The Importance Of Hydration During Exercise

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Water is essential for your body to function properly. For example, water helps protect the spinal cord, regulate body temperature and cushions the joints. Water is lost through everyday activities, such as digestion and breathing; however, exercise is one of the fastest ways water is depleted from the body. Most people are aware they need to drink water after a long workout, but they may not realize just how essential proper hydration is during exercise. Replacing lost fluids is critical not only to avoid dehydration, but for optimal exercise performance.

The Importance of Hydration

Proper hydration is always important, but during exercise it is essential for maximum energy and endurance. If water lost through sweating is not replaced, fatigue can develop and energy levels will decrease. Without proper hydration during exercise, endurance levels can also be lower.

In addition to improving athletic or exercise performance, drinking enough fluids also helps prevent dehydration during exercise. Drinking enough water also helps cool the body down and can prevent heat related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Signs You’re Not Well Hydrated During Exercise

When you are not hydrated well enough during exercise, certain signs and symptoms may develop. It is important to understand you can start to develop signs you are not properly hydrated even before dehydration develops. Common signs you are not replacing lost fluids adequately during exercise include a headache, a decrease in coordination and lack of energy.

It is common to believe you are properly hydrated if you are not thirsty, but that may not always be the best indicator. According to the American Council on Exercise, once you are experiencing thirst, your body may already be dehydrated. Once dehydration develops symptoms may include nausea, muscle cramps, dizziness and fatigue. Listening to your body and recognizing early signs of inadequate hydration and replacing lost fluids can help prevent dehydration.

[Related – 12 Warning Signs Of Dehydration]

What Fluids Are Best?

Although the amount of water lost during exercise can vary depending on exercise intensity, it is not uncommon for up to a quart of water to be lost during exercise, according to the America Council on Exercise. In most instances, water is your best bet in order to replace fluids lost. Water is an excellent choice for several reasons including it is easily absorbed and does not contain sugar or calories.

Although water is never a bad choice to stay well hydrated during exercise, sports drinks may be beneficial in certain circumstances. Sports drinks contain calories, which can provide energy during long exercise sessions, such as those over an hour.

Sports drinks also often contain electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, which are lost through sweat. If the duration of the workout is long enough, electrolyte imbalances can occur. This usually only develops with very long and intense bouts of exercise.

[Related – Water Versus Sports Drinks: Staying Hydrated]

Drinks to avoid during exercise include sugary sodas and juices. Both can add hundreds of calories and do not usually quench your thirst. Beverages which contain caffeine are also not a good choice, since caffeine can contribute to dehydration.

Hydration Tips

Proper hydration for exercise starts before your workout. According to the University of Illinois, you should drink about a cup or two of water about two hours before starting exercise. During exercise replenish fluids by drinking about 6 ounces of water every fifteen minutes. Keep in mind, you may not always feel thirsty during exercise, but it is still important to drink water throughout your workout.

After you have stopped exercising, you still need to replace the fluids you lost. The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking between 16 and 24 ounces of water for every pound of weight lost through sweating during exercise.

Can You Over Hydrate?

Proper hydration is important during exercise, but it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Although it is considered rare, it is possible to drink too much water, which can decrease the amount of salt in the body to a dangerously low level. When the amount of salt in the body decreases to abnormally low levels it is called hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia is uncommon and occurs mostly in people who are exercising for extended periods of time, such as when participating in a triathlon. Symptoms of hyponatremia include confusion, fatigue and muscle spasms. Although it can be a serious medical condition, it is important to consider, poor hydration during exercise is much more common than overhydration leading to hyponatremia (water intoxication).

[Related – Water Intoxication: The Dangers Of Overhydration]

Without proper hydration during exercise, not only can your performance suffer, but it puts you at risk for dehydration. By keeping a bottle of water handy and sipping it while you exercise, you can help keep your energy level up and replace lost fluids. Keep in mind, the amount of fluid you need to drink will be affected by the duration of your workout, the intensity and whether you are working out in hot, humid weather.


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