Water may be one of the best-kept secrets of elite athletes.
Athletes, whether all-pro or all-city league, are always looking for a competitive advantage. Some try supplements and extreme forms of training. Others are always in search of the latest greatest equipment. Many overlook how water impacts performance on the field.
In his book Pure Water for Better Living, Eldon C. Muehling notes that we’ve known about the link between hydration and athletic performance for decades. Muehling describes a fascinating experiment conducted in the 1940s at the Harvard University School of Public Health. Dr. G.C. Pitts studied how hydration effects athletes exercising in a hot environment. In the first experiment the athletes drank no water during their training. After three and one-half hours of walking a treadmill with regular rest periods, their body temperatures rose to 102° F, a temperature at which physiological functions are impaired and collapse is inevitable.
In the second test, the same athletes were allowed to drink as much water as they wanted. Their body temperatures rose more slowly. It took six hours—nearly twice as long—for their body temperatures to reach 102° F, and for them to experience what is known as the zone of exhaustion.
In round three, the athletes were required to drink as much water as they were losing in sweat. After seven hours of exercising, their body temperatures never even reached 101° F and the athletes said they felt they could exercise indefinitely.
Dr. Pitts concluded that when the athletes drank all the water they wanted they were actually drinking one-third less water than they lost in sweat. Thirst is not a reliable indicator of how much water athletes should drink.
Sports nutritionists and doctors have confirmed Pitts’ findings. Dr. Michael Colgan of the Colgan Institute sites a study that shows a muscle dehydrated even three percent loses about ten percent of its contractile strength and eight percent of its reaction speed. A study at Ball State University tracked trained runners who were dehydrated by two to three percent. Their times dropped seven percent.
When you’re training, especially in hot conditions, drink up! Drink more than you think you need. Water will allow you to keep performing and give you a competitive edge over those who don’t know Dr. Pitts’ secret: H2O.