Exploring the Potential Ergogenic Effects of Glycerol Hyperhydration


During athletic competition or recreational pursuits, a body’s hydration level can become compromised, resulting in a decrement in performance. Glycerol (1,2,3-propanetriol) has been used to induce hyperhydration in an attempt to offset the deleterious effects of dehydration. When glycerol is consumed orally, it is rapidly absorbed primarily in the small intestine. It is reported to be evenly distributed among all fluid compartments, with the exception of the cerebral spinal fluid and aqueous humour, and promotes hyperhydration by inducing an osmotic gradient. Through an increase in the kidney’s medullary concentration gradient, water absorption in the nephron is enhanced. When glycerol is consumed, the plasma glycerol concentration increases in proportion to the dose ingested, which easily exceeds the glycerol saturation point resulting in urinary glycerol excretion. Thus, without supplemental glycerol ingestion, there will be a decrease in the osmotic gradient resulting in a loss of hypydration.

The ergogenic nature of glycerol has been investigated as to its effect on fluid retention, thermoregulation, cardiovascular responses and performance. While many studies provide evidence of hyperhydration, others do not. Only two studies reviewed showed a thermoregulatory advantage. Furthermore, the preponderance of evidence neither weighed for or against cardiovascular or performance advantages. What makes one study provide favourable results while another study does not is unclear. Possible explanations may include subject characteristics, environmental factors, research design, whether fluids with or without glycerol were given during exercise, the rate at which fluids are initially given to induce hyperhydration, the time between peak hyperhydration/peak plasma glycerol concentration and the trial (i.e. exercise), the glycerol dose (i.e. 1.0 g/kg body mass) and what it is based upon, the percentage glycerol solution (i.e. 5%, 20%), the variation of time between the end of the hydration protocol and the beginning of exercise, or perhaps the intensity of exercise (fixed, variable, percentage maximum oxygen uptake).

What is clear is that glycerol has the capacity to enhance fluid retention. In so doing, glycerol hyperhydration may be a logistically preferred method due to concomitant decrease in urine output and free-water clearance, which may give a performance advantage by offsetting dehydration. Future research should focus on maintaining plasma glycerol concentrations at levels necessary to maintain osmotic forces required to support continued hyperhydration. Potential benefits of glycerol should be further explored to identify the circumstances or factors that may contribute to an ergogenic effect.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Table I
Table II


  1. 1.

    The use of trade names is for product identification purposes only and does not imply endorsement.


  1. 1.

    Greenleaf JE. Problem: thirst, drinking behavior, and involuntary dehydration. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1992; 24 (6): 645–56

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Freund BJ, Montain SJ, Young AJ, et al. Glycerol hyperhydration: hormonal, renal, and vascular fluid responses. J Appl Physiol 1995; 79 (6): 2069–77

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Riedesel ML, Allen DY, Peake GT, et al. Hyperhydration with glycerol solutions. J Appl Physiol 1987; 63 (6): 2262–8

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Koenigsberg PS, Martin KK, Hlava HR, et al. Sustained hyperhydration with glycerol ingestion. Life Sci 1995; 57 (7): 646–53

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Hitchins S, Martin DT, Burke L, et al. Glycerol hyperhydration improves cycle time trial performance in hot humid conditions. Eur J Appl Physiol 1999; 80: 494–501

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Frank MSB, Nahata MC, Hilty MD, et al. Glycerol: a review of it pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, adverse reactions, and clinical use. Pharmacotherapy 1981; 1: 147–60

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Deichmann W. Glycerol: behavior in the animal organism-a review of the literature. Ind Med 1940; 9 (10): 60–7

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Johnson V, Carlson AJ, Johnson A. Studies of the physiological action of glycerol on the animal organism. Am J Physiol 1933; 103 (3): 517–34

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Montner P, Zou Y, Robergs RA, et al. Glycerol hyperhydration alters cardiovascular and renal function. JEPonline 1999; 2 (1): 1–10

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Stryer L. Biochemistry. 4th ed. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1995

  11. 11.

    Robergs RA, Roberts SO. Exercise physiology: exercise, performance, and clinical applications. Boston (MA): WCB McGraw-Hill, 1997

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Lin ECC. Glycerol utilization and its regulation in mammals. Ann Rev Biochem 1977; 46: 765–95

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Herting DC, Embree ND, Harris PL. Absorption of acetic acid and glycerol from the rat stomach. J Appl Physiol 1956; 187: 224–6

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Guyton AC. Textbook of medical physiology. 8th ed. Philadelphia (PA): W.B. Saunders Company, 1991

  15. 15.

    Berne RM, Levy MN, editors. Physiology. 4th ed. St Louis (MO): Mosby, 1998

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Melin B, Jimenez C, Koulmann N, et al. Hyperhydration induced by glycerol ingestion: hormonal and renal responses. Can J Physiol Pharmacol 2002; 80: 526–32

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    O’Brien C, Freund BJ, Young AJ, et al. Glycerol hyperhydration: physiological responses during cold air exposure. J Appl Physiol 2005; 99: 515–21

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Kruhoffer P, Nissen OI. Handling of glycerol in the kidney. Acta Physiol Scand 1963; 59: 284–94

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    McCurdy DK, Schneider B, Scheie HG. Oral glycerol: the mechanism of intraocular hypotension. Am J Ophthalmol 1966; 61: 1244–9

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Coutts A, Reaburn P, Mummery K, et al. The effect of glycerol hyperhydration on Olympic distance triathlon performance in high ambient temperatures. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metabolism 2002; 12: 105–19

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Inder WJ, Swanney MP, Donald RA, et al. The effect of glycerol and desmopressin on exercise performance and hydration in triathletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30 (8): 1263–9

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Murray R, Eddy DE, Paul GL, et al. Physiological responses to glycerol ingestion during exercise. J Appl Physiol 1991; 71 (1): 144–9

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Thomas CL, editor. Taber’s cyclopedic medical dictionary. 17th ed. Philadelphia (PA): F.A. Davis Company, 1993

  24. 24.

    Larsen JA. Elimination of glycerol as a measure of the hepatic blood flow in the cat. Acta Physiol Scand 1963; 57: 224–34

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Swanson RE, Thompson RB. Renal tubular handling of glycerol and ethylene glycol in the dog. Am J Physiol 1969; 217 (2): 553–62

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Bortz WM, Paul P, Haff AC, et al. Glycerol turnover and oxidation in man. J Clin Invest 1972; 51: 1537–46

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Winkler B, Steele R, Altszuler N. Relationship of glycerol uptake to plasma glycerol concentration in the normal dog. Am J Physiol 1969; 216 (1): 191–6

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Lyons TP, Riedesel ML, Meuli LE, et al. Effects of glycerol induced hyperhydration prior to exercise in the heat on sweating and core temperature. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1990; 22 (4): 477–83

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Magal M, Webster MJ, Sistruck LE, et al. Comparison of glycerol and water hydration regimens on tennis-related performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003; 35 (1): 150–6

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Latzka WA, Sawka MN, Montain SJ, et al. Hyperhydration: thermoregulatory effects during compensable exercise-heat stress. J Appl Physiol 1997; 83 (3): 860–6

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Latzka WA, Sawka MN, Montain SJ, et al. Hyperhydration: tolerance and cardiovascular effects during uncompensable exercise-heat stress. J Appl Physiol 1998; 84 (6): 1858–64

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Montner P, Stark DM, Riedesel ML, et al. Pre-exercise glycerol hydration improves cycling endurance time. Int J Sports Med 1996; 17 (1): 27–33

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Bondar RL, Kassam MS, Stein F, et al. Simultaneous transcranial doppler and arterial blood pressure response to lower body negative pressure. J Clin Pharmacol 1994; 34: 584–9

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Arnall DA, Goforth JHW. Failure to reduce body water loss in cold-water immersion by glycerol ingestion. Undersea Hyperb Med 1993; 20 (4): 309–20

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Deuster PA, Smith DJ, Smoak BL, et al. Prolonged whole-body cold water immersion: fluid and ion shifts. J Appl Physiol 1989; 66: 34–41

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Harrison MH, Keil LC, Wade CA, et al. Effect of hydration on plasma volume and endocrine responses to water immersion. J Appl Physiol 1986; 61: 1410–7

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Greenleaf JE. Physiological responses to prolonged bed rest and fluid immersion in humans. J Appl Physiol 1984; 57: 619–33

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Curry FR. Atrial natriuretic peptide: an essential physiolgocial regulator of transvascular fluid, protein transport, and plasma volume. J Clin Invest 2005; 115 (6): 1458–61

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Warburton DER, Gledhill N, Quinney HA. Blood volume, aerobic power, and endurance performance: potential ergogenic effect of volume loading. Clin J Sports Med 2000; 10: 59–66

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Watt MJ, Garnham AP, Febbraio MA, et al. Effect of acute plasma volume expansion on thermoregulation and exercise performance in the heat. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000; 32 (5): 958–62

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Latzka WA, Sawka MN. Hyperhydration and glycerol: thermoregulatory effects during exercise in hot climates. Can J Appl Physiol 2000; 25 (6): 536–45

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Jimenez C, Melin B, Koulmann N, et al. Plasma volume changes during and after acute variations of body hydration level in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol 1999; 80: 1–8

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Scheett TP, Webster MJ, Wagoner KD. Effectiveness of glycerol as a rehydrating agent. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metabolism 2001; 11: 63–71

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Dill DB, Costill DL. Calculation of percentage changes in volumes of blood, plasma, and red cells in dehydration. J Appl Physiol 1974; 37 (2): 247–8

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Convertino VA. Fluid shifts and hydration state: Effects of long term exercise. Can J Sport Sci 1987; 12 Suppl. 1: 136S–9S

    Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Anderson MJ, Cotter JD, Garnham AP, et al. Effect of glycerol induced hyperhydration on thermoregulation and metabolism during exercise in the heat. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2001; 11: 315–33

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Gonzalez-Alonso J, Mora-Rodriguez R, Below PR, et al. Dehydration reduces cardiac output and increases systemic and cutaneous vascular resistance during exercise. J Appl Physiol 1995; 79 (5): 1487–96

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Marino FE, Kay D, Cannon J. Glycerol hyperhydration fails to improve endurance performance and thermoregulation in humans in a warm humid environment. Pflugers Arch Eur J Physiol 2003; 446: 455–62

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Luetkemeier MJ, Thomas EL. Hypervolemia and cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1994; 26: 503–9

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Sawka MN, Hubbard RW, Francesconi RP, et al. Effects of acute plasma volume expansion on altering exercise-heat perperformance. Eur J Appl Physiol 1983; 51: 303–12

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Easton C, Turner S, Pitsiladis YP. Creatine and glycerol hyperhydration in trained subjects before exercise in the heat. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2007; 17 (1): 70–91

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Armstrong LE, Costill DL, Fink WJ. Influence of diuretic-induced dehydration on competitive running performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1985; 17: 456–61

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Wingo JE, Casa DJ, Berger EM, et al. Influence of a pre-exercise glycerol hydration beverage on performance and physiologic function during mountain-bike races in the heat. J Athlet Train 2004; 39 (2): 169–75

    Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Goulet EDB, Robergs RA, Labrecque S, et al. Effect of glycerol-induced hyperhydration on thermoregulatory and cardiovascular functions and endurance performance during prolonged cycling in a 25°C environment. Appl Physiol Nutr Metabolism 2006; 31: 101–9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Kavouras SA, Armstrong LE, Maresh CM, et al. Rehydration with glycerol: endocrine, cardiovascular, and thermoregulatory responses during exercise in the heat. J Appl Physiol 2006; 100: 442–50

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Sawka MN, Montain SJ, Latzka WA. Hydration effects on thermoregulation and performance in the heat. Compar Biochem Physiol Pt A 2001; 128: 679–90

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Guisado R, Arieff AI, Massry SG. Effects of glycerol administration on experimental brain edema. Neurology 1976; 26: 69–75

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Rottenberg DA, Hurwitz BJ, Posner JB. The effect of oral glycerol on intraventricular pressure in man. Neurology 1977; 27: 600–8

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Pitlick WH, Pirikitakuhir P, Painter MJ, et al. Effects of glycerol and hyperosmolality on intracranial pressure. Clin Pharmacol Ther 1982; 31 (4): 466–71

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


No sources of funding were used in the preparation of this manuscript. Although Dr Robergs is a paid scientific consultant to Hydrade Beverage Company (HBC), a company that distributes a drink that contains glycerol, this manuscript is in no way connected to HBC. The authors wish to thank Suzanne Schneider, PhD, for her assistance in the organisation of this manuscript.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dr Robert A. Robergs.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Nelson, J.L., Robergs, R.A. Exploring the Potential Ergogenic Effects of Glycerol Hyperhydration. Sports Med 37, 981–1000 (2007). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737110-00005

Download citation


  • Plasma Volume
  • Lean Body Mass
  • Fluid Retention
  • Total Body Water
  • Sweat Rate