When it comes to building your body, water is the forgotten nutrient.
Many people think that protein is the most important nutrient for muscle mass and definition. If you are one of them, think again. Of course pro-tein is important since it makes up around 20 percent of your muscles’ weight and is responsible for anabo-lism. However, the major constitu-ent of your muscles, responsible for approximately 75 percent of the tissue, is water. We often discuss fat, carbs, and alcohol, but water is the forgotten nutrient even if it is one of the most important. Read on and discover three essential ways water contributes to the quality of your workouts, what it does for your aesthetics, and how to optimize your intake of this vital but oft-forgotten muscle-building force.
Water Is the Basis for the Pump
We all know the feeling of the pump, when the muscles start to become tense and it quickly be-comes more difficult to complete the next rep. What happens is that your glycogen, which is stored car-bohydrates, is broken down in order to contribute energy. In the process, lactate and pyruvate are produced, and they tend to make the muscle cells bigger because they are os-motically active. The consequence is that water from your blood enters the muscles and makes them feel full and pumped. That is actually an anabolic signal, and a well-nourished muscle is a growing muscle since almost all nutrients have an osmotic effect to some extent. Another way to describe this process is that the pressure inside the muscle fiber increases and is an adaptation to that state of growth. The main anabolic mechanism of creatine, the most effective of all muscle-building supplements, is actually related to osmosis. Creatine can make your muscles gain up to five pounds after a loading phase, and all this weight is caused by water filling up the muscles. Other well-known osmolytes (substances that affect cell pressure) are betaine, taurine, glutamine, and glycine. Especially glutamine and taurine are the most abundant free amino acids in the muscle cell, and theoretically they also exert an anabolic effect. (Supplementing with a couple of grams of glutamine every day is also a good anabolic strategy since it also increases growth hormone levels.)
Water Fights Weakness
It is well established that endurance performance is negatively affected by dehydration. That is completely logical since endurance is dependent on the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and the transport of carbon dioxide from the muscles to the lungs. Too little water in your body will make the blood thick and viscous, and the transport of those vital gases will be limited. That’s why a loss of water will dra-matically decrease your performance when it comes to running, swim-ming, cycling, or any type of high-intensity interval training. We also know that aerobic performance is dependent on the supply of fat from the fat cells. If you are dehydrated, your body will size up the situation as critical since a slow-flowing blood will make you more prone to blood clots, which can be lethal. Therefore the fat cells will decrease lipolysis, which is the process of releasing free fatty acids from the fat cells. The result is slower fat burning and a decreased supply of energy to the muscles. No wonder this leads to an impaired performance. The question is: Does dehydration also lead to a reduced performance in the gym? Lifting weights is an anaerobic activ-ity, and it should not be dependent on the supply of oxygen and fatty acids. The energy source is mainly glycogen (stored carbohydrates), and they are already present in the muscles. New research, however, shows that strength and anaerobic performance also are impaired by dehydration. The exact mechanism is unknown, but the consequences are undoubtedly clear: Dehydra-tion makes you weaker, and if you want to build muscle, you need to be strong enough to move heavy weights.
Water Helps You Get Ripped
As I just explained, the water con-tent in your muscles affects the viscosity of the blood, and dehydra-tion leads to impaired fat burning. That will not only lead to slower pace times around the track, but it also obstructs your path to a ripped body. The transport of fatty acids is crucial to both endurance and keeping a low percentage of body fat, so you need your blood to run smoothly if you want to perform and look ripped. Water also has another amazing property when it comes to body fat. Drinking water actually increases your energy expenditure by approximately 20 calories per 16 ounces. It means that an extra quarter of a gallon (32 ounces) of cold water every day will increase your energy expenditure by around 40 calories. It may not sound like much, but since water is free from calories, it will quickly add up over time. Drinking water is essentially ef-fortless and could be the difference between razor-sharp muscle defini-tion and a more average flat look. The reasons for this calorie-burning effect is primarily due to the heat-ing of the water, which takes a lot of energy. It is also the handling of the water molecules that are going through your intestines, through your liver, into your blood stream, into the cells, out of the cells, through your kidneys, and finally excreted as urine. A glass of water before your meal will also give you a better sensation of satiety and make you eat a little less. In my experi-ence, you can count on a 10 percent decrease of caloric consumption when you drink 10 ounces of water before a meal. The important ques-tion is: How much should you drink?
How Much Is Enough?
If you are one of those people who think “more is better,” you have to change your approach when it comes to water. If you drink too much water, there is a risk that you will lose important minerals such as potassium and sodium. People have actually died from overconsuming water. This is almost never stated in mainstream media because the average person typically needs to drink more water and isn’t served by learning about the dangers of overdosing on H2O. But the fitness community can be almost obsessive in their quest for a lean muscular body, and they may take their hydra-tion too far. The fact is, too much water will decrease the concentra-tion of essential minerals to the extent that the heart will have prob-lems contracting. Even if you don’t die from excessive water intake, you will have to visit the bathroom so frequently your co-workers will think you are incontinent.
If you want to ingest the optimal amount of water, you should aim for drinking at least 85 ounces a day, spread out evenly through the morn-ing, afternoon, and evening. If it’s hot and you sweat a lot, you should increase this amount substantially. Choose plain drinking water be-cause many other drinks contain deleterious ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, artificial additives, and/or caffeine. Unsweetened iced tea and carbonated spring water are good alternatives to plain water if you find it hard to consume. You could also flavor your water with natural non-caloric additions such as cucumber, watermelon, lemon, or whatever you prefer to make it taste better. If you drink your water in conjunction with exercise and spread the intake even-ly over the day, it’s usually easier to ingest all that you need.
Fredrik Paulún is a nutritionist based in Sweden. He holds a Master of Science in nutrition and specializes in improving body composition. He has been published in fitness maga-zines throughout Europe. For more info, check out paulunsfood.com.