Water is an important, yet often overlooked, component to overall health. As one of our basics necessities, no wonder it is so commonly used by different cultures to symbolize life.
There is a heavy focus on diet and nutrition in the jiu jitsu community. Think about all the different supplements out there and diets like the Gracie diet, paleo, keto, and more. Renato Laranja talks about the importance of the fruits and vegetable. Water is as important.
Proper hydration is important for both physical and cognitive performance. Considering that jiu jitsu is as mental as it is physical, staying properly hydrated on and off the mats is essential. Dehydration can negatively affect fatigue, endurance, muscle recovery (soreness), organ function, motor control, memory, and focus; all of which can impact your performance in training, competition, and life overall. Consider the amount of water dispelled on a daily basis through perspiration, saliva, and waste excretion. The body constantly uses water for many processes. Some people emphasize the role of water in cleansing the body of toxins. While the mechanism is far more complex and intricate, proper organ function (all systems, not just the waste management ones) rely on adequate hydration. Without, the body runs at a sub-optimal level. At more extreme levels of dehydration, water actually leaves the cells in an attempt to maintain water content outside, which depletes first.
There is no hard-and-fast rule for how much water you should be drinking. It will depend on your energy expenditure, water loss, and more, which is all influenced by the environment, activity, and internal functions. It will differ day by day, so listen to your body. Think about all the muscular exertion and sweating that happens during training. You need to replenish all the water your body used (not all at once of course). Thirst is an immediate indication of dehydration and most people automatically drink enough to replenish their bodies based on this feeling. However, hydrating based on thirst might not be enough for those doing intense exercise, so it is a good idea to have water on hand. A general indicator of hydration is urine colour and volume. It should be clear to light yellow, but this can be affected by certain conditions and supplements/medication.
An important consideration when discussing hydration is overdrinking. Drinking too much water is harmful and potentially deadly. The kidney, responsible for processing and excreting water, can only handle so much. Past that point, excess water throws off the balance between water and electrolytes, leading to nausea, headaches, fatigue, and cramps. It is very difficult to reach this point, but it is important to know and acknowledge. The body has mechanisms to prevent this and almost all cases are of individuals intentionally drinking excessive amounts of water (e.g. in preparation for a marathon). According to an article in Scientific American, the upper limit that a health kidney can excrete is 800 – 1000 mL (0.21-0.26 gallons) per hour. However, during exercise, the body reduces its ability to excrete water in order to use it for other functions (hydrating muscles, sweating to lower body temperature), making it difficult for the kidney to process excess.
It is also common for athletes to lose electrolytes through sweat; without replacing these electrolytes, normal amounts of rehydration can cause the same symptoms of overdrinking. Eating or drinking something with electrolytes like bananas or sport drinks will help return your electrolyte levels to normal. I believe this is especially important for jiu jitsu competitions, where performance is critical. It is not uncommon for competitors to not drink or eat the morning of or day before to make weight. Once making weight, they rehydrate and often avoid eating much when their division is early in the day. At one competition, I didn’t need to cut weight, but my nerves killed my appetite that morning. I kept drinking water to stay hydrated, but my division was pushed later in the day. During my last two matches, my calf and foot arches cramped up badly. It could’ve been due to exertion or an awkward position, but I suspect it was due to a lack of electrolytes. All I drank was water and that threw my electrolyte balance off.
Be mindful of your water needs and listen to your body. Remember that it constantly uses water throughout the day and should be replenished accordingly.