The average adult male is made up of around 60% water and the average adult female about 55%. You can see why staying hydrated is important but with so much contradictory information it’s hard - whether you’re bodybuilding or not - to know how much water you should be drinking when you exercise.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of water in the body: it helps our cells to function properly, it assists in chemical and metabolic reactions and helps remove waste products; it regulates our temperature, aids our focus and digestion and improves our mood amongst other valuable functions. With water being so important on a day-to-day basis, it’s no surprise that it is also a key factor in fitness and bodybuilding. We need to stay hydrated because we lose water through sweat. If you exercise regularly, then this won’t be a surprise. Temperature regulation is one of the most important things our body does for us during a workout and without it, we would quickly become too hot, start feeling ill and then, eventually, die. The optimum temperature of the human body is approximately 98.6ºF (37ºC) and sweating helps us to maintain this healthy number. It isn’t water alone that keeps us cool but the process of evaporation. If we don’t replace the moisture that we lose through sweat, then we can become dehydrated and that’s a known factor in reduced sporting performances.
One of the problems with water lost through sweat is that it isn’t always an indicator of how hard you’re working out: if you’re sweating more than someone else that doesn’t mean you’re going harder at it than they are. There are a number of factors as to why you might be losing more moisture: humidity, weight, gender etc will all play a role. If sweating has ruined a pair of your gym headphones, then you’ll probably understand that more than most. We all sweat different amounts and we all need different amounts of fluid to replace what it is we're losing when we workout and that’s why guidelines and advice can be wildly different on what’s best for our bodies.
The old adage with bodybuilders has always been to drink a gallon of water. Lifting weights can be tough on connective tissue and water helps keep the joints lubricated. There has also been a number of studies showing that low to moderate dehydration ‘causes a significant reduction in muscle endurance’. Alex who runs ‘King of the Gym’ writes that you’ll only be training at 80% efficiency if this happens. Imagine only being able to do 8 out of every 10 reps because you’re thirsty. Alex cites a study by the Athletic Department of Chicago State University and highlights how important water consumption is for a reduction of hunger pangs - something that will be important to anyone on a restricted calorie diet as bodybuilders often are. Some bodybuilders drink water to help reduce the risk of kidney stones - a possible side effect of high protein diets. They do it to help with fluid retention, too.
Water is vital in any training program, and it’s such an easy addition to make: it’s freely available and often offered freely in public spaces. You can buy it in all different sizes, flavours and it even comes out of the tap in your home. It’s counterproductive, therefore, to fall in love with supplements, shakes, powders and pills, gym memberships, sweat-proof headphone covers to wear in the gym, if we’re so quick to forget about hydration.
How Much Water Should Bodybuilders Drink Each Day?
It’s worth stating again that there’sno hard and fast rule here, but there are a number of things that can help you understand what works best for you.
Sean Nalewanyj writes that the best way to understand how much water you need is by checking the colour of your urine. If it’s a pale colour, then you’re probably fine. The darker it is the more water you need to drink to replace what you’ve already lost. He suggests using a process of trial and error to find what works best for you, and he rightly says that the amount you’ll need will vary depending on the intensity of your exercise, the climate, how much you move around each day and how often you workout. In this way, he says that you’ll discover what works for you. Obviously, a person working out in a desert climate will sweat more than someone working out in Northern Europe. If you have a very physical job - a mountain rescue climber, for example - then, again, you may need to factor in more fluid than someone who sells insurance from a desk. Sean Nalewanyj goes on to suggest keeping a water bottle with you so that you can top-up as the day goes on. What we were surprised to read from his post is that coffee and tea DO count towards your daily hydration goals. We’d always believed the myth that caffeine was a diuretic and detrimental to hydration but it turns out that caffeinated drinks are fine, too - brilliant if you like to use coffee as a stimulant for exercise.
King of the Gym, Alex, writes that most people should reach for 1 gallon which is about 4 litres of water but he does say that there is a number of other factors to be taken into consideration: bodyweight, activity level and climate. Thankfully, he reminds us that it’s impossible to be spot-on but that as long as you’re in the ‘ballpark’ of your personal hydration level then you’ll be fine. Alex goes on to write that you should drink in small but frequent amounts and that you shouldn’t wait until you feel thirsty before topping up with water.
The Muscle Tech Blog advises that bodybuilders will require more water than regular people. They advise 0.66 x your bodyweight in lbs = water in ounces which is something we’ve seen repeated in a number of online forums. If nothing else, this could be a good starting place. On the Relentless Gains blog, they advise drinking a litre of water for every 1,000 calories burned. Which would mean 4 litres of water for someone burning 4,000 calories per day. That might sound a little arbitrary, but it does tie in with the much-lauded advice that bodybuilders should drink a gallon (4 litres).
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how well hydrated you are for a workout. It’s worth working out and it’s worth playing around with your water consumption until you hit a rough sweet spot. It could mean the difference between your best and your most mediocre performance. Drinking to the colour of your urine is good advice although, some medical conditions (and diets) make this impossible. Drinking regularly in small amounts is good advice, too, as is looking at your weight, you exercise routine and the climate your exercising in.
Water intoxication isn’t all that common but it’s worth mentioning that whilst water is very good for us, in large volumes and when drunk quickly, it can cause hyponatremia which can be fatal. It’s when the sodium and salt in your blood drop too low. Drinking to such extremes isn’t a frequent occurrence for bodybuilders but it is something to be mindful of - we’re all guilty of pushing ourselves harder for a better performance in the gym, and the danger is thinking that more water = more gains.