Do you know how to hydrate properly during your workouts? How about this: what would you think if someone told you not to drink any fluid at all during exercise? Let me guess: ‘this person is crazy.’ Not drinking any fluid at all during a workout? Utter nonsense.
But the truth is that just a few generations ago, athletes were indeed advised to abstain from additional hydration during exercise. Why? Because hydration was thought to hurt exercise capability!
Fortunately, the advice has flip flopped. We’re now encouraged to take on lots of fluids to counteract dehydration and overheating. And this has led to an arguably more severe, new problem: overhydration – capable of causing death in the most severe cases.
So – there’s got to be a healthy middle-ground to hydration. What is it? Good question. Let’s find out.
Why is learning how to properly hydrate during exercise important?
But wait – in the first place -why do you even need to stay hydrated during a workout?
We lose water (and electrolytes) at a significantly faster rate
This is, in part, due to the increase in our metabolic rate during exercise: up to 20 times greater than resting metabolism (6)!
If you’ve ever felt like your entire body was burning up during a grueling session, this is the reason why – your whole body is literally rising in temperature!
But your body temperature can’t be allowed to continue climbing.
The first three methods make up something called ‘dry heat exchange,’ which can account for roughly 70% of all heat loss in a cool and dry environment.
However, if the air temperature exceeds 35 degrees Celsius, the excess heat can be released only by the fourth method: evaporation.
Increased physical activity causes sweat production of up to 1.5 liters during 1 training session.
But if you’re working out in a particularly hot and steamy environment, sweat loss can be up to 4 liters per hour (10)!
And it’s not just water that’s lost through sweat.
In smaller amounts, you’re also losing calcium, iron, copper, bicarbonates, phosphates, amino acids, and some vitamins.
You lose water (mostly in the form of sweat) at a significantly faster rate when you’re exercising. Sweat also removes electrolytes that are essential for the proper functioning of your cells, organs, and body systems.
A minor drop in fluid levels causes major problems
Decrease in performance
Here’s something you may not know: your hydration level has a pretty significant impact on your performance – not just physically, but also mentally!
Just losing 2% of your body weight (1.2 kg if you weigh 60 kg) in fluids through sweat has been shown to cause a 10% decrease in efficiency (16). That’s substantial!
With a decrease in efficiency comes a drop in mental performance – you’ll start feeling like the exercise is harder than it is.
So – staying hydrated throughout your workout keeps your energy and performance level up.
And that means you’ll not only get a better, more enjoyable workout, but you’ll also avoid potential injuries that can keep you out of the fitness game for extended periods.
Damaging to health
Not to mention, dehydration can be seriously damaging to your health.
Remember the faster rate of electrolyte loss during physical activity?
Electrolytes are chemicals that conduct electricity when mixed with water.
For example, muscle needs calcium, sodium, and potassium to contract. When electrolytes become imbalanced, it can lead to either muscle weakness or excessive contraction.
When you have an imbalance of electrolytes, your body starts to remind you through stomach cramps, muscle cramps, side stitches, and if it gets extreme, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and more.
Research has found that a sharp decline in sodium levels from intense sweating can manifest itself as muscle cramps, confusion, mental block, and even epileptic seizures (21).
There have also been reports of complete respiratory arrest as a result.
Losing 15% of the body’s water is usually fatal.
- Dehydration can adversely impact your workout performance – both physically and mentally.
- If you’re losing electrolytes quicker than you replenish them, you can suffer from mild side effects, like dizziness, to more severe ones, such as fatality.
How much water do I need per day?
Proper hydration doesn’t only take place when you exercise – you need to ensure you’re consuming sufficient water throughout the day.
But how do you know how much is enough, exactly?
Your fluid requirement depends on many factors (22):
- Age: Adults require more fluids than teenagers and children.
- Sex: Typically, men require more fluids than women because of their greater muscle mass.
- Temperature and humidity: Fluid requirements scale proportionately to temperature and humidity.
- Type of physical activity: The more intense the activity, the more fluids required.
- Health problems: Increased hydration is advised for fevers, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and illness involving diarrhea or vomiting.
- Type of diet: High–sodium, high-carbohydrate, and high-protein diets require greater hydration.
Nonetheless, the simplest way to calculate your daily water demand is to assume that 1 ml of water is needed for every 1 calorie in your diet.
So – if you’re on a 2,000-calorie diet, 2 liters of water should be enough.
If you’re not sure of your calorie intake, a different method to determine water intake is to drink 300 ml for every 10 kg of body weight.
So – if you weigh 60 kg, you should drink about 1,800 ml, or 1.8 liters a day.
That said, the figures I’ve provided are estimates based on research.
There is still quite a bit of debate regarding the specific amount of water to drink. Nonetheless, I think you should experiment with your water intake. See what works best for you.
If you’re living in the tropics – for instance – you would certainly need to have a higher water intake than if you were in a temperate climate.
Here are the rough ranges to experiment with:
- Calorie intake estimations: 1.0 to 1.5 ml per calorie intake
- Body weight estimations: 200 to 500 ml per 10 kg of body weight
Now, let’s cover how you should spread out your fluid intake through the day, and how much water you need after a workout session.
- Fluid consumption requirements vary from individual to individual, based on multiple factors.
- However, there are two main, simple ways to calculate daily water demand
- 1 ml of water is needed for every 1 calorie in your diet
- 300 ml of water is needed for every 10 kg of body weight
How to hydrate properly before, during, and after your workout
What’s the secret formula for staying hydrated during exercise?
First, you’ll want to be hydrated before you even start raising your heartbeat.
You’ll want to drink 500 ml to 600 ml of water at least 2 hours before exercise, then another 125 ml to 150 ml – 30 to 40 minutes before (23).
After a warm-up and before the main workout
Don’t forget to drink up after you’ve warmed up! Depending on the length of your workout, here’s how you should hydrate:
- Short workout: 200 ml to 250 ml
- Prolonged effort (more than 1 hour): 500 ml to 1,000 ml
During the workout
Once you start working out, your hydration needs scale with your exercise duration.
The general recommendation is for you to drink 200 ml to 300 ml every 20 minutes.
Also, note that you may have to include some carbohydrates in your drinks.
That’s because during periods of physical activity, your body burns through your glycogen stores (basically your body’s battery). If you don’t replace them, you’ll hit a wall.
By supplementing with carbohydrates, your body can break them down into glucose (aka sugar) and use them as fuel for your muscles.
It’s, therefore, a good idea to drink a beverage with 4% to 8% carbohydrate during vigorous physical activity. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade®, Powerade® and All Sport®, usually meet this standard.
A bonus is that these sports drinks are also typically formulated with electrolytes, with the main ones being sodium and potassium.
Now, depending on their ingredients, sports drinks could fall into any of the following three categories (24).
These drinks contain lower concentrations of minerals and other ingredients than the level in the body.
They also contain only a small amount of carbohydrates (less than 4 grams per 100 ml).
Because of these drinks’ quick absorption rates, they can dilute the plasma and prompt more frequent urination, thereby decreasing hydration levels.
Hypotonic drinks are, therefore, are not a wise choice during extended periods of physical exertion.
These drinks have nearly identical compositions as your body fluids.
The carbohydrate content in isotonic drinks range between 4-8 grams per 100 ml, and the minerals are close to the composition of sweat.
Isotonic drinks provide electrolytes and glucose, which lets you save or supplement muscle glycogen.
Thus, these types of beverages are recommended during sessions lasting over 60 minutes or immediately afterward, to compensate for losses.
Hypertonic beverages include highly-sweetened drinks, fruit juices, and other carbohydrate-heavy drinks.
The concentration of minerals and vitamins is higher than in your body fluids, and the carbohydrate content exceeds 8 grams per 100 ml.
They are helpful because they provide many nutrients lost during exercise, but they draw water from the body and into the intestines.
And this then reduces the rate of rehydration.
Thus, you want to avoid consuming such drinks whenever possible. Besides, their high concentration of carbohydrates also means that they’re high in calories.
That’s a definite red light if you’re trying to maintain a calorie deficit to lose weight.
After the workout
This might sound weird, but to accurately determine just how much fluids you need to replenish post-workout for adequate exercise hydration, you’ll need to weigh yourself before and after your workout.
This way, you know exactly how much water you lost.
After exercise, the recommendation is for you to consume more water than the amount lost: between 150% to 200% more.
So – if you weigh 1 kg less after your workout session, you should drink about 1,500 ml to 2,000 ml of water in small doses.
That’s because sodium helps stimulate the thirst mechanism and also improves the rate at which your small intestine can absorb water and carbohydrates.
Sodium also helps the body to stay hydrated by retaining higher levels of fluid and decreasing urine output post-absorption of water.
It does not matter whether you get the sodium from a sports drink or food.
How to hydrate properly with a hydration plan
To sum this section up, here’s how you should hydrate before, during, and after your workout:
Am I well-hydrated?
One of the easiest ways to test your hydration is through urine color and bathroom frequency.
If your urine is a pale yellow, you can stop stressing over your water intake. But if it’s dark yellow, it’s time to get more water into your body ASAP.
Also, you want to be going for a pee break, on average, 5 to 8 times a day.
Another way to determine hydration levels is to check the elasticity of your skin. Pinch the skin on your abdomen or the lower part of your arm.
Does your skin snap back immediately? If so, congrats! You’re sufficiently hydrated.
But if your skin takes (a longer than usual) time to return to its normal state, reach out for your bottle!
If you’re adequately hydrated, you should be heading to the bathroom 5 to 8 times a day, and your urine should be a pale yellow color.
How to hydrate properly, even if you hate water
Hopefully, you now know the importance of staying hydrated. But what if you just hate drinking water?
Not to worry, these seven tips will help when it comes to how to stay hydrated properly – even if you hate water.
- Make it flavorful: Can’t stand the taste of plain water? Give your H2O an invigorating upgrade by infusing water with herbs, fruits, and cucumbers.
- Get a cute water bottle with a time marker: Often, you may forget to stay hydrated because you’re not reminded of the need to. Get yourself a cute, time-marked water bottle that you’d enjoy carrying around. It’s a physical reminder of your need to drink up throughout the day!
- Drink coconut water: If you’re having trouble meeting your daily recommended intake, you can consider switching up your fluid source with coconut water. It’s a ‘natural isotonic’; it contains similar concentrations of sugar and electrolytes as our body fluids (27). Better yet, it also contains large amounts of B vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes.
- Try caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea): It’s been long believed that caffeine will dehydrate the body. But recent research demonstrates that although it has a small diuretic effect, it doesn’t actually cause dehydration (28). Just be aware that the lethal dose for an adult is 200-400 milligrams per kg of body weight (roughly 30 liters of an energy drink).
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables: To stay hydrated, you can also eat fruits and vegetables high in water content, like watermelon and lettuce. Typically, your food provides 20% of your daily hydration, so the higher the content of water in your diet, the more hydration you’ll get. Consider meal prepping, where you have better control over your food portions.
Great job on coming all the way to the end of this article! By now, you already know how to properly hydrate for optimal performance. Ultimately, though, you shouldn’t let thirst be your reminder to reach for a drink. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already well on the road to dehydration.
If you don’t want to suffer impaired performance during your workout or potentially severe health complications, you’ll want to stick to your exercise hydration plan.