Let’s cut to the chase, and discuss a highly overlooked area of bodybuilding and strength training – water. But first, let’s provide some context. The world of fitness is full of gimmicks , and get-shredded-quick articles. If they are not gimmicky, they beat the same horse to death, by hammering in the importance of nutrition and supplementation. Even then, the promotion of nutrition and supplementation seems like another opportunity for companies to sell products half of the time. We are going to step away from realm of food and supplementation for a moment, simply because there seems to be an abundance of information in regards to those areas. Rather, we will focus on water, a necessary catalyst for building muscle.
Before digging into the details of how water promotes strength and muscle growth, it makes sense to address the scientific aspect of the liquid. It may be common knowledge, that people are predominantly made up of water, and that it is the by-product of hydrogen and oxygen. At birth, water comprises approximately 80% of an infant’s composition. As individuals progress into adulthood , the figure begins to gravitate down towards 70%. Some lesser known research findings indicate that water is neither basic or acidic, but rather neutral, and such a property is what allows for relatively easy digestion(Hansen 2005). Thus it provides a superior alternative to any sort of beverage, both in terms of its functionality and ease of consumption.
Finally, it’s time to discuss how and why water is a critical component of effective bodybuilding.
Water is critical in detoxing the body. With bodybuilders being heavily dependent on high-protein diets, there are often incremental levels of toxins that have to be processed by the body. Athletes under high-protein protocols also tend to hold in excess levels of nitrogen and ketones, as well as urea. The latter is considered toxic. Water helps flush all of these elements out of your body. More importantly, it provides a more natural form of detoxification, where researchers indicate that it is more beneficial than the number of gimmicky mainstream detox diets that are currently floating around(Hansen 2005). Furthermore, water as a detoxing mechanism is a natural and sustainable process, and can help solve and prevent long-term issues that are associated with dehydration, ranging from premature aging to suffering joints and ligaments.
The liver plays a critical role in metabolizing fat in a way that helps burn it. Furthermore, its capabilities are fueled by the amount of water a bodybuilder consumes. Therefore, without drinking enough water, a liver’s potential for burning fat becomes compromised(Hansen 2005). The relationship between water and the liver translates into, the less water you consume, the more difficult it is to lean down.
Perhaps water’s role in managing appetites is a more well-known effect. Drinking enough water helps suppress your appetite. The next time you feel hungry, try downing a few cups of water, and then waiting another 15-20 minutes. Then see if you are still building up an appetite for food. The claim is not without evidence. There are a number of studies demonstrating that water promotes weight loss, through appetite suppression. The following statement from a research study in New England demonstrates this. “The study included 48 adults aged 55-75 years, divided into two groups. One group drank 2 cups of water prior to their meals and the other did not. All of the subjects ate a low-calorie diet during the study. Over the course of 12 weeks, water drinkers lost about 15.5 pounds, while the non-water drinkers lost about 11 pounds”(Bernstein). The statement shows that those who increased their water intake , also lost more weight.
Holding on to water can be the bane of any bodybuilder’s existence. In fact, it is not uncommon to see bodybuilders reduce their water consumption leading up to a competition, with the hopes of looking fuller and leaner on stage. Contrary to popular belief, the practice is completely counterintuitive. Rather, consuming water can be used as a preventative measure for avoiding fluid retention. When your body is under the impression that it is under the duress of dehydration, it works hard to hold onto water(Hansen 2005). Therefore, to look fuller and leaner, water consumption should be anywhere between a minimum of 8-12 glasses per day, depending on an trainee’s consumption of dieuretics, salt intake, and activity levels.
Although pooping might be a taboo topic to openly discuss, it is a critical component of nutrition and digestion. Not enough water can bring your visits to the bathroom to a complete halt, or constipation. Adequate water intake keeps critical paths, such as your colon, well-lubricated, leaving an open trajectory for your digestive contents to healthily exit your body(Plowman 2013). This can be an even greater concern for those operating at higher caloric levels.
Without proper hydration, muscles begin to feel constrained in their functionalities. An example can be seen with a muscle’s contracting characteristic, where water plays a critical role in the action (Hansen 2005). Since muscle contractions are important in strength training, and also represent an important function for muscle growth, water is a must for maximizing the functionality.
Drink water in excess. Research shows that a healthy person can typically consume up to 3 gallons of water per day. Too much water can result in poisoning, due to a water imbalance in the water(Plowman 2013). Therefore, it is critical to acknowledge that everyone’s threshold for water consumption may vary.
Water should be just as important as your food, and more important than supplementation. A bodybuilder cannot survive without proper hydration or food, but they can certainly survive and grow without supplements. Therefore it is important to manage your water intake with the same seriousness that you manage your nutrition. By the same token, just as your food intake is moderate, water should be also consumed in moderation. 8-12 cups per day is a great starting point(Plowman 2013). Nothing in excess is ever safe. To close out on this article, here are some basic recommendations that can be made for tracking water intake and impacts:
- Keep a journal to track your energy levels and thoughts
- Track your macro nutrients
- Track any medicines or supplements you are taking
- Track water intake
- Log your gym sessions
By recording the collection of data shown of above, you can get a better idea of how water comes to play in bodybuilding.
Hansen, John. Natural Bodybuilding. 2005.
Plowman, Sharon. Exercise Physiology for Health Fitness and Performance. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2013.