Thirsty For Exercise

The warmer temps have FINALLY appeared!!!  After what has felt like endless grey skies, rain, and chilly/I can’t believe I am wearing a jacket in May and June weather consuming our days, we are at last seeing the sunshine and feeling the warmth!!

And we can FINALLY be outside… getting our runs and our exercising in outdoors!


But with this surge of excitement, when talking about exercising in these warmer summer months, we must discuss a very important factor – hydration.

We have all heard the advice over the years… be sure to drink your eight glasses of water per day.  However, as is the case with much in life, there is never one cookbook/one-size-fits-all recipe for what each individual body needs.  Especially the body of an athlete.

Water is an extremely important nutrient, and makes up approximately 50-60% of an individual’s body weight.  It is not only essential to maintain overall life, fluid intake is an important part of training and athletic performance.  The benefits of adequate fluid and electrolyte intake before, during, and after exercise are enormous and include lower heart rate, improved blood flow and circulation to muscles and organs, improved body temperature control, prevention of low sodium levels (hyponatremia) thus reducing muscle cramping and fatigue, and overall lower levels of perceived exertion.

So how much should you be drinking to take full advantage of these benefits??  Research has shown that most recreational athletes actually require approximately 11-15 cups of water (8oz each) with added electrolytes daily, however factors such as climate, muscle mass of the individual, type of physical activity being performed, and diet make that total required intake vary from person to person.  Further research conducted on athletes participating in various sports including running, cycling, walking, and playing group sports and fitness classes such as basketball and aerobics contested that in hot weather when an athlete loses as little as 2% of his/her fluids through sweat, overall athletic performance may decline by as much as 10%!!

That’s a serious percentage, and a huge disadvantage to performance!

When exercise is involved, proper hydration is achieved by consuming fluids and electrolytes at regular intervals.  Remember, distractions may prevent you from recognizing thirst… but if you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated.  Several sports studies have shown that it is wise to consume approximately 16oz of water/electrolytes about 2 hours before activity, then another 8-16oz about 15 minutes before exercise… then anywhere between 4-16oz of water/electrolytes every 20 minutes depending on tolerance and climate (heat/humidity)… and finally another 16-24oz per pound of body weight post exercise to re-gain all fluids lost.  Researchers also recommend consuming sodium chloride (salty foods such as pretzels or from sports drinks) following exercise in extreme heat and humidity to speed up the rehydration process.

Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than you have consumed.  Symptoms can include dizziness/lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth/lips, increased heart rate, muscle cramping, lack of sweating, and extreme thirst… and if it gets to the point of severity one may experience mental confusion, weakness, and loss of consciousness.

Not fun!!

I know, I know… but all of those fluids!?!?  How is my bladder going to handle all of that?!?  I’m going to be running for the restroom all day!

Possibly a little more than usual… but an inconvenience and annoyance I would rather experience than to have any organs including my kidney suffer, or possibly fail… or experience extreme lethargy and lack of muscle energy… or muscle cramping… or terrible athletic performance… all due to lack of hydration.

You get the picture!

Take home message… your body needs fluids/electrolytes to function optimally.  Be sure to replace all you lost when sweating… your overall performance and well-being depends on it!

Jacqueline Mendelsohn, DPT, CLT

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