Preventing dehydration isn’t something you do just during your workout – you must take action before AND after as well. Just as a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean living well one time a day, a healthy workout doesn’t mean hydrating just during your exercise.
The Importance of Hydration
According to livestrong.com, the water loss you experience during intense exercise “decreases your exercise performance, reduces your coordination, may cause muscle cramps and leads to early exercise fatigue.” To perform at your best, you need to make sure you aren’t starting off at a disadvantage. Proper hydration helps your body regulate its core temperature (very important when you’re exercising in the heat), eliminate waste, and keep vital organs functioning properly.
With more than 55% of your body being water, keeping hydrated is more than for just your comfort – it’s for your health.
Proper hydration means drinking before, during and after your workout. Skimping in one area can compromise your performance, recovery – and even your overall well-being. To get the most out of your training, we’ll help you learn when to hydrate and what your best hydration options are.
When to Hydrate
For a great workout, you need to be prepared well ahead of time. Just as you wouldn’t start a run without your shoes, you shouldn’t start a run without getting hydrated.
- Before Your Workout. It’s just as important to hydrate before your workout as it is during. Making sure your fluid intake is sufficient beforehand will ensure that your body is ready to take on whatever you give it. You’ll want to drink several cups of water an hour or two before your session begins to ensure that you’re starting off on the right foot.
Before an intense exercise session, you may also find it helpful to weigh yourself. Then weigh yourself again after your workout. If you’ve lost more than two pounds, you need to increase your hydration both before and during your session.
- During Your Workout. Drink several ounces of water at regular intervals during your workout. Be sure to drink even before you feel thirsty. Signs of thirst can mean that you’re already becoming dehydrated. And that can mean decreased performance.
You need to consider several factors as you drink and adjust your intake accordingly.
- Exercise location. Outside in the sun? Exercising at a high altitude? Both of these can cause you to lose fluids faster.
- Temperature. It goes without saying that the hotter it is, the more likely you are to lose fluids through sweat. (Just remember this winter that exercising in extreme cold can slightly numb your sense of thirst, and you can lose fluids just through heavy breathing! So be sure to keep drinking during your winter workouts, too.)
- History. Are you prone to dehydration? Knowing your body can go a long way in keeping yourself on the right track.
- After Your Workout. Keep an eye on the color and amount of urine you produce. Sure, it’s not what most people want to examine, but it’s a great indicator of hydration. Darker, smaller quantities can be a sign that you need to drink more.
Overall, water is generally the best choice for hydrating your body. But in reality, you need to consider your intensity level and beverage preference. Some people prefer plain water. Others will drink more if given a flavored beverage or sports drink. Intense competitors may need the added advantage that sports drinks provide (see below) if exercising for an extended period. The bottom line is this: Whatever it is that you will drink the most of during exercise — that should be your hydration of choice. But if you find that plain water doesn’t rejuvenate you enough, consider adding some other drinks to your repertoire.
Just finished an intense workout or one that lasted more than 60 minutes? You may also definitely want to consider a carb-based sports drink. Why would these situations cause you to make a switch?
Such drinks give your body an advantage by containing:
- Rapidly absorbed carbohydrates. Sports drinks can help you maintain a high performance level and keep your energy strong.
- Electrolytes. These can keep your body hydrated and your muscles working properly.
However, such drinks may also contain elevated levels of sodium, which is something you should watch for if you take medication for blood pressure (consult with your doctor if you think this is a concern).
Exercising is key to good health and hydration is key to effective exercise and maximum health. Drink up!