Websites and social media love to bombard us with fitness-related propaganda every day: exercise equipment, healthy meal ideas, and supplements like raw whey protein, to name a few. As useful as these products may be, we seldom see advertisements regarding the most crucial component of building muscle: water.
You may be wondering: Does drinking water help build muscle?
Water definitely helps build muscle. In fact, water makes up 76% of muscle mass. So it would make sense that much of our exercise routine would focus on staying well hydrated. In this article we’ll review exactly why water is so crucial in helping us to build muscle, and how you can optimize your fitness routine by staying make sure you drink enough water.
Drinking Water Helps Blood Flow
Water serves as the building block of every cell. And depending on the scientific source you consult, it comprises between 60 and 75% of the human body. By now, we know that water plays an integral role in numerous bodily functions. It flushes waste, cushions the brain, and transports nutrients throughout our bodies.
Staying well-hydrated aids the heart in pumping blood to all parts of the body more efficiently. When we drink enough water, the amount of fluid passing through our capillaries, arteries, and the rest of the circulatory system, otherwise known as our blood volume, is at a healthy level. When we have a normal blood volume, the muscles receive nutrients and oxygen better, which is so crucial during exercise.
Heavy exercise predisposes us to faster water loss since we are breathing harder and sweating more. One study found that dehydration may even lead to EIMD, or exercise-induced muscle damage. Athletes may experience EIMD when blood flow to skeletal muscles decreases, as well as if there are disruptions to cellular membranes. Because of the risk of EIMD, and because water is so crucial to your overall health, it’s best to hydrate before, during, and after a workout to get optimal results.
Don’t underestimate the power of drinking water to help build muscle. In fact, even losing 2% of your body weight in fluids can lower your workout performance by 25%.
Water’s Role in Building Muscles
Muscle building is hardly a simple process. Anyone who has spent hours lifting weights can attest to this. Repeated stress to targeted muscles during exercise, such as lifting weights or doing pilates, increases their size over time. But for many people it takes months, if not years, of commitment to reach an optimal level of fitness due to the sustained muscular hypertrophy required to make steady gains.
But where does water come into all of this? Well, it turns out that when we don’t drink enough water, especially when putting our muscles under exercise-related stress, muscles become less efficient. This is due to the aforementioned disruptions in blood flow, as well as electrolyte deficiencies. Electrolytes are a group of minerals that facilitate a number of key bodily functions, one of them being muscle contractions. When your body is low in certain electrolytes as a result of excessive fluid loss, muscle cramping and fatigue can occur. If you find yourself feeling tired or cramped up after hitting the gym, it may be because of improper fluid intake.
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Feeling tired or cramped up are definitely two signs of dehydration, and you’ll want to be able to recognize all the signs to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of water to build muscles. If you’re looking to build muscle in the gym, dehydration is the enemy. It lowers blood volume, impairing proper circulation and thus depriving your muscles of the oxygen and nutrients they require to grow. Overcome this obstacle and you’ll be getting the most out of the hard-earned time and money you invest at the gym.
Some other common signs of mild dehydration are sluggishness, irritability, and of course dry mouth, lips, and eyes. Severe signs of dehydration include dizziness, confusion, and nausea. Incidentally, nausea and vomiting are also signs of overhydration, a much less common but equally dangerous affliction. If you encounter someone with any of these symptoms, they need medical help immediately.
Later in this article we’ll discuss the best amount of water to intake in order to remain properly hydrated. Also keep in mind that if you’re exercising in a hot climate, experiencing diarrhea, or running a fever, you’ll need even more water than you normally drink to stay at an optimal level of hydration.
Additional Ways Hydration Helps Muscles
There are other indirect functions water plays in promoting muscle gain. These are worth discussing too, as it helps to understand the full impact of hydration on physical fitness.
For one, the journal Psychophysiology has found that dehydration increases perceptions of pain. This can hinder what would otherwise be a longer and beneficial workout session. Over time, showing up to your exercise regimen without proper fluid intake beforehand can make it harder for your body to build muscle due to increased pain sensitivity. It stands to reason, then, that being well-hydrated will decrease your perceptions of pain.
Another benefit deals with joint health. One of water’s main functions in the body is to lubricate the joints. This lubrication, known as synovial fluid, is important in maintaining the integrity of the joint by cushioning the bones that come together. Staying hydrated can help you move more easily during your workouts and minimize risk of injury or pain. This is especially important for those playing high-impact sports or engaging in workouts that can cause chronic joint pain, like running, which is tough on the knees.
Good hydration can even pay off on days you’re not working out, like when you’re sick. The old adage that you need to get plenty of fluids while sick is not a myth; water improves muscle function even during periods of illness. Consume 2-4 ounces of water every 15 minutes while infected, and you improve your chances of bouncing back quickly.
Speaking of bouncing back, drinking water can assist in muscle recovery, an important component of any well-balanced fitness routine. Drinking up after exercise replenishes water lost through sweating and removes toxins, keeping muscle soreness from becoming too painful. Though you may occasionally take a day from your workout regimen to rest, don’t neglect the continued importance of staying hydrated even on these days. It helps your body’s natural repair processes.
Simple Hydration Tips
Chronic dehydration doesn’t have to threaten your muscle-building goals. There are a few simple tricks you can do to ensure that you arrive to your workout ready to enjoy the effects of proper hydration. Staying hydrated is simple and cost-effective. All you need to invest in is a high quality water jug that’s BPA-free. The easier it is to carry and stow your water bottle, the more likely you will be to use it, so be thoughtful about this purchase and consider it a gift to yourself.
You first step toward proper hydration is always having your water bottle on you and ready to refill. You can sip water on the go at home or even at work, so do it. Add some fruit like lemons or cucumbers to enjoy the taste a bit more. Another great tip is to make sure you have a glass of water at every meal to stay on track. Water aids in digestion as well as muscle building. Eating a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables also contributes to good hydration, since many of these foods contain high levels of water.
If you’re planning to go the gym, make sure you’re drinking extra before you go and once you’ve started your workout. This will offset the fluids lost during exercise. A simple test to know if you’re well hydrated is to look at the color of your urine. In most cases, the darker your urine is, the more water you need to drink. Set yourself up for success when it comes to hydration and your muscles will thank you.
Water helps muscle growth more than you may think. Since water comprises over three-fourths of our muscle mass, it is key that we drink enough to complement our muscle-building regimens if we expect to see results. Water is also a big factor in optimizing post-workout recovery. Water’s role in circulation makes it a key player in delivering our muscles the growth-inducing nutrients and oxygen they need. It also provides the essential electrolytes needed to sustain regular muscular contractions.
Failure to take in adequate water for our workouts not only stunts our muscle-building goals, but can even increase perceptions of pain. Since water also plays a role in joint lubrication, dehydration may also leave us more vulnerable to joint injury. As you plan your muscle-building workout regimen, don’t forget to keep water at the forefront of your efforts. This will allow you to see the progress you desire and will benefit your overall health.
Q: How much water should I drink when I’m exercising?
A: Experts recommend that the average adult drink 17-20 ounces of water at least 2 hours prior to exercising. During your workout, 7-10 ounces per 10-20 minutes of exertion is optimal. And after a workout, you’ll want to drink 16-24 ounces of water for each pound lost to sweat. This guide lays out more specific information on how to stay properly hydrated, and of course the recommendations for older adults (over age 65) are a little bit different.
Q: Does the type of fluid matter when hydrating to help build muscle?
A: In fact, it does. One study found that sports drinks and even spring water were suboptimal compared to deep ocean mineral water for rehydration post-workout. This is because deep ocean mineral water contains natural electrolytes that boost hydration. Always choose water—ideally from a trusted filter—for the best hydration. Our filters at Aquagear retain health-essential electrolytes (magnesium, calcium, and potassium) while effectively removing contaminants.
- Isabel Lorenzo, Mateu Serra-Prat, Juan Carlos Yébenes. The Role of Water Homeostasis in Muscle Function and Frailty: A Review. Nutrients. 2019 Aug; 11(8): 1857.
- The Water in You: Water and the Human Body. Retrieved from usgs.gov.
- Ragav Sharma and Sandeep Sharma. Physiology, Blood Volume. StatPearls. 2021 Jan.
- Water Tips for Efficient Exercise. Retrieved from webmd.com.
- Dehydration and Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: Implications for Recovery. Retrieved from gssiweb.org (August 2020)
- Muscular Hypertrophy and Your Workout. Retrieved from healthline.com (February 26, 2019)
- J.A. Yu-Yahiro. Electrolytes and their relationship to normal and abnormal muscle function. Orthop. Nurs. Sept-Oct 1994; 13(5): 38-40.
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- Tracey Bear, Micheal Philipp, Stephen Hill, Toby Mündel. A preliminary study on how hypohydration affects pain perception. Psychophysiology. 20 January 2016.
- Synovial Fluid Analysis. Retrieved from medlineplus.gov (September 16, 2021)
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- Hydration for Older Adults: How to Stay Hydrated for Better Health. Retrieved from ncoa.org (August 2021)