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October 31, 2023 7 min read

Muscle weakness is a common problem that affects people of all ages and fitness levels. It can make them feel weak and even crippled. It can make it hard to do daily tasks, exercise, or play sports. 

Although several factors can contribute to muscle weakness, one frequently overlooked and preventable factor is dehydration. Water, a fundamental element of the human body, plays a pivotal role in ensuring optimal muscle function. Nevertheless, when we fail to maintain proper hydration levels, our muscles can suffer. 

In this article, we look at the connection between muscle weakness and dehydration and explain the warning signs, mechanisms, and, most importantly, the ways to keep muscles at their best during and after workouts.

How Does Dehydration Affect Muscles?

Sore Muscles

There are many reasons why dehydration can have such a significant impact on your physical performance, including making your muscles weaker during workouts.

1. Reduced Blood Volume

When you don't drink enough water, your blood volume reduces, which means less blood can go to your muscles to give you oxygen and nutrients. This can make your muscles tired and weak.

2. Electrolyte Imbalance

Dehydration usually happens when you lose important electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, and magnesium through sweat and other body fluids like urine. These electrolytes are important for muscle contraction and nerve signaling. When their levels drop because of dehydration, it can lead to muscle cramps and reduced muscle function.

3. Increased Core Temperature

Dehydration makes it harder for the body to keep its core temperature in check by sweating. When you experience excessive body temperature during a workout, it diverts blood away from the muscles to facilitate cooling, resulting in a decrease in muscle function and strength.

4. Impaired Energy Production

If you don't drink enough water, your body can't produce enough energy, which is important for making muscles work. Water is involved in various metabolic processes, and when you're dehydrated, these processes may not work optimally. This may result in reduced muscle strength and endurance.

5. Reduced Joint Lubrication

The process of dehydration can result in a decrease in the production of synovial fluid, which serves as a lubricant for the joints. When your joints aren't properly lubricated, it can lead to joint discomfort and a reduced range of motion, which can make it hard to do exercises properly.

6. Increased Perceived Effort

Dehydration can make physical activity seem harder than it is. While the same workout under well-hydrated conditions can be enjoyable, the effort may seem overwhelming if you're dehydrated, decreasing your willingness to push through workouts.

7. Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness

Although dehydration is not usually the cause of DOMS, it can make it more severe or more uncomfortable. DOMS is a common condition that causes muscle pain and stiffness. It typically happens 12 to 24 hours after doing a hard or unfamiliar exercise and can get worse after 48 hours. It is believed that it is caused by microdamage to muscle fibers and subsequent inflammation and repair processes.

Dehydrated Athlete

What are the Signs of Dehydration During Workouts?

Dehydration during workouts can have several tell-tale signs that indicate your body’s fluid levels are not sufficient to support your exercise performance.

Here are some common signs and symptoms to watch for:

— Thirst: Feeling thirsty during a workout is one of the most obvious signs of dehydration. If you're thirsty, it's a clear indication that your body needs more fluids.
— Dry Mouth: If you don’t drink enough water, your mouth may feel dry and your saliva may become thicker and stickier.
— Dark Yellow Urine: Pay attention to the color of your urine. In a well-hydrated state, urine is usually pale yellow, but if you are dehydrated, the color of your urine will likely be dark yellow or amber-colored.
— Decreased Urination: If you don't urinate as much during a workout or your urine output is lower than usual, it might mean you're not getting enough water.
— Fatigue and Weakness: Dehydration can make you feel tired, weak, and have less energy. Your muscles may get tired more quickly.
— Dizziness: Insufficient hydration can result in a decrease in blood pressure, which can cause dizziness or lightheadedness, especially during the transition from sitting or lying down to standing during workouts.
— Headache: During exercise, dehydration can contribute to throbbing or pounding headaches.
— Increased Heart Rate: Dehydration can make your heart rate go up because your body is trying to make up for the lack of blood volume by pumping blood faster.
— Nausea or Vomiting: Dehydration can make you feel nauseous or even cause you to throw up during or after a workout. 
— Muscle Cramps: Dehydration can upset the balance of electrolytes in your body, which may cause muscle cramps, especially in the legs and abdomen.
— Mental Fatigue: Dehydration can cause poor concentration and cognitive function. It can affect your ability to concentrate, make decisions, and think clearly. You may feel mentally fatigued.
— Overheating: Dehydration makes it harder for your body to keep its temperature in check by sweating, increasing the risk of overheating.
— Dry Skin: A lack of body water can impact your skin's ability to stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to a decrease in the moisture content of your skin, making it appear dry, flaky, and even feel tight.

 

Drinking water before, during, and after workouts is a crucial part of maintaining optimal exercise performance and overall health.

Dehydrated Skin

What to do When you Notice Signs of Dehydration While Working Out?

It's essential to take immediate action when you notice any of the effects of dehydration while working out.

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Stop Exercising: Immediately stop your workout or exercise if you are dehydrated. This can lead to more severe issues and can be dangerous.
  • Find a Cool, Shaded Area: If you are indoors, you should move to a cool, shaded area to prevent further overheating. Find a well-ventilated space with a comfortable temperature.
  • Rehydration: Rehydrate by drinking water or a sports drink that contains electrolytes. Sip the fluids slowly instead of gulping them down, as this will help your body absorb the fluids more effectively. Drinking drinks with lots of electrolytes can be really helpful because they help replace lost salts and fluids.
  • Rest: Sit or lie down and rest to give your body time to recover and rehydrate.
  • Cool Off: If you feel very hot, put a damp cloth or cold pack on your forehead, neck, and wrists to cool down.
  • Monitor Your Symptoms: Pay attention to how you're feeling. If your symptoms don't improve or if they worsen, it's essential to seek medical attention.
  • Seek Medical Help if Needed: If you are experiencing severe dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. The symptoms of severe dehydration may include intense thirst, rapid heartbeat, dark urine, confusion, fainting, or an inability to hold fluids down.

Remember that the best way to stop dehydration is to prevent it in the first place. It is essential to stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout to maintain your performance and well-being. Listen to your body's signals, and if you notice signs of dehydration, take them seriously and act quickly to rehydrate and cool down.

Overheated Athlete

How to Prevent Dehydration During Workouts?

Preventing dehydration during workouts is crucial for maintaining your performance, safety, and overall well-being.

Here are some effective strategies to help you stay well-hydrated while exercising:

1. Hydrate Before Exercise

Prepare your body for a workout session, and start your workout in a well-hydrated state. Drinking water or a sports drink with electrolytes in the hours leading up to your exercise session is an effective way to stay safe.

2. Know Your Sweat Rate

An effective way to prevent dehydration is to know your sweat rate. You can determine your sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after a workout. The difference in body weight represents the amount of fluid you've lost through sweat. Use this information to gauge the amount of water and other fluids you need to drink during your workouts to stay adequately hydrated.

3. Hydrate During Exercise

Drink enough fluids during your workout, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Take small, frequent sips to stay hydrated, instead of drinking a lot at once.

4. Monitor Weather Conditions

Be aware of the environment. Hot and humid weather can make you sweat more, and the increased fluid loss can make you more likely to get dehydrated. Adjust your fluid intake accordingly.

5. Wear Appropriate Clothing

Choose lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking clothing to help with sweat evaporation and temperature regulation.

6. Plan Your Route

Bring a refillable water bottle with you. Plan your workouts outdoors, so you can hit the water fountains or refill your water bottle.

7. Acclimate to Hot Conditions

If you are exercising in hot and humid conditions, it is essential to acclimatize your body gradually. Start with shorter, less intense workouts and increase the duration and intensity as your body gets used to the heat.

8. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can contribute to dehydration because they increase urine output and could cause dehydration if consumed in large amounts. If you consume these beverages, do so in moderation and balance them with extra water intake.

9. Consume Electrolytes

Consume snacks or beverages that contain electrolytes to help replace lost salts, especially during long and intense workouts.

10. Listen to Your Body

Never disregard your body's signals. If you start to feel thirsty, don't ignore it if you want to prevent dehydration.

11. Rehydrate After Exercise

Continue to drink water or a recovery beverage after your workout to replace any fluids lost. Aim to rehydrate fully over the next few hours.

12. Eat Hydrating Foods

Include fruits and vegetables with high water content in your pre-and post-workout meals to boost overall hydration.

It's important to adjust your hydration strategy based on your unique exercise routine, body mass, and environmental conditions. Keeping an eye on your fluid intake and following these tips will help you avoid dehydration during workouts and boost your performance.

Rehydrating Gym Rat

Conclusion

The connection between muscle weakness and dehydration is clear, and it shows how important hydration is to keep your physical performance at its best. As we've seen, even mild dehydration can lead to a series of physiological responses that make it hard for muscles to work, such as reduced blood flow, imbalanced electrolytes, and poor energy production.

Recognizing the indications of dehydration during workouts and, more importantly, adopting proactive hydration practices can have a significant impact on one's physical and mental performance.

By incorporating hydration as a fundamental component of your fitness regimen, you can ensure that your muscles remain robust, resilient, and prepared to conquer any obstacle that may arise. Therefore, it is imperative to consume adequate amounts of fluids and maintain a healthy body. So, drink up, stay hydrated, and let your muscles thrive.