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WATER: The Forgotten Macronutrient

Posted by Kostas Kroustaloudis on

WATER: The Forgotten Macronutrient

We’re in the midst of summer and you’re probably thinking Gronk Fitness is a bit too dehydrated going around saying that water is an actual macronutrient! In case you were wondering, no, we are not saying that water is a macro. The 3 known macronutrients are protein, carbs and fats and their essential and unique role is a topic for another day. But today, we are going to focus on water and its effect on athletic performance, fat loss, muscle & strength gain.

You've probably heard that the human body consists of approximately two-thirds water. However, this number barely begins to portray the importance of H20 from a muscular or training perspective. In fact, dehydration can have a number of physiological side-effects on the human body but when it comes to athletic performance they can be summarized as follows:

  • Reduction in blood volume
  • Decreased skin blood flow
  • Decreased sweat rate
  • Decreased heat dissipation
  • Increased core temperature
  • Increased rate of muscle glycogen use

What does this mean though, in terms of actual performance?

Dehydration & Athletic Performance

Well the human brain is composed of 95% water; blood is 82% water; the lungs are nearly 90% water. Water is critical to the balance of all the body's systems, including the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and muscles.

How important is this balance? A 2% drop in body water can cause a small but critical shrinkage of the brain, which can impair neuromuscular coordination, decrease concentration, and slow thinking. Dehydration can also reduce endurance, decrease strength, cause cramping, and slow muscular response.

Several studies have indicated that during aerobic performance, such as running or cycling, performance begins to decrease when dehydration progressively exceeds 2-3 % body weight loss. That may sound like a lot, but research has also shown that the thirst sensation doesn't really kick in until you're already dehydrated. So if it helps, think of it this way: If you're thirsty, your performance may already be affected.

Whether you are training in the gym or you’re out there playing on the field of court, dehydration is your #1 enemy. It’s definitely not your luck and definitely not the opposing team. If you wait until the last hour before your session to hydrate your body, it’s already too late. The hydration process must start at least 3-4 hours prior to a session in order to remain 100% hydrated during your session. Of course, you will need to replenish any water that is lost through sweating by drinking more water intra-workout.

Dehydration & Muscle Gain

Water is needed to transport nutrients to your cells and transport waste out of the body. It also helps form the structures of protein and glycogen. In order to move and flex your muscles, you need water. Therefore, if your body is dehydrated, your muscles will be deprived of electrolytes and cramp. Plus, since muscles are controlled by nerves, without the proper water and electrolyte balance, muscle strength and control will also be impaired.

So water won’t just directly assist with muscle gain but it will indirectly play a significant role in many processes involved in muscle gain and muscle loss. Not to mention that your overall strength will go down the toilet if you are even 3% or more dehydrated which means you won’t be able to handle the volume and weight necessary to progressively overload and build muscle.

Dehydration & Fat Loss

Now, water might not lead to fat loss directly but it has been shown that slim and fit people are usually well-hydrated. This is just an association and might simply mean that fit people usually understand the importance of water and that’s why they’re better hydrated. However, water can indirectly help with your fat loss goals as well by two different pathways.

First and foremost, it helps flush out toxins created by intense workouts during and after training. Secondly, it can help suppress your appetite naturally and maybe increase the body’s ability to metabolize stored fat.

This is thought to occur because a reduction in water decreases the efficiency of the kidneys, which results in some kidney functions being shunted to the liver.

Since one of the liver's primary functions is to metabolize stored fat into usable energy for the body, it metabolizes less fat while performing functions normally performed by the kidneys. This results in less stored fat burned, and a reduction in weight loss.

But even if you don’t believe all that, at the very least water will help you stay satiated for longer, especially if you drink enough between and before meals. Drinking 2 glasses of water 20 minutes before a meal will help control your appetite which will help you get rid of excess weight faster.

Plus, a lot of times, it’s shown that people may feel hungry but they are actually thirsty. It’s a natural confusion that happens to everyone and the only way to prevent it, is by drinking enough water daily!

How Much Water Is Optimal For Athletes?

Depending on your weight, where you live and the intensity of your training, water requirements may vary. As a general guideline, any sedentary person, male or female, should aim for at least 3 litres of water, evenly spread throughout the day. You may think this is not much, but you’ll be surprised to find out that 80% of average American citizens are constantly dehydrated!

As for athletes and regular gym goers that have more demanding fat loss, muscle gain and strength gain goals, anywhere from 4 to 6 litres per day should be enough. Of course, there are other ways to stay hydrated other than drinking water, including juices, fruits and vegetables which are high in water content, and tea.

During your training, you’re going to sweat a lot so either bring a gallon-jug with you and drink between sets or mix some BCAAs with water to give it a nice flavor while tricking yourself into drinking more water.

Speaking of tricking yourself, you should know that if you have a small glass or jug of water in front of you, your mind is always in preserve-mode, which means you will unconsciously take smaller sips than you would if you had a large gallon-jug. If your mind believes that you’re not going to run out any time soon, it’s more likely that you’ll end up drinking more and more water!

Closing Up

Don't leave your results up to chance. Staying hydrated is the cheapest, easiest way there is to maximize your performance in the gym and afterward, so keep a bottle close at hand and always know where you can get more!

Keep track of your water intake by measuring your progress with a cup or water bottle placed in a spot you will see it throughout the day. Set goals for yourself at time points throughout the day to make sure you are drinking enough.

Share your thoughts with us or at least think about the following…Do you stay well-hydrated? Do you feel a difference when you don’t drink enough water? Are you stronger, faster, more concentrated when you’re fully hydrated?

Either way…drink more water! It might just be what’s missing from your nutrition. It might be exactly what you need to skyrocket your performance and your results!


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