By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Your wraps are tight. Your belt is secure. Sweat drips down your face as your blood pumps. And as the chalk billows, your stomach growls. Wait … what? Your stomach growls? How can you be hungry at a time like this? Come to think of it, you’re thirsty too. Nothing is more distracting than any distraction before a heavy lift. What promised to be a personal best turns out to be anything but. Your hunger and thirst for strength has been detoured by nothing other than, well, hunger and thirst.
Chances are good that you’ve probably been beaten over the head with the facts of how counterproductive a lack of protein, fat and carbs are to a strongman’s progress, but we could all use a healthy reminder of the risks associated with dehydration. How quickly we forget or possibly don’t realize just how detrimental it is to be low on fluids.
Drink Up the Research
There’s ample research over the last decade that has investigated just how critical it is to be fully hydrated, specifically in strength athletes and bodybuilders. In a 2001 study by Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA), investigators monitored the one-rep max in the bench press of bodybuilders while they were normally hydrated and again while they were dehydrated. They found that when the subjects were dehydrated, the 1RM was significantly decreased compared to their normal hydrated states. They also determined that the leaner the subjects were the more dehydration affected their 1RM strength.
In a 2007 study at the University of Connecticut (Storrs), researchers examined the number of reps that weight-trained males could complete during a six-set squat workout using 80% of their 1RM under both hydrated and dehydrated conditions. Their findings indicated that when the men were dehydrated, they were unable to complete as many reps in the squat on most of the six sets as compared to when they had sufficient fluids.
In another similar study that tested the squat, scientists measured testosterone and cortisol levels after the same type of squat workout while they were normally hydrated or dehydrated. They found that dehydration significantly dropped test subjects’ testosterone levels and simultaneously increased their cortisol levels after the workout.
Furthermore, researchers out of Chicago State University tested subjects’ leg and arm power under conditions of hydration and dehydration. Their results suggested that when subjects were dehydrated, their upper-body and lower-body power were reduced by about 15% and 20%, respectively.
Fill It Up
All that research makes even more sense when you consider that your individual muscle fibers are made of 75% water. So keeping your body well hydrated puts each muscle group in the best position possible for gains. Your best bet is to make sure you drink up throughout the day, and don’t try and simply down a gallon of water right before you step into the gym, but rather make it a habit all day long. From the time you wake, before and after your training session, as well as through the evening, maintaining a consistent flow of fluids is critical to creating a constant environment of hydrated fibers.
I recommend that your goal be no less than a gallon of water per day. If you’re not currently taking in that much water, begin immediately. Every day you go without adequate water means a day weaker and smaller than you probably could be, regardless of the bodypart in question. You may also want to make sure you’re taking enough glutamine. Glutamine is well documented to help draw water into the muscle cells throughout the day. Take in about 3–5 grams of glutamine about 30 minutes prior to your heavy lifting session.
After your workout, rather than just grabbing a bottle of water, add both whey protein and simple carbs to it. The protein and carbs have been found to rehydrate weightlifters faster than plain water alone. Feel free to begin drinking that protein/carb/water drink even while at the gym to prevent dehydration altogether. Finally, don’t forget that it doesn’t take long to become dehydrated. Scientists are certain that a decrease in water of as little as 2% of your bodyweight will hinder your ability to lift heavy and gain size. That’s especially important on hot and humid summer days.