Grappling Mistakes: How Dehydration Makes You Weaker

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We often take being dehydrated for granted. Chugging down a bottle of water after training is not going to help you if you’re truly dehydrated. Even worse for grapplers, repetitive extreme dehydration can cause some serious health issues. We all know that severe dehydration is among the most common weight-cutting methods out there. Be aware of the dangers and learn how to stay hydrated for optimal grappling results.

Think of the body as a very sophisticated engine. As with all engines, our bodies have an intricate cooling system. Every time we push our bodies to their limits, the result is the production of heat. Grappling is a great example of it. When we roll or fight the byproduct of the muscles working hard is heat. This heat must somehow be removed from our bodies. The first choice of our biddies is to release heat by evaporation. This means sweating. However, this has an added side effect. Sweating does offer relief from the buildup of heat, but it does it in the form of evaporation. This means water loss, which is essentially dehydration.  

In addition, the environment we’re in plays a huge role in both our cooling systems and possible dehydration. BJJ gyms are usually humid and hot places, even in the coldest of conditions. This is to be expected of a room full of people rolling around attempting to choke each other. Humid environments like this prevent evaporation due to saturation. This results in sweat dripping from our bodies The problem is that this doesn’t have an optimal cooling effect, which causes our bodies to sweat even more. This just exacerbates the dehydration that slowly but surely sets in. Now add in training with the Gi. This makes things even worse, raining in the Gi can make the problem even worse and you can get severely dehydrated in just one training session.  

Understanding Dehydration  

Dehydration dangersWater is vital for life and is an essential nutrient for our health. Out of our total body weight, about  60% is water. In addition, there’s not a system in our bodies that doesn’t require water to function. The lack of fluids inevitably leads to dehydration. Dehydration is a serious condition that marks the lack of sufficient fluids for the functioning of our bodies. Dehydration is not a straightforward thing, as our bodies have coping mechanisms. That means that dehydration occurs in segments ranging from mild to life-threatening. However, even mild dehydration of 1 to 2 % loss of your body weight can drain you of energy.  

Losing a few percent of water is categorized as minor dehydration. Don’t be fooled by the word minor, as this is still a serious condition. For a 180 lb man, this translates to about 34 oz of water. This amount can be lost in as little as half an hour of hard rolling. Recognizing the symptoms is also very important as they mirror those of fatigue due to insufficient conditioning. The symptoms of minor dehydration include thirst, cottonmouth, fatigue, weakness, and head rushes. 

Severe dehydration is when you lose as little as 5% of your body’s water volume. This means approximately 86oz of water on average, for a 180lb man. How long does it take to reach this level of dehydration? Well, a little over an hour of heavy grappling is going to easily get you over the 5 % mark. And this is if you’ve been properly hydrated prior to training. The main effects of severe dehydration are increased heart rate, decreased sweating, extreme fatigue, cramping, increased body temperature, nausea, headaches, and tingling in the limbs. 

Dehydration Among Grapplers 

So, what happens when you’re grappling with mild to severe dehydration? Well apart from the symptoms we already covered, your BJJ performance is going to suffer as well. Being thirsty means that this is going to be on your mind no matter how much you try to suppress it. This takes attention away from the rolling itself. this makes you distracted and makes it very hard to make the right choices. This, in turn, leads to you exerting even more which makes things much worse.  The rule of thumb is that if you’re thirsty, you make sure you have a drink. If you feel symptoms of severe dehydration, stop grappling, have water, and take a rest. Then have some more water before returning or calling it a day. Your BJJ game is not going to get better by pushing through dehydration. 

Actually, if you manage to reach up to 10% loss of water volume you’re in real trouble. Symptoms are no joke and they include vomiting, muscle spasms, racing pulse, shriveled skin, dim vision, and confusion. If you manage to get yourself to this point you need to get to a doctor ASAP. In this case, re-hydrating via drinking is not going to be sufficient and you’ll need an IV to compensate for the water loss. Do not joke around with dehydration of this magnitude because you risk permanent damage to your body which in turn means no more Jiu-Jitsu for life.  

 How To Avoid Dehydration When Grappling 

Grappling DehydrationAvoiding dehydration is not complex, but it does require some attention. If you think you’re drinking enough water throughout the day, you’re probably wrong. To avoid dehydration, it is important to drink plenty of fluid both before and after training. Most importantly, you need to make sure you’re ingesting liquids during training as well. Our bodies are only able to absorb about 27 oz of water per hour. The catch 22 is that you can lose up to 60 oz during the same amount of time. This means that you actually have to hyper-hydrate before class. The best way to do this is throughout the day because rolling with a full bladder is also a nuisance. A good piece of advice is to drink 12 – 20 oz of fluid about an hour prior to class. While in class try to drink at least 20 oz of water/hour.  

In terms of the best liquid to re-hydrate, nothing beats water. That said, there are some other options out there. Apart from plain water, different sports drink areas are also a good choice. An advantage of sports drinks is that they usually contain additional salts. This really helps beat dehydration by replacing electrolytes lost through sweating. For your average BJJ class, sticking to plain water is more than adequate to keep you hydrated. As a note, remember to avoid drinks that contain in excess of 10% sugar because they absorb slowly.  

Additional ways to keep yourself hydrated include eating foods high in water and drinking lots of fluids during the day. In terms of water-rich foods,  top choices are oranges, cucumbers, grapes, apples, pears, etc.  Do not rely on thirst as an indicator for hydration. On the contrary, if you’re feeling thirsty you’re already dehydrated to some extent. Instead, stay hydrated all day.

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