We all know the value that H20 brings to the table, not just in athletics, but everyday life. After all, it makes up roughly 60% of our bodies, and there’s not a single organism on the planet that can survive without it. Now, obviously water—and staying hydrated—is crucial for optimum performance in sport.
The amount of water you lose through perspiration (sweating, drooling, etc.) has to be replenished at some point. The thing is, during a CrossFit WOD, time is of the essence. You’re always racing against the clock, and when the thirst (for water) sets in, it can be oh so tempting to stop and reach for the water bottle. So, when you’re feeling the need for water in the middle of a metcon, what should you do?
To understand how you need to deal with thirst in a workout, you first need to consider how water can impact your athletic performance. See, when you start to feel thirsty in the workout, you’re already 2% dehydrated. Because water makes up 75% of all muscle tissue and about 10% of fatty tissue, the onset of dehydration—even at minimal levels—can have a significant impact on performance.
As legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin says, “Hydration is the greatest determinant of strength. A drop of 1.5% in water levels translates to a drop of 10% of your maximal strength.” With the loss of 5 to 10% of the body’s water supply—which qualifies as moderate dehydration—plasma volume and blood pressure decreases, which forces your heart and respiration rates to increase in an effort to compensate. As a result, your body temperature shoots up, which means you’ll be sweating even more. Powerful electrolytes and nutrients like sodium and potassium are lost through sweat, and when they start to go, you’ll know about it. Headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, achy joints and general fatigue are all likely symptoms of moderate dehydration. Beyond moderate dehydration—into the realm of severe dehydration—things become dangerous, potentially even life threatening.
The best offense is a good defense
The above paragraph makes it seem that as soon as you start feel the effects of dehydration in a workout, the best thing to do is to reach for the water bottle. Now, if you feel that you absolutely MUST stop what you’re doing and get some H20 into your system, then by all means go for it. But usually athletes will break from the workout and use the water fountain as a stall tactic. If the temperature in your workout environment is suitable, and you’re in good condition, breaking for water is unnecessary. You need to suck it up and get your hands back on the barbell.
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More often than not, feeling thirsty in a workout is a sign of poor preparation. Hydration before the class—and after —usually affects how you’ll feel in the middle of it. In order to be operating at peak levels, you need to make sure you’re getting enough water in your system throughout the day. But how much?
There is a plethora of factors that can determine an athlete’s daily hydration needs—including their conditioning level, nutrition, climate and the specific workout (a short sprint versus a 30-minute metcon). However, if you are looking for a general guidelines, follow this formula:
- Your bodyweight (in pounds) x 0.5-1.0 = the number of ounces of water you should be drinking per day.
- Drink 15-20 ounces of water about two hours prior to working out.
- 15-30 minutes before your workout, drink 10-16 ounces of water.
The next thing to keep in mind is to not drink your daily water requirement all in one go. If you drink too much plain water in one sitting, you may develop a rare condition called hyponatremia. This occurs when there is not enough sodium in the body, and usually comes about when athletes (particularly endurance athletes) drink too much water. If your sodium levels in your body are too low, then your cells begin to swell with water, expanding your brain tissue and putting pressure on the brain. On top of that, it may also cause your lungs to fill with fluid. Symptoms of hyponatremia can include headache, vomiting and swelling of the hands and feet.
Instead, aim to consume a minimum of 16 ounces of water each hour. This is a general guideline for serious athletes with a fairly intense training regimen, so feel free to adjust as necessary. The point is to balance out your water consumption throughout the day so as to maintain electrolyte levels so the body can perform at its peak.
As I’ve mentioned, if you’re in the middle of a particularly brutal workout and feel that you can’t go on without a gulp of water, by all means take some. Just know that your preparation for the workout extends beyond eating well and mobilizing. You also need to consider the temperature of your workout environment. If it’s been a sweltering day and you’re coming into a humid box where a 45-minute workout is planned (not to mention the warm-up and skill work), it’s likely that you may need to take on a little bit of H20 as you get started. However, if it’s a short metcon and the temperature isn’t unbearable, reaching for the water is a stall tactic AND a sign of poor preparation that’s costing you dearly in reps and time.
Lastly, don’t forget to hydrate—post workout! Water helps to move waste products out of the joints and from our muscles, reducing pain and improving our flexibility. Furthermore, it can help improve your recovery time. During a workout your body’s electrolyte balance shifts, which can lead to the symptoms associated with dehydration. If your electrolyte supply continues to stay low, your muscles may continue to feel weak during your next WOD. So if you want to make sure your body is at full fighting force the next day, grab the H20 post-workout.