Adult human beings are made up of about 55-60% water. Our bodies use that water for many things, including maintaining our temperature, cleaning toxins from our system, and lubricating our joints and tissues. Our body loses water when we’re active, when we breathe, and when we sweat. Any water that gets burned off needs to be replaced in order to keep our bodies in optimal working order. The more active we are, the faster we use up the water in our tissues (both through elevated respiration and perspiration), which means participating in sports and/or exercise makes staying hydrated even more of a challenge.
It’s typically recommended that we drink 6-8 eight ounce glasses (48-64 ounces or around 1.5-2 liters) of water a day just to maintain a baseline of proper hydration. If we’re going to be exercising, however, we need to not only be sure we drink enough water to stay hydrated during our workout, but to be hydrated before our workout as well.
Exercising without being properly hydrated can cause performance to suffer. Amanda Carlson, an athletic trainer and the director of nutrition for Athletes’ Performance, says that losing as little as 2% of our body weight in fluid can decrease athletic performance by 25%. Starting a workout dehydrated can cause dizziness and lethargy because it makes it harder for the heart to pump oxygenated blood and nutrients through our bodies. It also affects the way our muscles function, causing them to feel weaker and to cramp more quickly. In addition, if we don’t continue to hydrate throughout a workout, our bodies will recover from the exertion more slowly.
To ensure we keep our hydration levels up while exercising, it’s a good idea to drink 2-3 glasses of water one to two hours before we plan to workout, then another glass about 15 minutes prior to beginning. During exercise it’s recommended to drink 8 ounces (or more if you’re exercising/sweating heavily) of water for every fifteen minutes of activity.
So where do we acquire all this hydration? There are several options of things we can drink/eat to keep our bodies lubricated and functioning optimally. Some of those include:
- Water – Water is your very best bet to stay hydrated. It doesn’t have any additives like sugar or sodium that your body might not need, and it’s easy to obtain and keep on hand during workouts. I also like that it’s not sticky or colorful, so you can spill it all over yourself without staining your cute workout top. ;)
- Sports Drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade, or Muscle Milk – Sports drinks were developed to help athletes not only replace water/electrolytes in their bodies but also to help them maintain energy while exercising. However it’s important to note that sports drinks usually contain an excess of sugar, electrolytes, and sodium which may not be advised for shorter, non-endurance type exercise. If you’re going to be doing less than 90 minutes of consecutive activity a sports drink is probably not needed.
- Fruit/Vegetable Juice – Fruits and vegetables have moisture in them that can help to hydrate your body, which can be a nice, more flavorful change from regular water.
- Milk – Milk is a good bet for hydrating after exercise because, besides containing water, it’s also a good source of protein, which can aid in muscle recovery.
- Tea – If you want something a bit more interesting than plain water but without additives like sugar, try drinking tea. There are many different flavors, and you can drink it both hot or cold, depending on what you’re craving. You can also use tea to relax (herbal or decaffeinated tea) or perk you up (black or green tea).
- Coffee/Soft Drinks – Yes even coffee and soda are good for hydration. Of course, again, it’s good to keep in mind that you’re also getting sugar and/or sodium with soft drinks, and caffeine with both soda and coffee. Caffeine is a diuretic, which can cause some people to urinate more frequently (and thus dehydrate themselves in the process).
- Fruit – Fruit, like juice, is an excellent source of water. The fruits highest in water content are watermelon, oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe and honeydew melons.
- Vegetables – Vegetables tend to have less water than fruits, but they are still not a bad way to go to add non-liquid hydration to your diet. Your best bet for veggies high in water are celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, and romaine lettuce.
- Other Solid Foods – Some other non-liquid ways to get more water into your diet include oatmeal, soup, and yogurt.
With so many options, staying hydrated can be a breeze! As always it’s important, first and foremost, to pay attention to our bodies. Feeling thirsty is how our system tells us we’re running low on water, and that we need to replenish our stores. That feeling of thirst is actually the first indication that we’re already dehydrated. As our dehydration level increases, other symptoms may appear, including dark urine, dry mouth, sleepiness, headache, or feeling lightheaded. If we start feeling any of these things, it’s important to get more water into our system stat, especially if we’re out being active.
The moral of the story is that drinking water is great for us! We should all be sure to keep drinking water (or other liquids) throughout the day, and to have a water bottle with us when we exercise. The more hydrated we keep ourselves, the better we’ll feel, and the more amazing things we’ll accomplish when we’re out tackling our active lives.