Maintaining hydration is always important for optimal health and vitality, particularly for those who are highly active, given the significant amounts of fluids that are lost through sweat during exercise.
When we talk about replacing the sweat we lose during training, it isn’t only about water. It’s also about the important contents of that sweat, which features a range of electrolytes. Replacing electrolytes – in particular sodium – will help with our overall fluid balance and assist with water retention post-training.
Losing as little as a 2% of body weight due to dehydration can be detrimental for exercise performance, causing fatigue, declines in concentration and coordination – meaning you don’t get the maximum benefit out of your training or workouts, despite the hard work you’re putting in.
Further dehydration can lead to heat related disorders including nausea, weakness and cardiac stress; and if left untreated organ failure and death.
Being mindful of when and how you’re hydrating is so important, be it a tough training session, a long ride or pre and post event.
Drink to your thirst
Sweat rates are highly individual and will change with your exercise intensity, how hot and humid it is and how much you have drunk prior to exercise. It’s best to pay close attention to your thirst and drink accordingly rather than sticking to a rigid hydration plan. Obey early thirst signals by having fluids readily accessible. If you find that sometimes you are so focussed on your workout that you forget to drink, think about setting other reminders such as a beeping watch or strategically use interval breaks within your program.
Don’t overdo it
Sweat is predominantly water but also contains a range of electrolytes (salts and minerals). For longer, more intense exercise and especially in the heat, it’s important to hydrate with fluids that also contain electrolytes to balance those lost through sweat. The extra salt will also encourage you to keep hydrating. Drinking too much plain water when sweat rates are high can lead to hyponatremia (low sodium blood levels), a potentially life threatening condition. Women may be at greater risk of hyponatremia than men due to smaller body mass but also as they are often focused on drinking plenty of water. Some studies also show that women may have an increased need for electrolytes during menstruation.
What else is in your bottle?
If you are training or competing for an extended period of time it is also important to incorporate some fuel in the form of carbohydrates (30-60g/hr) to help you maximise your workout. An easy way to do this is with a sports drink that provides your hydration, carbohydrates and some electrolytes or you can simply have a salt and carbohydrate containing snack to go along with your water. For short workouts and throughout the day plain water is best.
Not just at the gym
Hydration isn’t just important for sports performance, adequate water is vital for every system within your body. Think proper digestion, absorption of nutrients, healthy skin, temperature regulation, optimal brain power even efficient fat burning. How much you need to drink during the day varies but keep in mind that all fluids count not just water, as well as foods such as lettuces, vegetables and fruits which have high water content.