I bet you have heard over and over again how important it is to stay hydrated, especially while you are exercising. But what does that even mean?
I want you to think for a moment about how you feel at practice (or just in general) when you remember to drink often, versus how you feel when you are not…
Most people feel much better when they drink regularly.
To truly understand the importance of hydration, it can be helpful to know what is going on in your body.
Hydration means providing your body with enough fluids. The human body is made up of anywhere from 60-70% water. Water is essential because every cell, tissue, and organ in your body is not only made up of water but also needs water to work properly. Specifically, water is needed to:
Carry oxygen and nutrients around the body to cells and muscles
Regulate blood pressure
Regulate body temperature
Protect the heart
Prevent you from getting sick, as it flushes out the harmful bacteria and toxins that can accumulate
Help you recover by removing the byproducts of exercise that
Run the gastrointestinal system, making sure you are able to use and get the most out of the food and the nutrients that you eat
So, how much water do you need to be drinking each day?
To be well hydrated, you need to make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day. At a minimum, your goal should be to drink somewhere between 40-60% of your weight (in lbs) in ounces of water each day. Commonly, you’ll hear people say to drink about half your weight in ounces of water each day.
To stay hydrated for training, most gymnasts will need to drink an additional 8-16oz of water in the 2 hours leading up to training, 8-16oz every hour during training, and 16-24 ounces in the hour after training.
But… hydration is NOT just about water.
Staying hydrated not only means drinking enough fluid daily, but also involves maintaining the balance of fluid throughout the different parts of the body. This process also requires energy from carbohydrates (aka sugar) and electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals in your body that help maintain that fluid balance. Those that play a role in hydration are mainly sodium, potassium, and chloride. As fluid levels change – either from bringing fluid into your body like from eating or drinking, or losing water through sweating, using the restroom, or breathing, electrolytes help maintain the right balance inside and outside your cells.
This means that replenishing your electrolytes is just as important as replenishing the water in your body when you exercise. You can do this in 2 ways before, during, and after your workouts: either from a snack or a drink.
You may choose to drink water and include a snack with sodium (like pretzel sticks, crackers, pickles, a sandwich with deli meat, salted nuts or seeds), potassium (like potato, banana, dried apricots, kiwi, cantaloupe).
OR you may choose to drink an electrolyte drink (fluid + electrolytes like propel, gatorade 0, liquid IV, Nuun, drip drop, and others) OR sports drink with added carbohydrates (Gatorade, Powerade, Skratch, etc.). Some drinks like Body Armour and coconut water do provide some electrolytes, but do not contain enough salt to keep you hydrated.
Can you drink too much water?
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing and it is possible to drink too much water. As you may notice when you drink more, you have to use the bathroom more. The issue for most people does not usually have to do with too much water, but with not replacing the electrolytes along with it. Hyponatremia is a dangerous consequence of drinking too much water, which occurs when there is not enough sodium in the blood. This can cause headache, thirst, dizziness, fatigue, mental confusion, and nausea.
What happens if you do not stay hydrated?
As opposed to hydration, dehydration occurs when the fluid loss happens at a faster rate than fluid intake. When you are dehydrated, your body does not have enough fluids to carry out its normal functions.
It is important to be aware of the signs of dehydration, including:
The color of your urine can also tell you a lot about whether or not you are dehydrated. The more dehydrated you are, the darker yellow your urine will be.
Being dehydrated can have a significant negative impact on how you perform in the gym. This is because dehydration can cause you to feel tired and have less energy. It can also cause your muscles to cramp. Being dehydrated can make it hard to focus, as dehydration can negatively impact your brain’s abilities. You can also experience decreased endurance, meaning you might struggle to finish a routine, or a set of workouts.
So, what should a gymnast be drinking to stay hydrated?
There are many different types of drinks a gymnast could choose to help with hydration as well as other fueling goals. All of these drinks are a part of many of our lives and play an important role at different times.
Water is important to drink all day long and really at any time. It is the easiest way to get fluids into your body! If you have trouble drinking water try infused water, flavored water, decaf and herbal teas, or even sparkling water (although bubbles right before or during practice might lead to an upset stomach).
Milk can be a beneficial drink for gymnasts, as it provides not only fluid, but also energy, protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Remember, not all non-dairy milk alternatives are created equal, so if you are looking for a milk drink that provides these added benefits, be sure to check the label!
100% Fruit Juice
100% fruit juice can also be a strategic and beneficial drink for gymnasts. In addition to hydration, fruit juice can be a low-volume way to increase the amount of energy of any meal or snack. Additionally, like the fruits they came from, fruit juice can also be a good source of important micro nutrients. Orange juice is an excellent source of vitamin c and is often fortified with calcium and vitamin d for bone health. Pineapple juice contains the enzyme bromalin, which can help with recovery. And tart cherry juice and pomegranate juice are rich in the antioxidant anythocyanin, which can also help with recovery, and we will talk more about ways to make the most of these nutrients in the recovery module.
The one thing that fruit juice lacks compared to whole fruit is fiber, which is important for fullness and gut health. Because of this, fruit juice should not be used as a substitute for the color section on your plate. Most of the time, still look to include a whole fruit or vegetable at meals and snacks to make sure you get enough of this important nutrient.
Electrolyte and Sports Drinks
Electrolyte drinks (fluid + electrolytes) can be used strategically for gymnasts in many situations, including before a an early morning practice (when time to rehydrate is limited), practices lasting more than 2 hours where you may or may not get a snack or meal break, practicing in hot and humid temperatures, of if you’re a heavy sweater, salty sweater, or get frequent muscle cramps.
A sports drinks (fluid + electrolytes + carbs) can be useful when you don’t have time for a snack at practice or you notice a drop in your energy after 90 minutes and you need some quick carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Outside of intense exercise or long periods of time spent in the heat, it is more likely that you will have the opportunity to replace your electrolytes and carbohydrates with food, so save these options for your performance nutrition strategy.
So how can you make sure that you are staying hydrated all day long?
I know that sometimes it can be hard to remember to drink, especially on days off from the gym. Here are 5 tips to make sure that you are providing your body with the fluids that it needs!
1. Drink a big glass of water first thing in the morning.
Your body has gone all night without fluids, and especially if you had an evening practice, it is likely you’re waking up dehydrated. Drinking a big glass of water in the morning is an easy habit that can help you reach your fluid goal each day.
2. Add a drink to your meals and snacks!
Meals and snacks can be easy opportunities to remember to drink and a simple way to spread fluid out throughout the day.
3. Carry a cup or water bottle with you.
Even when you are not in the gym, carry your water bottle around with you. If you have a cup or bottle around and within eyesight, it can make it easier to remember to drink.
4. Establish hydration breaks when exercising.
Try to take a sip of your drink every 10-15 minutes during practice. It can be easy to forget to do so, but if you make it a habit to establish these breaks it can make it easier to remember. Try bringing your bottle with you to your event or incorporating a drink into a circuit.
5. Use sports drinks when necessary.
Water is always a great choice for hydration, but when training in hot temperatures for more than 90 minutes, water alone might not be enough. Electrolyte can provide the electrolytes and fluids that your body has lost when you sweat and a sports drink can provide fluid, electrolytes & carbohydrates (sugar!), which can help give you more energy during a long hot practice, especially if you don’t have a snack break.
So remember, being your best in the gym this summer (and all year long) will mean making hydration a priority and having a strategy. If you are looking for more support for your nutrition and hydration strategy to reach your goals this summer, but are struggling to figure out how, I am here to help. As a registered dietitian for gymnasts, I work with highly motivated athletes who are ready to fuel their body to be the happiest, healthiest, highest performance of themselves. Apply to my 1-on-1 program today!
Kerry Bair, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Food for Fuel, LLC.