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How much should an athlete drink – and why?

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It is basically hard training and healthy eating that create an athletic body. You already know this for sure. But there is an important part of your diet that often does not get enough attention – although it should be obvious: water! It is called the “essence of life” for a reason. Our body contains nearly 70% water. It is essential for muscles, cartilages and intervertebral discs. It serves as a solvent and transport medium for nutrients, as temperature regulator and it keeps the different systems of our body in balance. Without sufficient water, your brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, nerves and muscles cannot work properly.

Why is water so important?

Every chemical reaction within the body, including energy production and utilization – which simply means the construction, deconstruction and conversion of substances – needs water as a medium. Only when your body is sufficiently supplied with liquid, enzymes and hormones can develop their full potential and thus efficiently show off the effects of training.

Many people are – without knowing it – undersupplied with liquid chronicly. This is also one of the most common reasons for fatigue during the day.

We lose at least 2.5 liters of water a day just by respiration, sweat and excretion. That is why there exist guidelines that tell you to drink two to three liters (0.5 to 0.75 US gallons) a day. However, as free athletes you have a significantly higher demand for water. Your increased metabolic activity lets you excrete more liquid. Even little dehydration can lead to seroius losses of performance and a dehydration of 2% of your body weight can even cause permanent damages.

Most of all affected by this is your brain. Strong dehydration can lead to a critical shrinkage; concentration and the ability to think are severely impaired. The central nervous system can not work effectively, muscular reaction and coordination decrease significantly, strength and endurance drop and even cramps can occur! Among other things, water is required to supply the muscles with electrolytes via the nervous system. Without electrolytes muscles can not move and contract.

Problems such as muscle cramps or low performance are often blamed on a lack of certain nutrients or non-optimized nutrition. But water is a part of nutrition and above all essentially important as a transport and reaction medium. Even if it does not provide energy the way protein, fat or carbohydrates do – without water, the body simply cannot process nutrients effectively.

How much should I drink?

Three liters (0.75 US gallons) is the absolute minimum on non-training days. Intense exercising such as Freeletics increases metabolic activity permanently – even at rest. So the water requirement of athletes is always higher than average. Notice that this is a minimum recommendation. We as Freeletics recommend to rather drink a little bit more. The actual fluid requirements can only be determined individually. A good guideline is to drink about 50 ml (1.7 fl. oz.) per kilogram body weight throughout the day. At warm temperatures, you should drink one or two liters more as you lose more liquid through sweat.

Before, during and after exercising, your demand for water increases even more. Therefore, drink at least one liter (33 fl. oz.) about 90 minutes before your workout to keep your muscles hydrated. Water is also important for your joints, as only a hydrated body can provide enough synovial fluid. This fluid is necessary to avoid a strong friction of the joint cartilages, which can lead to long term damage otherwise.

After your workout, you should also drink at least half a liter (17 fl. oz.) to support regeneration. Water helps to remove waste products such as lactic acid from the muscles which are produced during exercise and to feed the muscle cells with nutrients such as proteins and carbohydrates.

What should I drink?

When we speak of liquid, we as Freeletics always mean pure water – no alcoholic, caffeinated or sugary drinks. Also, you should cancel out so called isotonic or energy drinks as well as light products. They contain many unnatural and harmful additives and often lots of sugar. Good alternatives are unsweetened tea and naturally flavoured water.

Immediately after a workout, you can also resort to juice spritzers that are low in sugar, e.g. made from apples or berries (preferably in a 3:1 ratio) to quickly compensate the difference in your mineral balance. You loose valuable minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium during exercise. They protect your body against cramps, nausea and stiff muscles. These minerals are contained in fruit juices and will be supplied to the muscles in the form of electrolytes.

Why should I drink so much when I am not thirsty?

Most people rely on their feeling of thirst as an indicator of when and how much liquid they need. The problem is: Contrary to other warning signs such as fatigue or hunger, thirst occurs only delayed. At the time you feel thirsty, your body is already slightly dehydrated. Thirst is thus not always a reliable signal to drink. Therefore, make the water supply of your body a major task and develop new habits in order to meet the target of at least three liters a day.

However, many find it very difficult to realize this. But there are a few simple tricks to integrate drinking more into your everyday life. For example define fix times at which you drink certain amounts: just after getting up to boost your metabolism, before or after breakfast, lunch and dinner and before and after training. Other possibilities would be to drink a glass of water every full hour or to draw marks on bottles that show specific times. Also, you can deposit big glasses and bottles at places where you spend a lot of time: For example at work, in the car or next to your bed.

Apart from the health and performance-enhancing effects, an increased supply of water is also visible instantly: When your muscles are adequately hydrated they appear tighter and more defined!

We hope this helped you with how much water should you drink a day.

If you want to know more, you can read here and here.