How Does Dehydration Affect Muscles?

I used to always be that guy that was dehydrated- until I noticed the severe impact it had in the gym.

That’s right, dehydration will severely affect your muscles- which will drastically hinder your workouts, athletic performances, and even just things like going up the stairs.

So, how does dehydration affect muscles?

Dehydration will affect your muscles by causing you to be weaker, have more cramps, feel more pain when moving your muscles, it reduces muscle growth, and it reduces your total mobility.

But, let’s cover this more in-depth.

How Does Dehydration Affect Muscles?

It Causes You To Be Weaker, Literally.

I learned the hard way that dehydration can really affect your strength firsthand.

Growing up, I always used to be a huge soda drinker- and never really grabbed for water.

But, I learned quickly that the gym is unforgiving, and I sought to find out why I was having so much strength problems.

Just to put it in perspective, being a little dehydrated can cause you to be around 3% weaker.

At first glance, that seems like a small number.

But think about the gym. When you’re lifting, you increase the weight by 5 lbs each time you go- you don’t increase it by 10 lbs. 3% of 150 lbs is 4.5 lbs. That means if you’re trying to increase your bench press by 5 lbs, it will now no longer happen just because you’re dehydrated.

And as we know, the only way to grow muscle is through progressive overload. And if you can’t overload your muscles, you will not grow.

And that’s not even to mention the more severe effect is has on long-term exercises like running or hiking. I hike all the time, and dehydration can literally kill hikers.

If you’re running a marathon, you may see see a nearly 6% reduction in running performance, according to RunnersWorld.coma

Dr.Kevin Conners said, “A common misconception is that muscles get their strength from protein. In reality, the majority of a muscle’s strength comes from how much water it contains and its ability to expand and contract with force”.- and if there’s anything you remember from this article, it should be that.

Needless to say, you need to stay hydrated.

It Causes Cramps

Mark Slabaugh, MD says, “When we are dehydrated there is a fluid shift that changes the concentration of these ions in muscles, nerves and all structures of the body for that matter. Thus, the muscles and nerves do not respond to stimuli as well as they are intended.”

In simple terms, he’s basically saying that when you’re dehydrated, your muscles don’t have the nutrients they need to properly work.

This means they respond slower, weaker, and can even cause that ‘cramping’- which is really just a random and involuntary contraction of the muscle. This involuntary contraction is caused because your muscles are missing the ions to properly respond to stimuli.

Being properly hydrated helps your muscles properly respond to stimuli.

If you’re still having cramps while being hydrated, it may be because you don’t have the proper nutrients in your diet. You might want to checkout my recommendations of the best multivitamins for bodybuilders in that case!

Reduces Muscle Growth

Muscles cannot grow without nutrients, right? If you’re dehydrated, this flow of nutrients is severely restricted.

Here’s what Amber said, “Research has found that dehydration affects the ability of athletes to perform well by reducing their muscle growth. When a person is dehydrated, his blood flow to the active muscles gets restricted that makes him feel more tired and causes muscle fatigue.”

Think of water as a highway, when you are fully hydrated, more lanes are open. And when you’re dehydrated, more lanes are closed. This highway is essential to delivering nutrients to your muscles. Your bloodstream and water are literally like the highways of your body, and if you’re dehydrated, the entire thing slows down.

This means you will have severely reduced nutrients to your muscles- which we definitely DON’T want.

Reduces Mobility

Joshua from MindOverMatterNYC said it best:

“Elasticity of the muscles is decreased. Imagine your muscle is a rubber band. Now imagine putting that rubber band in the freezer. That’s what your muscles will feel like if they’re not hydrated properly. Simple movements that you could perform such as touching your toes are going to be increasingly more difficult without hydration.”

I think that analogy really says it all. The less hydrated you are, the harder it is to move your muscles.

And then that means dehydration is affecting your muscles in everyday tasks. From just going up the stairs, to walking in the store- dehydration will make it much harder and more painful.

Speaking of…

Dehydration Causes Muscle Pain and Body Pain

Dehydration causes muscle pain.

Joshua says, “The muscles need water to function optimally. When they don’t have that- the aches and soreness become even more intense. Eventually, you might even cramp up in your muscles. Remember the hotter you get the more the muscle cramps up and the results could be disastrous.”

Plus, when you’re dehydrated, all of your joints and connective tissue lose their lubrication. This means that every time you move these tissues grind against each other harder, which leads to that aching joint pain.

It’s like your cars oil. Without oil, all that metal in your engine would just grind against each other and break instantly. Keep your joints lubricated by just drinking water!

Dehydration Messes With Your Brain

Your brain is technically a muscle.

And while I get that this outside of the scope of the post, most people don’t realize how much their brain plays a role in weight lifting.

If you’re dehydrated, your brain will make around 12% more mistakes and errors on everything you do. According to a Mindy Millard-Stafford study.

Think about how many choices you make when driving a car. Hundreds. Lane switches, turn signals, exits, what speed to go- etctera. 12% of those will now be wrong. That is very dangerous.

And it’s not that different in the gym. You make many choices, and every time you lift that weight up, you have a chance to make an error. You could lose concentration and drop the barbell on you, or you could make tiny errors like miscounting what set you’re on.

So, even for your brain, stay hydrated.

How Much Water Should I Drink a Day?

While everybody is different, roughly 20% under a gallon of water a day is a good rule to follow.

That’s about 5-6 of the normal sized water bottles you see around. Which, honestly, isn’t that much if you think about it.

If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, it may be different.

Really though, a good rule of follow is just to look at the color of your pee. If it’s dark, drink more water. If it’s super transparent, drink less.

Conclusion of How Dehydration Affects Muscles

Overall, we learned that dehydration affects our muscles in bad ways! It can lead to reduced strength, muscle pain, cramps, reduced mobility, and more.

So, just drink your water, it will save you in the long run!

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