Now that the weather has started to get really hot again, it’s time to start to focus on keeping hydrated during exercise. Of course, it’s important to do this all year round, but more so in the warmer weather. With so many mixed messages about when and how much to drink while you are exercising, and a vast range of gimmicky drink options available, it can be hard to know what you should really be doing. In this article, we look at all things related to hydration during exercise.
Who Should be Keeping Hydrated During Exercise?
The short and simple answer is everyone. Everyone needs to make sure they are taking in enough fluids when doing any sort of physical activity, but how much is a highly individual thing thanks to many factors, such as the sweat rates between people and the conditions in which you are exercising.
The sweat rate is determined by several factors, including:
- Fitness levels: Those who have a higher fitness level generally tend to sweat earlier on
- Body size: Those with a larger body size tend to sweat more
- Genetics: Some people are genetically more prone to sweating than others
- Temperature: If it is hot and humid, the athlete is more likely to sweat.
- Wind: Air flow over the skin improves body cooling and reduces sweating
- Exercise intensity: The more intense the exercise, the more likely it is to make the athlete sweat
As you can see, there is no one size fits all approach to sweating and a loss of fluid, so it is important to be aware of your own hydration needs prior to, during and after exercise.
What Should You be Drinking?
There are multiple drink options on the market for athletes, so deciding which fluid best suits your needs can be tricky. When choosing the best drink for you, you need to take into consideration:
- The length and intensity of your exercise session
- Whether you need to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes
- Your Individual preferences (flavors, for example)
- Dietary needs
Plain water is fantastic, and for many people, it is all they need. It can be sipped straight from a bottle, or if you are doing something where you need your hands, a hydration backpack. Water also has the added benefit of being free and very easily accessible. However, some athletes need to replace or increase their carb and sodium (salt) levels during an exercise session, and plain water does not contain either. When used appropriately, carbohydrate can be beneficial for performance, especially during moderate and high-intensity exercise. Sodium is a pretty important electrolyte that aids hydration by helping the absorption of water through the gut and assisting the body to ‘hold on to fluid’ more effectively (e.g. reduce urine output).
Why is Hydration so Important During Exercise?
During an exercise session, fluids are critical for maintaining your blood volume, keeping your body temperature regulated and to ease muscle contraction. When you sweat, your body is working hard to maintain it’s core temperature, but it also means a loss of body fluid. If your body fluid levels are below what they need to be, you run the risk of dehydration, which can be incredibly dangerous, and fatal in extreme cases. Our bodies can cope with a low level of dehydration, but the more dehydrated you become, the more impaired your performance is likely to be, and that is without mentioning the side effects to your health. Negative impacts include:
- An increased heart rate
- Increased perception of effort
- Increased levels of tiredness and fatigue, both physically and mentally
- Reduced cognitive performance (for example, your skill levels and coordination
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea
- Heat stroke
- Sore muscles
When Should You Drink?
The optimal amount and timing of your fluid intake will very much depend on your individual sweat rate, physical condition and exercise conditions, such as whether it is hot or cold, a relaxed ride or a race etc. You can work with an expert to develop a hydration plan for your needs, but generally speaking:
Make sure that you are well hydrated before you start any exercise session.
Take into account the conditions you are exercising in and your own personal needs.
Make sure that you rehydrate after you have finished your session, as you are unlikely to replace all of the fluid you lose during the session.
It is also worth bearing in mind that there is no performance related advantage to over hydrating yourself prior to an exercise session. In fact, it is more likely to cause you more issues. Being too over enthusiastic with your hydration can cause interrupted sleep the night before, cause bloating and stomach upsets and cause you to feel the need to urinate frequently during the session. It is important not to be too heavy handed with the fluids because it can result in a condition called hyponatremia. This is a medical issue which occurs when the sodium levels in the blood are too diluted. This is most commonly found in endurance races where participants have consumed far more low electrolyte fluids than they need to.
What are the Signs of Dehydration?
Whether you are exercising or not, it is vital that you are aware of the signs of dehydration, as it can cause some severe effects. Things to look out for include:
- Feeling thirsty
- Dark yellow and strong smelling urine
- Dizziness and feeling lightheaded, often accompanied by a headache
- Memory loss and confusion
- Dry mouth, eyes and lips
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Not needing to visit the toilet very much (less than four times in an average day)
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
If dehydration is not treated, treated, it can rapidly get worse and lead to other serious health problems like constipation, urinary & respiratory tract infections and kidney stones.
Stay Strong Together
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