Kevin Rindal, DC, CSCS
Co-Founder & President of Vimocity, Movement Health Thought-Leader
It’s summer, which for most of us means grilling, flip flops, outdoor activities and inescapable and constant reminders to “HYDRATE!”. You’ve likely heard it every July and August when the temperatures rise.1 But has anyone ever really explained to you why hydration is so important? Why do your muscles tend to cramp up more in the summer or why do workplace injuries surge in the warmer months? 2
The reminders to properly hydrate are frequent for many reasons, especially when it comes to our muscle and joint health and potentially preventing injuries. Find out what happens to your muscles and joints when you don’t hydrate and get simple tips you can use to develop an effective hydration action plan. Let's dive into why it's important to hydrate to prevent sore muscles and joints.
Why Does Hydration REALLY Matter?
Did you know that over 60% of an adult’s body weight comes from water? But why does that really mean? Let’s put some perspective around it. Say you walk past an average American male who weighs 160 lbs. That means that 96 pounds of his weight are water.3 Think about that… 96 pounds of water. That’s a lot! Your body needs this much water because H20 is a critical component of every cell in our body, especially the cells that make up our muscles, brains, heart, and lungs. Our muscles, for instance, are composed of nearly 75% water. If we experience as little as 1-2% water loss, our bodies feel the negative consequences- impaired brain function, headaches, and lack of energy are just a few.4
So How Does Dehydration Actually Happen?
We naturally lose water throughout the day from normal body functions including breathing, sweating, urinating and through bowel movements. However, even moderate activity levels in the heat can drastically expedite this normal water loss. This is why it’s vital in the summer months to have a well-thought-out plan for keeping your fluid intake on pace with the amount of water that you are losing.
Electrolytes? What Are Those?
You’ve likely heard a lot about electrolytes, but most people just know them as “the stuff in sports drinks.” Electrolytes are minerals that are electrically charged and play a significant role in the balance of the fluids inside and outside your cells; they help regulate blood pressure, are critical for proper muscle function and essential for nerve signal transmission (just to name a few!).5 They are also found both inside and outside cells.
Maintaining a proper balance of these minerals, along with a proper balance of fluid levels throughout your body is critically important. When your body’s optimal electrolyte balance is disrupted by sweating and other forms of water loss, your body pays a serious price. Potential symptoms of electrolyte “imbalance” and excessive water loss include muscle weakness and spasms, joint pain, heart palpitations and anxiety just to name a few. There are four primary electrolytes that are important to “electrolyte balance:” Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium.5
Sodium: maintains fluids balance
Potassium: prevents muscle cramps
Magnesium: relaxes muscles
Calcium: required for normal muscle functions
Great. But What Does This Have to Do With My Muscle or Joint Pain?
Not only does hydration impact cell and organ function, but it is critical to the health of our muscles, joints, cartilage, and discs of the spine. Joints have something called synovial fluid which lubricates the place where two bones meet. When we are dehydrated, the synovial fluid tends to become sticky and thick and therefore is less efficient at reducing friction between the joints.6
Similarly, dehydration affects our cartilage. In a joint, where the ends of the bones come together, there is cartilage that acts as a shock absorber. When we don’t drink sufficient fluids, our body tends to pull water from our body parts that are not essential to survival so that it can devote all water resources to essential organs. Therefore, the cartilage is one of the body tissues that is deprived of water. The result is less shock absorption capability of the cartilage, which can lead to increased wear and tear to joints, cause stiffness and soreness and increase your risk for injury. When it comes to our muscle and joint health, staying properly hydrated is critical.
How Do I Know if I’m Properly Hydrated?
There is no gold standard for assessing proper hydration levels, but there are a few useful ways to assess whether or not you need to consume more liquids:
Urine Color: Analyzing your urine color is a great way to evaluate your hydration levels.7 Typically, your urine should be a very pale yellow color. If it is totally clear, you are definitely well-hydrated and may want to cut back on your fluid consumption or eat foods that contain the minerals listed above. If your urine is a very dark yellowish-orange color, you should immediately increase your fluid intake. If this persists, you should contact your medical doctor for additional evaluation or guidance.
Cramps: Muscle cramps are frequent with dehydration and most common during times of physical activity. If you are exposed to high temperatures, this is usually an early warning sign that you may be moving towards dehydration and heat exhaustion.8
Lightheadedness or a headache: These symptoms may not always be caused by dehydration, but when accompanied by the other signs/symptoms mentioned above, dehydration may be a cause. If a headache or dizziness persists, seek medical attention. Sweat Production: When your body becomes moderately to severely dehydrated it STOPS sweating. The skin becomes dry even when exercising in the heat. This is a sign of advanced dehydration and can quickly lead to more severe problems. You’re past the warning sign phase and should immediately replenish fluids and electrolyte balance and rest your body in a cool place. As already mentioned, if these symptoms persist, it is critical that you seek medical advice or evaluation from a qualified healthcare provider.
Making hydration a habit is the key to success. Make sure that a bottle of water is close by so that you have easy access and it serves as a reminder to stay hydrated. Click To Tweet
So How Many Ounces Of Fluid Should I Consume Each Day?
Good question! The general recommendation is about 3L (100Oz) per day for men and 2.2L (75Oz) per day for females.9 However, size also matters, so another way to assess your needs is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water (e.g., 160lb individual would need approximately 80Oz of water per day). This is a good rule-of-thumb. However, I can’t emphasize enough, that the recommended daily intake is variable. Some circumstances that would influence the recommended daily intake are an underlying disease (e.g., kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, etc.), breastfeeding, medication usage, age, weight, activity level, etc. When in doubt, make sure to consult with your physician so that you can receive hydration recommendations specific to your needs. A great starting place to determine how much you should be drinking is a Hydration Calculator. Answer a few questions and see the estimate of how much you should be drinking while you are active.
Life is Busy. How Do I Make Sure I Hydrate to Prevent Sore Muscles and Joints?
The key to maintaining an optimal level of hydration is developing a plan for success. Here are a few ways that you can thoughtfully prepare for hydration success:
- Check the Temperature:
If you are going to be outside for more than 15 minutes, check the weather. Beyond temperature, the key variables to pay attention to are humidity, heat index,10 and wind. High humidity, a high heat index, and windy conditions cause the body to lose more water. Try to plan your activities during not only the coolest part of the day but also the time when humidity and wind are lower.
- Develop A Plan for Access to Fluids
- Container: There are various high-quality containers to carry your liquids in. Always avoid bottles containing BPA11, as this may expose you to harmful chemicals. One of my favorite bottles is the 20 Oz Miir water bottle. It’s made of stainless steel, has a lid that’s easy to clip onto bags and a portion of the profits are devoted to providing clean water for those in need. Knowing how many ounces of liquids your container holds is important, as this will help you keep track of the total amount of fluids you consume each day. Knowing how many ounces of liquids your container holds is important, as this will help you keep track of the total amount of fluids you consume each day.
- Type of Drink: Clean, unadulterated water is always the best! We have a Berkey Water Filtration system at our home and love it! If you enjoy alternatives to water, avoid or limit soda or sugary sports drinks. Especially avoid “Diet” sodas. Sugar substitutes have been shown to have potential negative health implications.12 Great alternatives are:
- Sparkling water
- Unsweetened iced tea
- Hot tea
- Black coffee (in moderation)
- Coconut water
- Add a Nuun tablet to your water
- Kombucha (Definitely a staple among the Vimocity Team)
- Eat Fruits and Vegetables: Eating more fruits and vegetables is an easy way to stay hydrated. Certain fruits and vegetables are powerhouses when it comes to restoring water and electrolyte balances.13 Try incorporating more of these in your diet:
- Citrus Fruits
- Bell Peppers
- Access to Fluids: Plan your day around easy access to fluids. This may mean frequent trips to the water fountain, or planning ahead and packing extra water bottles.
Proper hydration is vital to your health on so many levels, but especially to your muscle and joint health. As we approach the warmest days of the year, make sure to approach each day with a strategic plan for how you are going to stay hydrated and healthy while you work and play.
Looking for more tips to prevent muscle and joint pain?
Check out our post on proper lifting technique.
Disclaimer: Vimocity does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
If you experience any pain with any movements immediately stop and consult a qualified healthcare provider.
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