Hydration and Connective Tissue -Why Water Isn’t Enough For Optimal Hydration
You know that your body is mostly water, but can you just drink 8 cups of water and call it good hydration?
What is the best way to stay hydrated?
Whether it’s for performance or for general health, make your water work for you by paying attention to these tactics. In this article:
- Why does hydration matter?
- How much is too much?
- How to optimize hydration?
- How to rehydrate fascia and connective tissue?
Why Does Hydration Matter
Your hydration is often overlooked as a vital component of your nutrition. Most people don’t drink nearly enough water, but on the flipside, drinking too much or not the right kind can end up hurting you as well. Like most things, there’s a happy medium.
If you want to maximize performance and recovery, hydration is key.
If you want to live a long healthy life, hydration is key.
How much water you drink affects:
- Digestion and gut health
- Liver function and detoxification
- Kidney function (drink water to prevent kidney stones!)
- Strength and endurance performance
- Recovery from exercise
- Recovery from injuries
- Mood and energy levels
- Stiffness and pain
- Body temperature regulation
- Connective tissue health (tight fascia is a symptom of dehydration)
Why is Water Important for Connective Tissue Health?
That last one is really important. Do you know why bodybuilders, weightlifters, and professional strength athletes are more likely to get injured right before a competition? It’s because cutting weight usually involves drinking less water. Since it’s water that provides the strength and resilience of your tissues, dehydration makes your body more brittle and prone to injury.
Water has an effect on your performance as well. Study after study shows that to reach your potential, you have to be more hydrated than you might think.
If you’re not drinking enough water, or the right type of liquid, then you’re doing your health a disservice. Read on to learn why.
Why Does Hydration Matter for Connective Tissue?
Water is the basis for the fluid inside your cells, outside your cells (like blood or fluid lubricating your joints), it facilitates digestion and elimination, it’s the liquid your body uses to get rid of toxins, it acts as a shock absorber inside of your connective tissues. The list goes on.
I don’t know which of these speaks to you the most, but the fact that water provides the shock absorbance for every connective tissue that cushions your body is fascinating.
Water is essential for the function of healthy connective tissue. Every athlete, every active lifestyle, and honestly any person who moves should heed those words.
After water, collagen makes up most of your connective tissue’s dry weight. Collagen is a long protein with a unique order of amino acids that wind around each other in strands. This design gives your soft tissues stretchiness and rebound. That arrangement of proteins also attracts and holds onto water. That allows your tissues to glide against each other without friction and it helps distribute the forces generated from everyday life.
Fascia is, in my opinion, one of the most important connective tissues you have. Fascia is found in collagen sheets that connect your other connective tissues. It encases your muscles, connects other tissues, and it transmits mechanical force, electrical nervous system signals, and chemical-hormonal signals throughout your body. To be happy and healthy requires healthy collagen; fascia is essential for your health.
Fascia is arranged in sheets that glide against each other - at least when you’re hydrated and mobile. “Sticky” fascia ー referring to the fascia adhesions that cause pain and limit mobility ー can be due to mechanical reasons and nutritionally. If you don’t have a daily routine involving movement ー and I am not talking just about walking ー your fascia becomes stiffer and stickier. Your soft tissues need a full range of loading patterns to hydrate properly.
Dehydration forces those fascia sheets to stick to one another, too. When fascia is hit by dehydration, and when it hits even harder if you don’t have an exercise, stretching, and movement routine, you can feel the effects directly. When the connective tissue that connects everything else in your body is stiff and loses its pliability, it impairs your posture, joint function, and emotional well-being.
Another nutritional reason you can get adhesions nutritionally with one ingredient: sugar. Learn more about advanced glycation endproducts, crosslinked collagen, and connective tissue injuries in this article.
Take the example of running. When the ball of your foot impacts the ground, it is padded by a thick layer of connective tissue called plantar fascia. This connective tissue is 70% water by weight; just a small change in whole-body hydration can have a huge impact on how well your foot absorbs the shock of jogging or walking down the street. You can see, water allows you to move through life effortlessly.
Can too much water be bad for you?
There are risks of overhydration as well. Drinking too much too fast can cause serious complications like low sodium (“hyponatremia”). Some athletes, overzealously drinking liters per hour for hours on end have even died from low salt.
Pure water dilutes the electrolytes in your body, throwing out the right balance of electrolytes inside and outside of your cells. Keep reading for the best way to drink your water, which may lower the risk of hyponatremia. (Hint: ever try salt water?)
The diluting effect of pure water is why you can drink water and still feel dehydrated. Without electrolytes to replenish what you lose during exercise and extreme physical activity, that water is actually drawing electrolytes out of your body and you absorb less of that water.
More common, less severe side effects of drinking too much water are gut pain, heat cramps, and excessive urination, which can become major issues if you’re competing. Even a mild diluting effect of excess water can lower electrolyte levels and impede your performance, so it’s a good idea to add those electrolytes.
Making sure that you’re adequately hydrated with water with the right electrolytes can help ensure that you’re not chugging water during a PR bid.
How much water should you drink in a day?
How much water you need in a day is highly individualized, and hugely dependent on how much you sweat and how much you exercise. The daily intake recommended by the Institute of Medicine is 64 ounces, or 8 cups. Even though this number doesn’t seem to have come from any specific research, consider it a minimum target, especially because sweating and exercise place higher demand on your fluids.
You can also get substantial amounts of water from juicy fruits and vegetables. All these variables make it difficult to figure out how much water is too much water, which is a real life-threatening risk. Some research on marathoners shows that smaller athletes, drinking every hour, and drinking more than 3 liters over the race period (~4 hour average) is associated with hyponatremia, or water toxicity.
One strategy is using the color of your urine as an indicator of how hydrated you are. You want to be drinking enough water and taking in enough electrolytes in your foods to lead to a pale yellow urine color. If it’s darker, cut out some of the drinks that don’t contribute to your hydration and health (keep reading for our list of drinks to avoid to stay hydrated). If it’s too light, add more electrolytes, cut down on the plain water, or get your heartrate up by exercising and moving your body.
But you don’t have to drink a huge amount of water at one time to get negative side effects. Just a few too many ounces at the wrong time is enough to cause painful side effects like gut cramping and enough to ruin the fun of a race for exercise. Preloading with electrolytes could be the key to avoiding issues of drinking too much water. Let’s have a look next.
How To Optimize Hydration
The amount of water you drink isn’t the important thing to pay attention to, it’s the amount of water you absorb that matters. How do you best absorb your water?
To optimize your hydration and rehydrate your fascia, you need to approach it from two angles. First, is getting the right amount of the right type of water with the right electrolytes. The flip side is that you have to ensure that your tissues are optimized to actually absorb and hold on to the water that you drink.
Best Strategies for Hydration Involve Water And Electrolytes
A lot of people do themselves a disservice by just chugging plain old water. In reality, your body needs sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, and other electrolytes to be able to absorb and use water effectively. Adding “light salt” (potassium salt) or a squeeze of citrus to your water, or eating something with it can get you part of the way there. Check out my blog on electrolytes for heart health to learn more.
Some athletes also add a buffering agent like baking soda. This can also help you hold onto more water, but be careful of using too much. Baking soda is known to help increase water retention and may improve athletic performance, particularly on hot humid days but it can also create really unpleasant gut pain, even at low doses.
Hydration Involves Nutritionally Supporting Connective Tissue Health
Research has shown that taking a collagen supplement can moisturize your skin from the inside out, and it makes sense. If you don’t have enough collagen - due to older age, overuse, lower glycine synthesis ability - your connective tissues won’t be able to hold onto enough water. It’s a mutually reinforcing cycle of negativity.
When you have a healthy amount of collagen in your tissues though, the water you drink can be absorbed and distributed effectively, helping you to stay in top shape and injury free. Supplementing with collagen can help you hydrate from within, and it’s backed up by the gold standard in research.
Many connective tissues aren’t exposed to circulating blood, so there’s another step to making sure the water you drink gets to where it needs to be: blood circulation. This happens two ways. Contracting muscles force blood to flow around your connective tissues, so working those muscle groups around stiff connective tissues may help force water into those tightly bound up places. The other option involves deep massage or myofascial release, which can likewise push water into places made tight and dry by adhesions.
Since your body is slightly alkaline, with a blood pH of 7.4, some people argue that drinking alkaline water takes the work out of alkalizing water so you can just get straight to utilizing it. This is an attractive hypothesis, but there has yet to be any research to back it up.
Dietary Fiber Can Help You Stay Hydrated for Longer
One last tip for improving your hydration status: add some fiber. A supplement like psyllium husk powder (tradename: Metamucil®), chia or flax seeds in water, or Resync Ready to Drink are all great options to enhance the fiber content of your daily diet in what you drink.
There are two types of fiber, and they may both be able to help with your hydration. Insoluble fiber - think vegetable roughage - holds onto water on the outside of the fiber wall (what gives the plant it’s structure). Soluble fiber - the type of fiber that holds on to water inside a fruit or vegetable - absorbs water directly.
As hydrated fiber passes through your digestive system, your body gradually absorbs the water they hold on to. Compared to pure water, which is absorbed and excreted relatively quickly, fiber-enhanced drinks can make the water stored in your digestive system available for much longer.
Resync RTD is a heart-healthy high-fiber sparkling beverage with an effervescent taste - beta-glucan and inulin provide 7 grams of fiber. Fiber is purported to slowly release water as you digest it - which makes sense theoretically, but “slow-release water” hasn’t been studied yet.
Avoid These Foods If You Want To Stay Hydrated
Things like alcohol, caffeine, guarana, energy drinks, soda, smoking (tobacco and cannabis), and stimulants can dehydrate you directly and indirectly. Not only do other drinks like soda and sugary sports drinks displace space that should be taken up by water, but your body needs extra water in order to get rid of outside chemicals and toxins too.
Resync As Your Hydration Choice
If you’re looking for a hydration solution that supports hydration from all sides, you need to consider Resync.
Resync products have natural potassium from red spinach extract, which is one of the key electrolytes for your hydration needs. The collagen in Resync Collagen Blend is clinically shown to improve skin collagen hydration. The plant-based nitrates from red beet root, red spinach extract, and aronia berry extract are known vasodilators, meaning they open up your blood veins and get blood flowing - which is probably helpful for hydrating your connective tissues. Resync Ready to Drink is an excellent source of fiber as well, which means it might release water as it’s digested.
Besides all these practical reasons to consider Resync, it’s also delicious, which might help that last person who just can’t stomach plain water.
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The Resync Team
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Registered Dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated on 4/19/2021.
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