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Why Bodybuilders Need Water

Water is the most critical nutrient for growth, development and health. In fact without enough water and other fluids, you’d die within a week. Fluids in your body carry vital nutrients via arteries, veins, and capillaries to your cells, and waste products out of the body. Water molecules also help form the structures of proteins and glycogen. In short, water is an active participant in the chemical reactions that keep you alive.

Muscle is Water

In fact, an average adult can contain anywhere between 35-45 L of water, which makes up an average of 50-70% of their body weight.1 This is of course dependent on how much fat the person carries. Fat free tissues such as muscle* are the most water dense with 60-80% of its weight being due to water. As the primary fluid in the body, it acts as a solvent for minerals, vitamins, amino acids, glucose and many other nutrients. Without it, you can’t digest these essential nutrients, let alone absorb, transport and use them. Water is also part of the lubricant in your joints that keen them moving.

Water Keeps Muscles Cool

When the body’s temperature begins to rise, water acts as your coolant. Your body produces energy for exercise, with 40% of that energy being used for mechanical work, and approximately 60% being released as heat.2 Sweating enables this temperature regulation. As your sweat evaporates, your blood and body cool, thus enabling you to prevent heat stress. However, even moderate losses of body water of ~2% can impact on your ability to exercise.3 Thus replenishing the water lost as sweat and any other water losses associated with exercise is important to continue with adequate thermoregulation and proper exercise performance.

Water for Fat Loss

Drinking water can help you stay lean. Your kidneys depend on water to filter waste products from the body. In a water shortage, the kidneys need backup, so they turn to the liver for help. One of the liver’s functions is to mobilise stored fat for energy. By taking this away from the kidneys, the liver can’t perform as well, and fat burning is compromised.

Water & Lean Muscle

For overweight individuals or those wishing to become leaner for a specific purpose such as prior to a bodybuilding competition, increased water intake can help you eat less by making you feel fuller. Water takes the edge off your hunger through reduction of stomach volume so that you eat less, and it has no calories. However, it is important to realise that using water as a food substitute is not recommended and you should use water as a way to ensure that you do not risk overeating. A proper meal plan is still required and to ensure you are getting enough energy and nutrients. If you are on a high protein diet, increases in urea and ammonia4 can occur and adequate water is needed to help produce the urine to get rid of these by-products of protein metabolism. If these products are not removed, you risk the chance of dangerous changes to the pH of your body.

Water For Strength, Power & Endurance

To move your muscles you need water. Water is found in the highest concentrations in metabolically active tissues such as muscle and is found in the least concentrations in relatively inactive tissues such as fat, skin and some parts of bone. The electrical stimulation of nerves, which control muscles, occur as a result of the exchange of electrolyte minerals dissolved in water across the nerve and muscle cell membranes. There have been quite a few studies conducted on the effect of dehydration (scientifically termed hypohydration) and its effect on muscular performance. Judelson et al (2007)5 reported that hypohydration could lead to a 2% decrease in strength, 3% decrease in power and up to a 10% decrease in endurance. An experimental study conducted by Judelson et al (2007)6 showed that a water deficit of 2.5% and 5% meant a decrease in the total amount of work done in subsequent sets of the same exercise. Less total work done means less results.

Water for Bodybuilding Success

If you want to gain muscle, cell volumisation, the hydration state of your muscle cells, should be a priority. In disease states where cell volume is reduced, protein breakdown is seen to increase. On the other hand, in a well hydrated cell, protein synthesis is stimulated via modification of response to signalling molecules for synthesis.7 Exercise involves movement of water in and out of the cell and thus alters the cell volume. By ensuring that you are properly hydrated pre, during and post-exercise, you can ensure that your muscle cells stay volumised, promoting muscle protein synthesis for better results and faster recovery times.

Water & Joint Lubrication

Water makes up the synovial fluid, the lubricating fluid between joints, and cerebrospinal fluid, the shock absorbing fluid between the vertebrae and around the brain. These are important for healthy joint and spine maintenance. As strength training places significant demands on the joints and spine, the presence of adequate protective fluid is essential for performance and health.

Water & Mental Performance

We all know the power of the mind in relation to exercise and sports performance. Our mental performance in the gym or on the field is key to our physical performance. There have been countless studies on the effects of dehydration and cognitive performance. One summary study by Grandjean and Grandjean (2007)8 presented findings from multiple studies on cognitive performance. Dehydration has been shown to affect:

  • Perception of fatigue - Increased perception of fatigue with increasing duration and intensities of exercise.
  • Speed and Accuracy  - In more complicated tasks, these two important skills were diminished.
  • Attention - Decreased by 2% with 4% deficit of water.
  • Arithmetic Ability - Decreased by 2% with 4% deficit of water.
  • Perceived Discrimination - Discrimination abilities such as understanding how fast an object is moving was decreased.
These deficits in mental performance will all affect our ability to perform the physical task at hand. By drinking enough water, we can improve our attention and reduce fatigue so we can go longer and harder at the gym or on the field and get the results we want. 

Disease & Illness Prevention with Water

Inadequate water intake can lead to kidney stones. Low water intake is a risk type for certain types of cancer including cancer of the bladder as well as colorectal and breast cancers.9 Dehydration can also affect blood flow which may have potential long term health consequences.

Bodybuilders Must Drink Water

Most people need two to three litres of water a day, just to stay moderately hydrated. Even more is required to replace fluid lost during exercise. There are many reasons a bodybuilder needs to ensure adequate water intake, including, temperature regulation, fat burning, muscle strength, power and endurance, joint lubrication, mental performance and illness prevention. As water is the most critical nutrient for growth, you should ensure high priority is paid to it in your diet. Without it, you’d be unable to carry vital nutrients around your body, thus short circuiting your potential gains.10 While the majority of the article has looked at hydration, it is important to note that water is recommended in most occasions of dehydration as it contains no calories so won't lead to excess caloric consumption. Having said that; flavourerd water and sports drinks may sometimes be useful and even more effective in reducing dehydration effects. In this author's opinion, you should be drinking water to curb dehydration 95% of the time and only be using sports drinks to aid training periods where increased sweat losses occur or in extreme hot, humid and arid conditions.

* - Muscle can contain fat within its fibres, but most terminology points to muscle as part of your fat free mass.

1. Essentials of Human Nutrition 3rd Ed. Jim Mann and A Stewart Truswell. Oxford University Press 2007. p 100
2. Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. International Society of Sports Nutrition. Jose Antonio, Douglas Kalman, Jeffrey R Stout, Mike Greenwood, Darryn S Willoughby and G Gregory Haff. Humana Press 2008. p 359
3. 'Fluid, who needs it?' Australian Institue of Sport. http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/hydration2/fluid_-_who_needs_it. Accessed 20th April 2011
4. Busque SM and Wagner CA, 'Potassium restriction, high protein intake, and metabolic acidosis increase expression of the glutamine transporter SNAT3 (Slc38a3) in mouse kidney.' AJP - Renal Physiol August 2009:297(2): F440-F450
5. Judelson DA et al. 'Hydration and muscular performance: does fluid balance affect strength, power and high-intensity endurance?' Sports Med. 2007;37(10):907-21
6. Judelon DA et al. 'Effect of Hydration State on Strength, Power, and Resistance Exercise Performance.' Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, October 2007: 39(10), p. 1817-1824
7. Waldegger S, Busch GL, Kaba NK, Zempel G, Ling H, Heidland A, Haussinger D, Lang F. Effect of cellular hydration on protein metabolism. Mineral and Electrolyte Metabolism. 23(3-6):201-5, 1997
8. Grandjean AC and Grandjean NR. 'Dehydration and Cognitive Performance.' Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2007: 26(90005), p. 549S-554S
9. David YB, Gesundheit B, Urkin J and Kapelushnik J. 'Water intake and cancer prevention.' Journal of Clinical Oncology. Jan 2004;  22(2) p. 383-385.
10. Power Eating. Susan S Kleiner. Human Kinetics Publishers 2001. p 100
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