common myth that a lot of people believe is that if you wait until you’re thirsty, you’re already way too dehydrated.
Your brain is equipped with an exceptionally fine-tuned sensor to control your hydration levels. When it detects a decrease in water levels below normal, these sensors trigger an urge to find water fast.
Many people believe that this sensor is too slow and that thirst occurs after moderate to severe dehydration has already set in. According to doctors at the University of Washington, this is simply not true. We developed our sense of thirst as a protection mechanism against dehydration. Our brain’s hydration sensor is both sensitive and fast-acting. Attempting to “outsmart” your own brain’s internal sensors puts you at risk for over-hydrating.6
So when in doubt, trust your thirst!
Your Strategy for Superior Hydration
These tips are definitely a proven, successful strategy to stay hydrated and perform at your best.
But the best piece of advice I can give you? Stick with it!
Hydration is an all-day activity. Just like eating healthy, drinking healthy starts with small changes you can stick with. Luckily, changing your hydration strategies can have almost immediate benefits. Personally, even I was surprised by the difference in drinking more water during the day does for me. My energy is better, I can focus on my work longer, and I don’t feel groggy or sluggish going into my workouts.
So go grab that water bottle and start drinking!
- USGS. 2020. The Water In You: Water and the Human Body. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-y…
- Fusco, Liz. 2020. Hydrate Like A Pro! By Liz Fusco [Video]. USRowing. https://youtu.be/nEQ26rhSWoo
- Fusco, Liz. 2017. Back to Basics: Hydration for Rowers. USRowing. https://usrowing.org/news/2017/3/3/12317_12317.aspx
- New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. 1998. Survey of 3003 Americans. Nutrition Information Center.
- Ronald J Maughan, Phillip Watson, Philip AA Cordery, Neil P Walsh, Samuel J Oliver, Alberto Dolci, Nidia Rodriguez-Sanchez, Stuart DR Galloway, A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 3, March 2016, Pages 717–723, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.114769
- UW Sports Medicine Physicians. 2020. The Truth About Thirst: Trust Your Instincts for Hydration. Seattle Marathon. https://www.seattlemarathon.org/the-truth-about-thirst