One of the more challenging aspects of implementing HRV monitoring with athletes is ensuring that daily measures are performed reliably. Unreliable or inconsistent measurement procedures can lead to invalid data (false positives or false negatives) and therefore a misinterpretation of training and recovery status. With ultra-short HRV recordings (i.e., ~60 s) it is even more important that measures be strictly standardized to improve the quality of the data.
Waking measures are preferred to capture one’s HRV in a truly rested condition, before any external stimuli can confound the measure. A potential confounding variable that users should be aware of is the effect that water ingestion has on various physiological processes that stimulate autonomic activity and thus alter one’s HRV. This was brought to my attention several years ago by my colleague, Dr. James Heathers.
Immediate changes in HRV take place following water consumption that can last for up to 45 minutes or longer. For example, Routledge and colleagues1 tested the effects of 500 ml water ingestion on HRV in 10 healthy individuals between the ages of 24 and 34 years. On two separate occasions, the subjects reported to the lab in a randomized order for 500 ml water ingestion or 20 ml water ingestion (control). The experiments took place at 8 am before the subjects had anything to eat or drink and after bladder emptying. For a 30 minute period, subjects rested in a semi-supine position before water ingestion. HRV was determined from 5-min ECG windows immediately before and at 5, 20 and 35-min post water ingestion.
Resting HR on average was between 2 – 7 bpm lower than control throughout the post-consumption 45-min period. RMSSD increased between 8 -13 ms during this period compared to control which increased between 2 – 8.8 ms.
Out of curiosity I conducted a similar but much smaller experiment (n=1) to see how HRV responded to 500 ml water ingestion. The data is analyzed in 5-min segments before and after drinking in the seated position with a 1-min period excluded from analysis during which the water was ingested. The tachogram and results are posted below.
In Martin Buchheit’s, recent review paper, a 3% smallest worthwhile change for lnRMSSD is suggested. In this situation water consumption resulted in an increase in lnRMSSD nearly 2x the smallest worthwhile change.
*Note that lnRMSSDx20 represents the modified HRV value provided by HRV app’s like ithlete. This has been highlighted for those who are only familiar with these values.
Why does water consumption increase HRV?
The autonomic responses to water ingestion appear to initially be due to the stimulation of osmoreceptors within the gut which causes vasoconstriction (a sympathetic response) and a slight increase in total peripheral resistance.2 Increased baroreceptor sensitivity and increased cardiac-vagal stimulation are thought to occur to counteract the pressor effect (increases in blood pressure) which is why we see a slowdown in resting HR and increase in HRV.2 Effects from the Renin-Angiotensin-Aldosterone system can also not be ruled out given their role in mediating body fluid levels that can effect cardiovascular responses. Water temperature may also have an effect as 250 ml of ice water appears to increase HRV to a greater extent than room-temperature water.3 This may be due to stimulation of thermal vagal receptors in the esophagus.3 Additionally, water ingestion following exercise has been shown to increase parasympathetic reactivation.4
Implications for Daily Monitoring
Tell your athletes to wait until after measuring their HRV to drink fluids and to do so consistently. Otherwise, values may be obscured with a false positive when they drink fluids before the measure.
- Routledge, H.C., Chowdhary, S., Coote, J. H., & Townend, J. N. (2002). Cardiac vagal response to water ingestion in normal human subjects. Clinical Science, 103, 157-162.
- Brown, C. M., Barberini, L., Dulloo, A. G., & Montani, J. P. (2005). Cardiovascular responses to water drinking: does osmolality play a role?.American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 289(6), R1687-R1692.
- Chiang, C. T., Chiu, T. W., Jong, Y. S., Chen, G. Y., & Kuo, C. D. (2010). The effect of ice water ingestion on autonomic modulation in healthy subjects.Clinical Autonomic Research, 20(6), 375-380.
- Oliveira, T. P., Ferreira, R. B., Mattos, R. A., Silva, J. P., & Lima, J. R. P. (2011). Influence of water intake on post-exercise heart rate variability recovery.Journal of Exercise Physiology Online.