Hydration is always an important factor in health, but during physical activity it becomes even more crucial. This is because fluid is lost at a higher rate during exercise due to increases in breathing rate and sweating. Dehydration can occur quickly during activity without proper replenishment, especially at altitude. Even small losses in total body weight can indicate dehydration, and even slight dehydration can negatively affect performance and increase risk for injury. Dehydration decreases the volume of circulating blood, which decreases the oxygen provided to working muscles. Simultaneously, the flushing of harmful exercise by-products away from muscles is reduced. Together, these dehydration-related outcomes lead to quicker exhaustion as well as increased risk for injury. The best way to prevent dehydration is to consume enough fluids before, during and after activity. It is easy to forget that we are losing so much fluid when we are in the middle of enjoying an activity. Sometimes you may wait to drink anything until you feel thirsty. Unfortunately, thirst is usually not sensed until a large amount of fluid has been lost and your performance has already been compromised.
To maintain hydration, you should follow a daily hydration routine on top of including additional fluids during and after physical activity. The National Academy of Medicine now recommends that adult men consume 15 cups of fluid per day and adult women consume 11 cups. However, we’re not only receiving fluid in the form of liquid water, there is fluid in other beverages as well as in the food that we eat. Therefore, rather than obsessing about drinking the correct amount of water each day, choose to drink water with and between your meals and pay attention to your urine color to assess hydration status. Urine should have a slight yellow tint. If you notice a deeper color of yellow it’s an indicator to increase your fluid intake.
On top of regular fluid intake, during and after activity consumption should be increased to make up for the fluid losses from exercise. Shoot for around 16 ounces an hour during lighter activities and closer to 32 ounces an hour in vigorous activities or in hotter environments or at altitude. Remember to start hydrating early on in the activity to stay ahead of dehydration throughout. In order to ensure appropriate fluid replenishment post-exercise, you’ll need to know how much fluid you’ve lost during a bout of physical activity; for every pound lost, drink 20-24 ounces of fluid.
The amount of fluid you drink during activity is not the only thing to consider. You also have to choose what you’re rehydrating with. For activities lasting an hour or less, water is best. However, as activity duration increases water is no longer a complete enough fluid to replenish everything that is being lost during the activity. Electrolytes (sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium) are lost through sweat, and glucose is lost as muscular glycogen stores are burned for fuel during longer lasting physical activity. Therefore, during activity lasting an hour or more, rehydrating fluids should contain electrolytes and sugar.
Popular sports drinks are adequate in rehydrating for longer durations of exercise, however, they’re often made with unnatural sugars, unnecessary additives and harmful artificial coloring. For ideas in making your own high quality hydrating beverage, checkout the post DIY Hydrating Recipes on my website nutritionandwellnesseducated.com. Happy hydrating!