The Importance of Hydration While Exercising

Introduction

One key element of planning that’s important for enhancing performance and physique optimization is a topic that people rarely talk about: and that’s hydration. I know; hydration is neither sexy nor fun to talk about, plus selling water as a performance enhancing supplement isn’t the best business plan. Which is why we hardly hear much about water and how it impacts your performance. However, as Bobby Boucher would tell you; H2O has a major impact on all aspects of fitness.

You all probably know that the majority of our body is made up of water. Water has tons of different functionalities within our cells and body. As much as I would like to speak about the many functions of water and successfully bore everyone to the grave like usual, let’s just focus on how water can influence our performance during our workouts and the outcome of our muscle development. Join me in a cup of high-quality H2O as we dive deeper..

Dehydration and Performance

First off let’s nip this in the bud right away – there’s no benefit to overhydrating yourself (1). If anything, your midsection will feel like a hurricane and you’ll be sprinting to the restroom every 20 minutes – not exactly the best scenario for exercising or competing. There is, however, a plethora of literature based on the negative effects of dehydration, so let’s examine these effects so that we can get a better idea of these consequences.

One review that covers hydration and performance affirms that even mild dehydration will decrease muscle force production by 2%, lower power output by 3%, and endurance performance decreases by a whopping 10% (4). Those stats may not sound huge or concerning, but if you are constantly dehydrated like the majority of people are, then you are missing out on a consistent basis on those few percentages every time you go to the gym to workout.

The fact that dehydration has negative effects on performance that occurs instantly, it can also largely affect long term performance and muscle gains. One study documented the effects of hormones when a person is dehydrated; and this study discovered that dehydrated subjects had an incline in cortisol levels after resistance training as opposed to the hydrated group (3). Which means that the dehydrated group will have higher rates of protein breakdown and will be forced to focus much harder on their diet to overcome this effect and build muscle. This study also discovered that dehydrated people had both higher insulin levels and higher blood glucose levels after their workouts (3). The decrease in cell volume due to lack of water produces cellular insulin resistance which will negatively impact your strength and muscle growth. Many would say that insulin is one of the most anabolic of hormones, so take advantage of monitoring your hydration levels.

Can Sweating Contribute to Dehydration?

Now let’s get into what counts as dehydration and how sweating can affect the status of hydration. Studies have shown that a decrease in as little as 2% body mass due to dehydration is enough to negatively affect performance levels (6). For example, if you normally weigh 180 pounds and you weigh yourself before a workout, any reading under 177 pounds means you will more than likely be decreasing some of the weight on the bar or you’ll be lacking on some key reps during your workout. Assuming that you ignore your dehydrated state and get under the bar anyways.

If it’s one of those hot days in the gym and you’re giving it all that you got, it’s reasonable to assume you’re sweating about 1.5-liters per hour (6). This would be congruent to about 3 pounds of water lost per hour which means that you are down by almost 2% body weight in just one hour. If you’re training outside in the heat, it’s possible to sweat up to 3-liters an hour which would be about 6 pounds an hour worth of water that will be drenched from your body (6). Studies have also discovered that training in any temperature above 60-degrees Fahrenheit can increase cardiovascular strain (2),so if you’re dehydrated and working out at room temperature, you’re making things a lot more difficult on your heart than necessary.

Another caveat to consider is salt. The average person sweats out around a gram of sodium per liter of sweat (6). Sodium is a key component of muscle contraction, especially while being in a fatigued state. Having a sufficient amount of sodium is also necessary for maintaining optimal fluid volume within a cell (6), so normally if you’re low on sodium, there’s a big possibility that you’re also low on water and vice-versa. The need for sodium consumption is understated for athletes – let’s save this conversation for another time – so make sure you’re taking in the efficient amount of sodium around your workouts along with chugging down water.

Keys to Hydration

Fortunately, drinking 1/2 liter of water per hour of exercising is enough to counter further dehydration or lowering of body weight during training (2). In terms of metric measurements, a liter of water is 33 fluid ounces, so half of that would be 16.5 fl oz, or a medium-sized bottle of water. Drinking a quick swig of water is roughly an ounce, give-or-take a little. With that said, it’s easy to see that consuming between 16-33 fl oz during workouts isn’t too hard if you’re consistently taking a sip between sets. Even if you’re not feeling thirsty, it’s a good rule of thumb to take a trip to the water fountain or grab a quick swig from your bottle between sets. This is how you work smarter, and less harder!

So now that you know that being dehydrated can be terrifying, how can you prevent it from occurring before training? One review explains how consuming 500mL (16.9 fl oz) around 2-hours before training is a pretty good place to start (5). The best habit to form is to start sipping on water at least two hours before your workout if you haven’t already been taking in water all day. If you start to get light-headed or nauseous while working out, you’re most likely experiencing more than just dehydration, but you could have symptoms of hyponatremia as well, which occurs when your sodium levels are decreasing. Most sports drinks, such as Gatorade, have sodium in it so it’s definitely a good idea to sip on a sports drink during your training if you think you may have problems with sodium loss. I personally use a pre-workout that has a large amount of sodium and it has made a huge difference in my endurance. There are many intra-workout supplements that have solid electrolyte blends to help maintain sodium levels during intense exercise.

If you train in the morning, gulp on some water before going to bed at night. It’s inevitable that you will have to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night, but this optimizes hydration before your morning workouts. I normally workout first thing in the morning and I aim to drink between 20-30 fl oz of water an hour before I go to bed along with my protein shake right before bed.

Conclusion

In conclusion, water may not be at all that exciting, but it may be one of the most essential elements for your current performance and your long term gains. Fortunately, it’s a deficit to overcome. All you have to do is keep a bottle of water around you at all times. If you get tired of drinking plain water, don’t hesitate to add some sort of flavoring into it to make it more palatable. Whatever must be done, just do it.

References:

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.583.3481&rep=rep1&type=pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200737100-00006

https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.01010.2007

https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Abstract/2003/08000/Fluid_Balance_and_Endurance_Exercise_Performance.6.aspx

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2007.10719656

https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/70/suppl_2/S128/1811507?login=true

Caffeine & Fitness

Intro

Caffeine is the most commonly used energy booster. A Lot of people usually rely on caffeinated beverages to get their energy going, but athletes on the other hand, have long depended on caffeine to enhance their performance and focus during training and competition. Today, we’ll dive deep into what caffeine is, how it can improve performance, and if there’s a specific form of caffeine that will work best for your goals.

What Is Caffeine And How Does It Work?

Many people drink caffeine for their morning and mid-day pick-me-up, but athletes have actually been consuming caffeine to enhance performance for decades (if not even longer). In fact, back in 1939 (6), caffeine was pushed to be banned in all sports. Pretty much everyone has experienced caffeine one way or another, so it’s worth talking about what it actually is and what it does.

Caffeine is found in various plants. Commonly used in coffee beans; various teas and even cacao, in which all are natural caffeine content. Caffeine is labeled as a stimulant, which means that it “energizes” us in comparison to substances like alcohol, which is classified as a, “depressant.” How can caffeine energize us you might ask?

There are a handful of theories but the one that’s easier to understand is that caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain. Once adenosine is engaged with receptors in the brain(6,7), it increases drowsiness and relaxation. The fact that caffeine reacts to this binding location, causes the exact opposite – which is alertness and energy. This blockage of adenosine can also contribute to hormones throughout the body. There’s also an increase in blood levels of epinephrine when people consume caffeine. Epinephrine is also known as, “adrenaline,” and is responsible for our heart rate to increase, causes our muscles to produce more force, and even helps with our metabolism.

Studies show that caffeine can also improve pain tolerance (6). There are many pain medications that contain caffeine to help alleviate pain symptoms. This is one of the reasons why athletes and bodybuilders often use caffeine; the burn isn’t as painful when you have caffeine in your system.

Another interesting fact about caffeine is that it can increase the performance of the heart through a unique interaction with the muscle cells that are in the heart. Cardiac muscle fibers share similar attributes to skeletal muscle. However, we have more functional control over our skeletal muscle which creates a wide range of force within our skeletal muscles. All of our muscle fibers adhere to a few laws, one is known as the Length-Tension relationship. The concept behind length Tension relationship is that a muscle fiber will promote x-amount of active force at a specific length.

When our heart is filled up with more blood, the muscle fibers of the heart will expand wider than it does at rest. This will result in the hearts muscle fibers to increase force while it contracts. This increased force pumps more blood which causes an increase of oxygen to be delivered to the muscles. When it comes to force production, cardiac muscle fibers become dependent on calcium concentration (2). A a small amount of calcium in these muscle fibers can reduce contraction, which will reduce force and overall cardiac output . Caffeine on the other hand, can actually help promote calcium concentration and sensitivity in cardiac muscle fibers .This helps the heart produce high levels of force, even while in an exhaustive state (1). Essentially, caffeine helps our heart pump more blood.

Performance & Endurance Effects

Endurance training is one of the most common sports/hobbies in which caffeine is consumed. Studies consistently conclude that there is a clear benefit of consuming caffeine before training or competition. However, positive effects depend on variables such as dosage, nutrition status, and even timing (3). Caffeine can increase endurance performance by enhancing alertness, and modifying circulating hormone levels.

Like I spoke about earlier, the most essential action of caffeine when it comes to endurance and performance is its ability to compete for adenosine receptors. The fact that adenosine contributes to drowsiness and fatigue, this can hinder muscle performance and even produce central nervous system fatigue, which makes it difficult to activate our muscles. Eventually adenosine will lead to an increased perception of both exertion and pain, and at some point of time you will want to quit training. This is the reason why caffeine has consistently proven to enhance performance in tests that include either distance or time to exhaustion (3). Even though these tests aren’t the most scientifically-sound, they help gather more data on how caffeine can increase performance.

It’s known that caffeine consumption can enhance metabolic rate due to its effects on various hormones (6). Nevertheless, caffeine can also increase fatty acid oxidation, which improves our ability to utilize fat as fuel (3). Since fat is the main fuel source in long distance, low-to-moderate intensity training, enhancing fat oxidation can help increase performance during these exercises.

Effects On Strength

Like the majority of exercise or nutrition-related research, most of the studies utilizing caffeine provide an endurance or cardio protocol, rather than including strength training. As of recently, research has examined the effects of caffeine on strength and power performance. Multiple studies have proved that caffeine can increase strength and power performance, but interestingly enough, caffeine may be more effective for enhancing upper body strength vs lower body strength (7).

How can caffeine improve strength? Alertness and overall arousal play a big role. For example, if you’re fatigued or feeling down before taking caffeine, you’re going to experience a boost in your strength. However, caffeine mainly builds strength by increasing muscle activation. Since caffeine blocks the activation of adenosine, our muscles are able to perform heavy or powerful lifting (7). Caffeine affects training performance from both a psychological (energy/focus) and physiological standpoint (muscle recruitment and fatigability).

Why does research not report a consistent increase in lower body strength from caffeine? Keep in mind that studies are limited by the scientific method, so they won’t always be congruent to real world training. While testing for strength on the lower body, movements are normally more complex and require a higher level of training experience and skill compared to upper body movements. Since most research uses untrained or moderately trained subjects, it’s difficult to compare upper and lower body strength tests, hence lower body strength tests may not be as reliable.

Gender differences are also relevant to the limitations of science and caffeine response. There’s no reason to imply that there’d be significantly different effects between men and women consuming caffeine, but unfortunately, there’s not much data on the effects of caffeine with female participants (7).

There’s also not many statistics on populations other than young adults. It remains undocumented if older adults will have a different response to caffeine consumption. I have a hunch that caffeine could be even more effective for older adults, especially when it comes to improving strength and fatigability.

Dosage & Safety

Research has been pretty consistent in documenting that the most effective dosage for caffeine consumption is somewhere between 3mg/kg of bodyweight and 6mg/kg of bodyweight (3,7). For a 200lb person, that would equal to a range of 272-545mg. It’s important to take note that this doesn’t mean you have to have this much caffeine. Some people could be more sensitive to caffeine and don’t need that much to get the job done. Personally I used to be the 2-3 scoops of pre-workout kind of guy because I needed 4-500mg of caffeine to get a boost for my workouts.. Now I stick with only 150mg of caffeine and get plenty amped with that. These are anecdotes, but do understand that the 3-6mg/kg is a recommendation, not a rule of thumb. Some individuals might feel a boost off of a single cup of coffee (roughly 100mg of caffeine), but the noticeable objective performance benefits begin around 3mg/kg of bodyweight.

What’s the best way to time your caffeine consumption around your workout? I’d recommend taking caffeine between 30-60 minutes before exercise. People normally see optimal blood levels around 60-minutes after consumption (6) which is why I recommend this timing. It’s best to avoid taking caffeine after your workout because caffeine can actually impair insulin sensitivity (12) and cause vasoconstriction (6). Both factors are definitely unwanted when trying to recover from a workout.

As far as safety, caffeine really doesn’t have any long-term health concerns or create any complications (6). However, this is referring to healthy people with no underlying conditions. If you have any type of cardiovascular disease or metabolic disease, you have to check with your physician before taking caffeine. In addition, caffeine can potentially worsen symptoms of anxiety and nervousness in some individuals (11), so if you’re prone to having anxiety, caffeine would not be the best bet for you. Lastly, it’s best to avoid taking caffeine close to bedtime as it can impair quality of sleep (11). Sleep is much more important for performance improvements and recovery than any supplement could ever be. So be sure to not mess with your sleep schedule!

Tolerance is another issue to look after when it comes to caffeine. Over time, we eventually start to adapt to our daily caffeine dose and no longer get the same energy out of that dose. This is why many people end up increasing their dose – hence why I was taking 2-3 scoops of pre-workout years ago. However, taking as little as a 7-day caffeine break can help bring your sensitivity back to where it was so you don’t have to buy a new container of pre-workout every 2-weeks. How fast does our tolerance build to caffeine? Unfortunately we adapt in as little as 15-days of consistent use (9).

What’s the best way to reduce the development of tolerance? The best way is to simply make sure that you’re not consuming caffeine every day [insert screaming emoji here]. I know this sounds almost impossible to do, but it will help keep your sensitivity in check. If that’s just not possible for you, aim for planning a week out of every month or two where you avoid caffeine for the entire week. Again, this could definitely be an awful week for you, but it will surely keep tolerance at bay!

What’s The Best Form Of Coffee?

Everyone knows that we can get caffeine from different sources; coffee, pills, chocolate, etc. But the question remains, is there a best form for exercise? Recent studies suggested that caffeine sourced from coffee might not be as efficient as the anhydrous (pill) form of caffeine. There was theory that some of the other bioactive components of coffee could interfere with caffeine’s effects (4). However, later studies were not able to duplicate those results (8), so it’s probably not as big of a deal as we initially thought.

Another type of caffeine that’s commonly used is tea. especially green tea. However, many have discussed if green tea is actually an effective source of caffeine since it also has the amino acid, L-theanine, which enhances relaxation. There’s not a ton of information regarding this combination in the realm of performance studies, but it has been documented that L-theanine can counteract some of the negative side effects from caffeine consumption, such as anxiety or jitters (10). Therefore, if you’re considering giving up caffeine use due to the side effects, try giving green tea a shot for a potentially smoother rush.

Overall, there’s not a specific form of caffeine that’s going to have magical effects in comparison to other forms. The best advice that I can give is for you to stick to whatever’s most convenient for you and your goals, whether that be a preworkout drink, caffeine pills, or a mug of coffee.

Conclusion

All-in-all, caffeine is one of the most effective supplements for athletes looking to enhance their performance. The majority of research on caffeine examines the acute effects of caffeine consumption, but if you reap these benefits throughout a long-term training routine, you’re going to see improved muscle development . Try your best to follow a strategy that promotes sustained sensitivity to caffeine – whether you make sure that you don’t take it every day or you take a week off every month or two. Long term use of caffeine is perfectly safe, just double check with your physician if you have any pre-existing conditions. Lastly, any form of caffeine is probably going to provide a boost both in and out of the gym, so use whatever form works best for you!

References

1. https://www.gwern.net/docs/nootropic/2008-owen.pdf

2. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0059561

3. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Terry-Graham-2/publication/13555289_Metabolic_and_exercise_endurance_effects_of_coffee_and_caffeine_ingestion/links/0deec52694e411c612000000/Metabolic-and-exercise-endurance-effects-of-coffee-and-caffeine-ingestion.pdf

4. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210275

5. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00394-019-02167-2

6. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Terry-Graham-2/publication/11766595_Caffeine_and_exercise_metabolism_endurance_and_performance/links/5473b36a0cf29afed60f5972/Caffeine-and-exercise-metabolism-endurance-and-performance.pdf

7. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12937-016-0220-7

8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12970-018-0216-0