Understanding Hydration in Sports and Exercise

Staying hydrated is essential for our daily lives and for performing our best in sports. If you don’t drink enough water, you can get dehydrated or hyponatremia, which can make you dizzy, tired, and not able to run as well.

The majority of runners tend to drink too much water, instead of not enough. Drinking too much can lead to stomach slosh, or – much worse – hyponatremia if you consume too much water without replenishing your salt balance.

Why is hydration so important during training and exercise? Let’s take a closer look.

General Baseline Hydration

You should generally drink 8-10 cups of water a day. You can adjust your intake based on how you feel. If you are active or live in a hot climate, you should increase your daily hydration.

In addition to water, you can also hydrate with other beverages like milk, juice, coffee, and tea.

How Much Should You Drink During Exercise?

The goal of hydrating during workouts or races is to prevent dehydration, which would negatively impact your abilities or state. Even though some dehydration during long workouts is normal, you can easily rehydrate yourself afterwards.

The current research on how best to perform activities that cause you to sweat a lot is to simply drink when you begin to feel thirsty.

This can also be described as “drinking enough to quench thirst” in the study investigating it.

Running and Hydration – Here’s The Rule of Thumb

It is recommended that athletes should drink 8-16 ounces of fluid per hour.

The goal is to weigh the same when you finish your workout as you did when you started. Any rapid weight loss is just water weight, and you want to replace the fluids you lose during your workout (including fluids you drink after your workout) to prevent dehydration.

Your goal after completing a running workout is to drink enough fluids to make up for any that you lost during the workout, as well as to consume additional electrolytes if necessary. After that, you should maintain your usual hydration levels throughout the day.

Risks Of Poor Hydration

It is important to stay hydrated for optimal athletic performance, but it is also crucial to your health and well-being!


Many people experience dehydration symptoms such as lethargy, muscle cramping, dizziness, and confusion, but few people experience serious health consequences or death as a result of dehydration.

This happens because we sweat to cool our bodies and, in the process, we lose water. We lose water through sweating during exercise, especially endurance events like marathons, which leads to mild dehydration (1%-2% loss of body weight during exercise). You should try to avoid dehydration becoming severe, as this can cause complications such as seizures.


One aspect of hydration that people don’t often think about is hyponatremia, which is having too much water in your body.

Many athletes focus on avoiding dehydration before competitions by drinking fluids regularly. Dehydration negatively affects performance, so it’s logical to start an event with a full tank of fluid. Dehydration is not the only concern when optimizing pre-competition hydration.

Many athletes believe it is beneficial to urinate frequently because they have been told that producing a large amount of clear urine is a sign of good hydration and something to strive for.

This is usually the case with athletes who have hydration issues during races. Drinking excessive fluids before a race will not improve dehydration or cramping, and could even worsen these conditions.

Pre-competition hydration is a balancing act and not just a battle to consume as much water as possible.

Body Fluid Balance

Before a competition, make sure you’re hydrated, but don’t overdo it. Drink when you’re thirsty.

If athletes drink vastly more than their bodies require, they can end up causing real problems in other areas.

Most of the issues over-drinking creates are related to the fact that body fluids are not just water but are in fact, a very salty mixture containing electrolytes. When a person drinks too much water, the electrolyte levels in their body become diluted and can cause problems such as seizures and cardiac arrest. Electrolytes are essential for performing various bodily functions, such as cellular communication, nerve impulse transmission, and muscle contraction. Therefore, it is important to closely regulate their concentrations to allow them to function properly.

If you drink too much, you will begin to dilute the level of sodium in your blood, which can negatively affect your performance. In some cases, this can result in a dangerous condition called hyponatremia.

Avoiding Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia occurs most often in those who drink too much during exercise and cannot urinate the excess.

If there is too much fluid in the bloodstream, the body has to remove some of it to balance the sodium content. If the body can’t get rid of the excess fluid through urination, it is forced into the space between cells instead.

Cellular swelling due to excess fluid causes headaches, confusion, and potentially coma or death if it occurs in the brain. Every year, a few people die from this. Excessive alcohol consumption is a hot topic in sports medicine and provides a very compelling reason for not drinking during training and races.

It is widely believed that the best way to prevent hyponatremia is to drink only when you are thirsty.

Hyponatremia is less likely to occur in the build-up to an event, as your body can pee out any excess water. However, this doesn’t mean that you should drink large volumes of fluid, as it can be unsafe.

You may be setting yourself up for hyponatremia if you dramatically increase fluid consumption before an event. If you do this, you are effectively Diluting the body’s level of sodium before the event starts, which can be dangerous.

The more you drink, the more urine you produce and the more sodium is lost. This gradually lowers the sodium levels in your blood to the point where it becomes dangerous.

A mild case of hyponatremia can make you feel fatigued and lethargic, even though it might not seem like a serious case.

What Should You Do?

To be optimally hydrated for a race, you should neither be under or over-hydrated. It will help maintain your body’s fluid levels at the top of the normal range.

The first thing to do to get to an optimum state is to avoid drinking too much. It is a good idea to drink a couple more cups of fluid each day in the last few days to make up for any lack of fluid in your system. However, it is not necessary or beneficial to overdo it with drinking beyond what your body is telling you that you need.

The colour of your urine and how thirsty you feel are the most helpful indicators of your hydration status. Make sure your urine is not too dark in colour or low in volume. A large amount of really clear urine may not be a good thing.

When trying to balance your sodium levels, it can be helpful to increase your intake in the final few days. The extra sodium will make you thirsty, causing you to drink more water and stay hydrated.

Adding electrolyte supplements or extra salt to your water or food increases sodium intake. It is important to remember that most sports drinks have a relatively low amount of sodium (400-500 mg/l). If you want a drink that will pull more water into the bloodstream and keep it there effectively, you will need a drink with a higher amount of sodium (1500 mg/l or more).

Hydration Options For Runners

Runners and fitness enthusiasts have a lot of different options for staying hydrated, and it can be tough to decide which one is best.

We will examine the different kinds of hydration products that are available and figure out which ones are best for you depending on your fitness goals.

Plain water

Water is the best drink for regular daily hydration. For people who exercise moderately and for recreational exercisers, plain water is enough to stay hydrated if the workouts are less than an hour and in cool temperatures with low humidity.

You need to drink more water when you work out for longer, harder, or in hotter or more humid conditions because you sweat more and lose more electrolytes and minerals.

If you start sweating more, you will need to add electrolytes to your hydration regimen to replace lost minerals, since plain water alone will not be enough.

Water is free, and it is great for most workouts. However, if you sweat a lot and your workouts are long, water is not enough.

Electrolyte Hydration Options

When you begin to perspire more due to increased temperatures, tougher workouts, or longer workouts, you will need to drink an electrolyte beverage instead of plain water to replenish the minerals you lose from sweating profusely.

Electrolytes come in several different forms for you to choose from:

  • Pre-mixed drinks
  • Powders or tablets you mix with plain water
  • Capsules you swallow as a supplement
  • Chewable tablets (like Salt Stick fast chews)
  • Electrolytes mixed into energy chews and gels

Choose an electrolyte drink based on the type of workout you’re doing, your personal preferences, your fuelling needs, and how you plan to transport your hydration during your workout.

There are also differences in the way each brand of electrolyte replacement is formulated. This means that some brands of salt will have more sodium, others will have more potassium, and some will include trace minerals such as selenium and copper.

If you don’t work out for long periods or you have a separate fuelling plan that includes carbohydrates, then sugar-free electrolyte drink mixes are a good option for you.

If you are planning on having a long workout and will have access to water, it is beneficial to bring along packets or tablets of electrolyte drink mix (such as Nuun) to add to your water as needed.

If you are doing a shorter workout, you may still need electrolytes, especially if it is hot or if you sweat a lot. You can take a small bottle of pre-mixed electrolytes or a few electrolyte chewables with you if you do not want to carry a lot of liquid.

It is important to consider that while you may prefer a chewable tablet or capsule if you are participating in a race, you may not be able to tolerate chewing or swallowing a capsule easily.

Sports Drinks That Contain Carbohydrates and Sugar

These types of drinks are generally not needed for regular workouts that last less than 1-1/2 hours, so it’s okay to avoid them during and after your workout.

Although they are not particularly nutritious, energy gels can help you consume additional calories when you are doing endurance running and need a carbohydrate-based fuelling strategy.

A sports drink that has a mix of different sugars, like glucose and fructose, along with electrolytes is really helpful for refuelling quickly.

Since some runners cannot stomach solid food during an endurance race, sports drinks are an easy way to consume calories for your fuelling strategy during endurance running.

Be sure to plan your fuelling needs in advance, including sports drinks, gels, chews, and/or food. You may get an upset stomach if you eat too many carbohydrates at once and then exercise. your body may have trouble digesting multiple concentrated sources of carbs while you’re working out.





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