What and How to Drink During Exercise

Ensuring that your body is provided with the right fluids is essential to perform properly. But what is the right sports beverage, how much should you drink and when?

Why is it important to hydrate?

Water is one of the most important components of your body. More than half of the human body is composed of water, and it is impossible to sustain life without it. Water helps to transport oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and organs, waste products to the kidneys to discard, regulate body temperature by sweating, maintain blood circulation and pressure, lubricate joints and tissues, and facilitate digestion, to name a few functions.

When exercising, your body heats up and you sweat in order to cool down. Sweat is primarily water and electrolytes, such as sodium. Dehydration is the loss of fluids and electrolytes essential to maintain normal body functions. Signs and results of dehydration are:

  • thirst, flushed skin and faster breathing
  • decreased energy with lower athletic performance, muscle fatigue, increased perception of effort and loss of coordination
  • dizziness, increased weakness and labored breathing
  • overheating of the body resulting in cramps, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke

If water and electrolytes are not replaced from sweat losses, performance will be decreased and could even have negative effects on overall health.

How much should I drink?

Individual sweat rates and fluid losses vary considerably. How much water you need, depends on your body height, weight, the intensity and duration of exercise, environmental conditions, clothing worn, and metabolic rate.

  • Air Temperature: The higher the temperature, the greater your sweat losses.
  • Intensity: The harder you work out, the more you perspire.
  • Body Size and Gender: Larger people sweat more. Men generally sweat more than women.
  • Duration: The longer the workout, the more fluid loss.
  • Fitness: Well-trained athletes perspire more than less fit people as their fluid needs are higher to effectively cool the body.

As a rule of thumb, drink at least 8 glasses of water throughout the day to ensure good hydration before you start exercising. The lighter the color and odor of your urine, the better hydrated you are.

The following tips will help you maintain a good hydration during exercise.

  • About 4 hours before exercising, drink 2 glasses of water.
  • 15 minutes before your training, drink 1 glass of water.
  • During exercise, take good sip of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • If you exercise for more than 60 minutes, sip a sports drink (see recipe below) every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • After your exercise, correct water losses within 2 hours by drinking as much water as you feel comfortable with. For most people, 16 fl oz to a liter is a good amount.
  • Pro-Tip: Obtain your body weight before and right after exercise to determine your fluid losses. Drink 20 to 24 fl oz of water or sports drink for every one pound lost.

What beverages should I drink?

Before and after exercise, the best beverage is water or unsweetened tea. If you have trouble drinking plain water, infused water might be the solution for you. Making your own is easy, calorie-free and a flavorful way to stay hydrated. Just wash and cut up a piece of fruit, vegetable and herb of your choice, place it in a pitcher and pour a liter of plain water over it. Let it sit in your refrigerator for 2 hours for best results.

According to current research, a moderate consumption of coffee and caffeine does not affect your hydration status. However, alcohol will decrease your hydration status and overall athletic performance, even if you don’t feel any effect of the alcohol (anymore).

During exercise, a sports beverage containing carbohydrates and electrolytes helps to fuel your muscles and accelerate rehydration. The longer you exercise, the more carbohydrates and salts you need. Sports beverages for use during prolonged exercise should contain four to eight percent carbohydrate, 20-30 mq/L of sodium, and 2-5 mq/L of potassium. Here’s a homemade sports drink recipe that provides a good balance between carbohydrates, salts and fluids.

Homemade Sports Beverage

1 cup 100% fruit juice, such as orange, grape, peach, apple or pear
3 cups of water
1 gram salt (1 pinch or a small packet of salt you get at most cafeterias)

Mix all together and refrigerate. Your body can best absorb cold beverages between 15 to 21 degrees Celsius or 59 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drink sips of this drink every 15 to 20 minutes with a total of 16 to 33 fluid ounces each hour of exercise to maintain optimal hydration, physical and mental performance.

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