If you exercise regularly, it’s important to think about how much (and what) you drink. Here are some guidelines to get the most out of your workouts and prevent dehydration.
If you exercise regularly, it’s important to think not only about what you eat, but about how much (and what) you drink. And because exercise speeds up water loss, it’s critical to know how to stay properly hydrated.
Water is essential for keeping your body temperature normal. It also cushions your joints and helps get nutrients in and waste out. If you don’t drink enough, you can become dehydrated, which will affect your performance. It can make you tired and cause dry mouth, headaches, light-headedness and constipation.
Sodium, chloride and potassium are electrolytes that help your body function normally. Sweating causes you to lose water and electrolytes. Exercising in hot weather can increase that loss. If excessive losses are not replenished, you may feel dizzy or weak. You may even suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These are very serious conditions that require prompt medical attention.
Experts advise that you drink before, during and after your workout. How much fluid you need depends on several factors:
- How much you sweat
- Your body size, weight and muscle mass
- Heat and humidity conditions
- The intensity of your workout
- Medications you are taking
- Your medical history
- Your age
If you have any medical problems or take any medications, talk to your doctor about your fluid requirements before you start to exercise. Children and the elderly are also more prone to dehydration and will have different fluid requirements during exercise.
Below are some basic guidelines for adults in good health who are not on any medications.
Before exercise. Start by drinking fluids several hours before your workout. This will promote a normal fluid and electrolyte balance.
During exercise, water is the best fluid for most people. But during high intensity exercise exceeding 45 minutes, sports drinks may be better to help replace carbohydrates and lost electrolytes.
After exercise, the goal is to replace any lost fluids and electrolytes.
- Aim to drink within 30 minutes of working out.
- Your fluid replacement needs will be higher after endurance or high intensity activities. Check with your doctor for more information.
What about other fluids?
During exercise, avoid drinks too high in carbohydrates (sugars). This includes sodas, fruit juices, sweetened ice teas and lemonade. The extra carbs can cause cramping, gas and/or diarrhea. They can also prevent absorption of fluid into the bloodstream.
Look for solutions that have about 6 percent to 8 percent carbohydrate (the amount in most sports drinks). Other considerations:
- Contrary to popular belief, evidence suggests that moderate caffeine intake does not affect exercise or fluid status.
- Alcohol: Avoid alcohol before, during and directly after a workout. It can interfere with muscle recovery and affect your performance.
Can you drink too much water?
Hyponatremia is a rare yet possibly life-threatening condition that occurs when you drink too much water. It happens when the kidneys can’t flush out the excess water. This dilutes the electrolyte content in the blood, which leads to low sodium levels. This is very uncommon, and is mainly seen in endurance athletes, such as marathon runners.
If you find you are not drinking enough fluids for exercise, it’s not hard to get into the habit. Increase your intake gradually, and in time you’ll easily consume what you need. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about exercise and hydration.