Hydration and bodybuilding go together like a needle and thread. You need to drink lots of water if you want to build muscle and/or lose fat at the fastest possible rate. This is one of the simplest and most effective fitness concepts to implement. Yet it is very often overlooked.
Since your body is made primarily of water (about 60-70 percent), it is no surprise that good ol’ H2O is essential for achieving good health as well a jacked physique.
Despite water’s importance, the vast majority of people don’t drink nearly enough of it. This obviously is the case for your average couch-dwelling, inactive boob. But many bodybuilders/weight lifters, athletes and other fitness-minded individuals also suffer (unknowingly) from less than stellar hydration.
Since this article is about hydration and bodybuilding, I won’t give any advice or guidelines for the general, non-fitness population.
Instead, I’ll address the topic of hydration for those who are trying to gain muscle or lose fat to build a physique worth admiring.
On this page, you’ll find:
- How and why hydration and bodybuilding go together
- How much water you should drink per day
- How to avoid dehydration using easy-to-track indicators
- What you should know before increasing your water intake
- Tips that make drinking water easier
Hydration and Bodybuilding: Why They Go Together
Drink Water to Build Muscle and Get Shredded. Proper hydration is a key in any bodybuilding diet. Drinking enough water allows you to build muscle and lose fat more efficiently because your body is functioning optimally on a cellular level. To show you exactly why drinking plenty of water is important, I’ve listed specific effects and benefits of being hydrated vs. being dehydrated:
- Increased Energy and Focus. According to this study, the effects of mild dehydration (only 1-2% water loss) include reduced concentration and energy, increased perception of exertion, greater fatigue and negative mood changes. Sounds like a sh*tty workout to me. Contrast this with being hydrated, regaining your energy and clarity, being happier and feeling like you’re making the weights your b*tch.
- Increased Physical Strength. According to research (see this and this), low-moderate dehydration (about 3% water loss) causes a significant reduction in muscular endurance and power output on weight lifting exercises. Specifically, this means you can do 1-2 fewer reps, or you can lift about 10-20% less weight, with the effects being most profound on lower body lifts. If you train in this state of dehydration, you are only training at 80%, maybe 90%, of your potential – It’s physically impossible for you to “give it your all.” By going into a workout fully hydrated, you are able train more intensely with heavier weights. Increased strength equals greater potential for muscle gains.
- Increased Metabolism of Fat. Drinking the right amount of water ensures that your body has the proper environment for important functions to take place; namely the process of metabolizing (“burning”) fat for energy. This process involves the liver and kidneys. In the simplest terms, this is what happens: The liver metabolizes body fat, while the kidneys act as the body’s main filtration system for waste and toxins. However, the kidneys require proper hydration to work efficiently (water helps to make the toxins less concentrated and easier to process). If the body is dehydrated, then the kidneys must “outsource” some of the functioning to the liver. Therefore the liver can’t work at full fat burning capacity because it is “busy” helping the kidneys filter out waste.
- Excess Toxins Washed Away. This is obviously related to the above factor. When you are dieting and burning fat at a higher rate, there are more toxins than usual due to the increased volume of waste byproducts. So proper water intake is doubly important when drinking water to lose weight because you need enough for the initial fat burning process as well as cleaning up after that process.
- Reduced Food Cravings. Water, like anything you can consume, will fill up empty space in your stomach. Therefore, it dulls hunger sensations and help to keep your mind off food, albeit temporarily. This is especially helpful if you are drinking water to lose fat (or to build muscle while minimizing fat gains), since the hunger pangs can be quite strong on a calorie restricted plan. Having been on low calorie diets myself, I can attest to water being a true lifesaver for keeping hunger at bay.
- Reduced Chance of Overeating. This is directly related to the previous point of reduced food cravings. However, with this point I’m talking about how drinking water during or a little before a meal can help reduce how much you eat when the foods in front of you. This is a great technique if you have trouble with overeating at mealtimes.
- Reduced Water Weight. You hold a lot of extra pounds in water weight if you’re dehydrated. This is because your body doesn’t know when it will get more water, and it must retain the water to keep a balanced water-to-electrolyte ratio. And so, you excrete this excess water weight when you properly hydrate yourself, which decreases the bloated look and may increase your muscle vascularity.
Now you know why proper hydration is necessary for maximizing mass gains or fat loss. But you’re probably wondering “How much water should I drink?” Lucky for you, I answer that question below:
How Much Water You Should Drink
The traditionally recommended water intake has always been “Eight glasses of eight ounces each.” But, if you didn’t already know from reading the rest of this site, “official” nutrition recommendations tend to be low for our purposes.
The lab geeks that came up with the “8×8” recommendation probably weren’t considering the goal of drinking water to build muscle and lose fat; and they definitely didn’t consider adding weight lifting to the equation.
So no, 8 cups of water just doesn’t cut it unless you’re an average Joe Couch-Potato, whose only form of physical activity involves reaching for heavily buttered-popcorn, clicking the remote, and the occasional “forearm workout” with the help of Baywatch re-runs.
Guidelines for Drinking Water
The majority of people will be fine aiming for about 1 gallon of water per day. However, this amount can vary based on the following personal considerations:
- Bodyweight. The more you weigh, the more water you will need. Try using the baseline calculation of (bodyweight in lbs. ÷ 2 = the number of ounces of water to drink). Then, consider points two and three below.
- Replace What You Lose. You must replace the fluids you lose through perspiration (sweat and the moisture from breathing) to be properly hydrated. Consider the following two subcategories.
- Activity Level. Your body needs almost 24 ounces (3 cups) of water to replace every pound of bodyweight lost through strenuous activity (e.g., intense lifting, running, working, etc). You can try weighing yourself before and after a typical exercise/activity session. Or you can just use the simple method: the more you sweat, the more you should drink.
- Climate/Physical Environment. If you’re outside on hot days for long periods of time, you should drink more water because you’ll be losing more fluids. Likewise, you should increase your intake if you’re inside and it’s hot.
- Drink at a controlled pace. Whatever your actual water intake amount is, it is best to drink it at a relatively consistent pace, rather than downing large quantities at once. You should increase the pace as well as the amount of water consumed before, during, and after strenuous activities and while in hotter environments.
All You Need is a Ballpark Estimate. Don’t stress yourself about being precise; it’s impossible to be truly exact, and it is only necessary to have a “close enough” estimate. If anything, just try out the one gallon per day general recommendation. You can then calibrate it using the following hydration indicators.
How to Avoid Dehydration
- Strive for Nearly Clear Pee! The color of your urine can be a great indication of dehydration. Clear or light yellow pee means your body has enough water at the moment. Bright yellow, and especially yellow-brownish pee, means you’re dehydrated. The only exception to this rule is that taking a strong multivitamin can turn urine a bright shade of yellow even if you’re sufficiently hydrated. Also, if urinating very infrequently, that’s also a sign that you’re dehydrated.
- Avoid Getting Thirsty. The sensation of thirst is your body’s way of telling you that it needs to be replenished with water in order to function properly. Therefore, you are already dehydrated if you are thirsty. So, if you’re thirsty right now, stop reading and get to drinking.
- Avoid Getting Cramps. Cramps are yet another signal that you should increase your water intake. The most common time you’ll get these is during a workout session, and is likely being caused by lack of water. However, this indicator is not as clear cut as the previous ones because there are other variables (electrolytes/sodium, low-carb diets) that could be the cramp culprit. But generally, poor hydration is a safe bet.
Before Increasing Your Water Intake, Know This…
You’ll Have More Frequent Bathroom Trips. It’s important to realize that upping your water intake takes some getting used to. Simply put, you’ll have to pee a lot more often. But once your body adapts to an increase in water, the desire to piss your face off will cease.
It takes a few days before you get back on a more normal, “socially acceptable” urination frequency, which is a necessary evil when it comes to hydration for bodybuilding. Look on the bright side, though – you have a legitimate excuse for leaving the room, which is great if you’re in school or have a boring job.
Tip: Although I didn’t personally use this method, you could probably avoid this whole situation by gradually increasing water intake. My way of thinking is that it’s easier (for me) to just jump straight into a habit.
Don’t O.D. on Water. Yes, it is to possible to overdose on water, although technically, it is a condition called hyponatremia (water poisoning). It is extremely rare to hear about this happening to people because it requires drinking a whole lot of fluid during a short amount of time. Nonetheless, it can occur and it can be fatal. Practically speaking, though, you should be fine unless you plan on having water-chugging contests with your friends.
4 Tips for Staying Hydrated
These tips make it easier to reach your daily water intake goals and build the habit of staying hydrated. I know it can sometimes be a pain in the ass to drink and/or remember to drink enough water. But you gotta do it. Below are some ideas to help make this easier:
- Always Stay Strapped…with a Water Bottle. If you’re anything like me, you get a bit agitated whenever you have to stop what you’re doing for something tedious. So, I always remember to sport a (rather sizable) water bottle to avoid the inconvenience of several trips to the water cooler – that would actually require effort.
- Recycle Your Milk Containers. Recycled milk jugs make drinking water easier to do and it’s great for the environment! Since you’ll be needing about a gallon of water a day, you’ll only have to fill up your milk jug once. It’s also an easy way to track how much you’ve drank throughout the day. However, you probably don’t want to carry your milk jug in public unless you’re really that much of a meathead.
- Keep Sipping. The best way to stay hydrated is to spread water consumption evenly over the day, rather than a few giant chug-sessions. So, make it a habit to sip on your water throughout the day. This will be easy if you use either of the previous two tips – just reach for your container and take a quick gulp; you can even use a straw if you’d like.
- Add Flavor. You’ll be more motivated to drink water if it tastes good. You can add lemons or limes, use MiO Liquid Water Enhancers or drink flavored waters. If you’re on a cutting diet, you should note that some people tend to crave food more if they drink flavored beverages. And if you want to be on the safe side, you should use moderation when it comes to consuming foods/drinks with lots of artificial stuff.
Start the Habit – Now! Get up right now and pour yourself a nice tall glass of cold water to start building a good hydration habit ASAP. Remember hydration in bodybuilding is essential for great results.