Hydration. It’s quite possibly the thing I talk about most with athletes. It’s definitely one of the things I’ve talked about the most on my blog; to date, I’ve written six different individual posts with hydration as the main topic over the years. Today’s post will become the seventh. :)
In my experience, it’s the thing that all athletes know is good for them and it’s the thing that a majority of athletes don’t do adequately. Sure, that probably sounds harsh. Some of you reading this are probably even getting a little defensive in your mind right now, “I don’t do that!” But, in my experience, it’s true.
The National Academy of Medicine found that women who are adequately hydrated consume an average of 91 ounces of total water per day; they report that men who are adequately hydrated consume an average of 125 ounces of total water per day. “Total water” means the total amount of water someone consumes, including water from both beverages and foods. On average, people get approximately 20% of their hydration from water-rich foods such as soups, fruits, and vegetables, so assuming that those foods are part of one’s daily diet, this means that women need to consume around 72 ounces of water per day and men need to consume around 100 ounces.
It’s important to note that these recommendations are baseline, meaning that they are not including any fluids lost through exercise and sweat. Translation: If you are an endurance athlete, your daily hydration needs are higher than the numbers I just outlined. A study published by the National Institutes of Health found that 50% of people worldwide are not sufficiently hydrated.
My anecdotal experience as a coach lines up with these findings; the athletes I work with are consistently not consuming an adequate amount of hydration. Since I started coaching, I have been harping on this topic and constantly bringing it up with the athletes who I work with (just ask any of them ;) ).
Along with sleep, hydration is, in my humble opinion, the most important thing any human can do for themselves, and the importance of these two activities is amplified for athletes. There are exactly zero shortcuts for either of them. If you don’t get enough sleep or if you don’t consume adequate hydration, there isn’t a hack in the world that can compensate for it. Sure, there are plenty of companies who will advertise and claim that it’s possible (and try to sell you products along the way), but to date, science shows us that there are zero actual replacements or alternatives for these foundational things. ZERO.
These findings were further backed up by an interesting study recently published by the National Institutes of Health. This study enrolled 15,792 individuals aged 45-66 between 1987-1989 and followed up with them for 25 years to reach the findings published. Over that time period, they tested the sodium serum levels of the individuals in the study and tracked their overall biological age and health, including any development of illness, chronic disease, and death. (Sodium serum is measured using a blood test, and the numbers increase when we consume less hydration.)
What did they observe? The range for normal sodium serum levels is 135-146 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L), and the people who were at the higher end of this range (those who were less hydrated) had worse health outcomes than the people who were at the lower end of the normal range (those who were closer to ideal hydration status). Levels above 142 mEq/L had a 10-15% higher chance of being biologically older and a 64% higher risk of developing chronic diseases. People with levels above 144 mEq/L had a 50% risk of being biologically older and a 21% higher risk of dying early.
Translation: There is a reason why hydration is talked about so much (and why I talk about it so much). It is critical for human function and performance. Critical. Even a slight dehydration significantly impacts your overall physical health. For athletes, if you are not getting appropriate hydration, the simple and hard truth is this: You can buy every new gadget that comes on the market. You can track every step you take on your Garmin. You can do a workout that feels really hard. You can hire a competent and caring coach to partner with you on your journey to your goals. But you will never reach your peak potential and performance if you don’t address the foundational truth that hydration is a keystone habit that must be consistently engaged with.
Hydration is The Foundation. (The capitalization is significant and important here.) THE Foundation. If you are able to look in the mirror, be truthful with yourself, and upon that reflection you realize that you are lacking in the hydration department, I encourage you to realize that any goals you set for yourself will be compromised and/or more challenging unless you address this first. As such, I encourage (and challenge!) you to set the goal of making adequate hydration a consistent habit in your life.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.