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How to stay hydrated when exercising

Feeling thirsty when exercising is common, and normal. Your body needs fluids during exercise, not only to stay hydrated while working out, but also to help your muscles recover afterwards.

One small thing: To stay hydrated during your workout, drink water according to your thirst, or at least every 15-20 minutes.

Have you ever felt like downing an entire bottle of water after a run? This is your body's way of telling you that you need to hydrate during exercise, no matter how long the workout.

Drinking fluids during exercise has two functions: it allows you to work out better and helps your body recover faster. Not only do you need to drink fluids before and during your workout, you also need to hydrate afterwards.

Why hydrate?

As your temperature rises from exercise, your body tries to keep you cool by creating sweat, and as you sweat, you lose salt and water. Water helps your body regulate its temperature, but it also lubricates your joints and muscles to help prevent injury.

What should I drink?

Water is the best fluid to stay hydrated. But, if you exercise heavily for more than an hour, your body will also need electrolytes (minerals that help your body function properly) and salt (to help you maintain fluid levels).

When you lose electrolytes and salt through heavy sweating, the fluid in your body will be off balance and you can experience nausea and dizziness, severe fatigue and muscle cramps.

Try a sports drink with electrolytes. Carbohydrates and sodium should also be considered during a long run (60-90 minutes) or strenuous workout.

How do I know when to hydrate?

Our bodies are all different, but it's important to drink fluids before you feel extremely thirsty, because by that time, you're already dehydrated.

How much should I drink?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking about 2 to 3 cups (500-750ml) of water two to three hours before you work out. During your workout you should aim for ½ to 1 cup (125-250ml) of water every 15-20 minutes. Here is a guide:

Low-intensity exercise: A generous sip from your water bottle after a quick 20-minute walk on the treadmill or a gentle yoga session. Medium-intensity exercise: Drink from your water bottle at least three to four times during an hour-long run or weights session at the gym.

High-intensity exercise: Your runs or workout might be longer (over an hour), so your body will need more than just water. Consider a sports drink.

Afterwards: Drink around 2 to 3 cups (500-750ml) of water after exercising. And you definitely want to avoid drinking alcohol at the end of a workout or race – this draws water out of the body and can interfere with muscle recovery.

Top tips:
  • Finding the ideal sports drink takes a bit of trial and error. Look for isotonic sports drinks as these are the easiest to digest and absorb during strenuous exercise.
  • Make sure you up your water intake when exercising during the hotter months.
  • Remember to hydrate during as well as after exercise to ensure you stay hydrated throughout your workout.
  • Not a fan of water? Infuse it with lemon, mint sprigs and blueberries for a delicious drink when training during the hotter months.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.

References:
http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicine/sportsmed/cusm_patient_resources/Documents/Hydration%20Tips%20fo%20Exercise.pdf
https://familydoctor.org/athletes-the-importance-of-good-hydration/
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-choose-the-best-energy-boosting-bars-and-gels/