Is there a way to make water more effective?

Like most things, the answer is “it depends.” But, with hydration, the main consideration is what you’re hoping that water does for your body. If you’re looking to improve the quality of what, certain “upgrades” such as changing the alkalinity or adding hydrogen is rooted in marketing hype, not science. In fact, research would suggest that these more expensive types of water are a complete waste of money.

If you need fluid, drink water. From tap to bottled, the good, old fashioned stuff will do the trick.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve the impact of water on your body. In particular, dehydration presents the biggest risk during exercise. And, if you push your body and sweat, water alone is not enough to give your body what it needs. 

And while electrolytes and protein are typically workout heroes, the most underrated hydration benefit comes from carbohydrates. If you exercise, here’s why adding a very specific amount of carbs to your water could be the best way to improve hydration, increase endurance, and boost recovery.

How Dehydration Affects Performance

Your body is approximately 60% water. And while that is certainly a lot, breakdown occurs once you lose anything about 1.5% water. 

When that happens, your ability to focus and perform are affected And that’s just the start. Energy levels drop. Your endurance is weakened. Your aerobic power (AKA your VO2 max) worsens. Your body breaks down glycogen (an energy source) faster, which means your muscles won’t work as well. Strength decreases. Lactic acid increases. And with it comes more fatigue, cramping, and slowed recovery

On top of it all, dehydration increases cortisol, oftentimes known as the stress hormone. This can impact everything from your mood to decreasing your testosterone levels in response to your training. 

In other words, if you want to perform at a higher level, preventing dehydration should be your primary goal. 

How To Improve Hydration

Water is obviously a great start, but how water is held in your body — and, more importantly, your muscles — is the key to improving hydration, maintaining and boosting performance, and speeding recovery. 

Now, most people just think of hydration in terms of electrolytes. That’s because when you sweat, your body loses a few key electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium (That’s why Ladder Hydration uses the Refuel Ratio™, which is represents the ideal balance of electrolytes lost in sweat to help your body perform). Electrolytes ensure that your muscles will function properly. But, simply taking electrolytes does not ensure their absorption — or that your body will completely rehydrate.

Enter carbs. 

Research has repeatedly shown the carbohydrates are not only the primary nutrient your body prefers for physical exercise, but they also help your body absorb electrolytes and store water in your muscles (this is a good thing!)

Think of it another way: most people know ketogenic diets or very low-carb diets usually lead to some quick weight loss, and that’s because carbs hold water in your body. So, when you drop carbs, you lose water weight. This is smoke and mirrors on the scale, and potentially detrimental to your  workout performance because it decreases the nutrients that hold more water in your body and slows dehydration. 

The water-electrolyte-carbohydrate combination is the perfect solution for hydration. 

When you sweat, you need more water and electrolytes. You lose the most sodium when you sweat, but some might believe that drinking sodium will make you less thirsty. But, all of the electrolytes actually increase thirst so you desire more water. Then, your ability to absorb water somewhat depends on sodium transporters.

When you add carbs, they increase the capacity of sodium transporters, meaning your body can absorb water more completely, and ensure that your body makes the best use of the electrolytes.

How to Keep Energy High and Prevent Cramping

The additional carbs in your hydration drink also help glycogen levels. If you remember from before, glycogen is a key fuel source that helps your muscles perform. In particular, glycogen supplies the power and speed you need during endurance events (this is called your glycolytic energy system).

When you’re low on glycogen, you can’t push as hard for as long. In fact, when reviewing the current research on high-fat, lower-carb diets and sports performance, the researchers concluded, “there may be a few scenarios where low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets are of benefit, or at least are not detrimental, for sports performance.”

Also, carbohydrates play a key role in “gastric emptying.” You know this as the stomach disruption you feel if you drink something too fast or liquid feels like it’s sitting in your gut.

There's a sweet spot you need to hit if you want to feel good. Drinking too list will cause dehydration. but, if you take in too many carbs, you’re also in a bad position.

For example, research shows that the 10 to 12 percent carbohydrate concentration in extra-sugary sports drinks or fruit juices slows the stomach emptying and increases cramping and other GI-related issues.

How To Stay Hydrated For Performance?

For starters, it’s important to realize that post-workout dehydration (and the need for hydration) is most common for endurance activities and sports, but it can apply to anyone who is breaking a sweat. When you are losing water, burning carbs, and depleting electrolytes, there is some need for you to refuel. The amount you’ll need of each depends on how much you sweat and how long you perform your activity. 

In general, if you’re inactive, just using water is fine and a perfectly effective way to rehydrate. As a baseline, the Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 91 ounces and men consume 125 ounces of water each day. If you’re not burning carbs or depleting electrolytes, adding them to your water won’t do much. 

But, when you’re depleted, relying on what alone could leave your body vulnerable to breakdown.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 2 hours before exercising we should drink about 17 ounces of water. During exercise, aim for 7-10 ounces every 20-30 minutes. The ideal amount of carbohydrates is about 6-8% concentration compared to the total amount of fluid in a drink. 

If you’re not into math, that means taking in about 15-30 grams of carbs after you’ve trained for about 60 to 90 minutes. As you increase the duration of your exercise, you’ll want to increase the number of carbohydrates. For example, if you train for 2-3 hours, you’ll want to take up to 60 grams of carbs, but that also means increasing the amount of liquid you drink to maintain a good balance of fluid to carbs, so you don’t cause any GI distress. 

There will be some level of trial and error involved with your recovery strategy. Some people will prefer to refuel every 60 minutes for activities that last multiple hours, and others will be able to wait a little bit longer. Whatever your preference, carbohydrates will ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs to push harder and recover faster.