Staying well hydrated is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for athletes who demand a lot from their bodies. Getting the right amount of water before, during, and after your workout isn’t just key for maximizing your performance but is crucial for regulating many aspects of your health: from the lubrication of your joints to your body temperature and energy level. 

If you find yourself feeling fatigued or dizzy or dealing with painful muscle cramps, especially after a workout, dehydration might be to blame. Read on to learn more about why proper hydration is important and how you can stay hydrated while sweating it out at the gym. 

What is hydration?

Hydration is the balance of fluids in the body’s tissues – balance being the key word. Your body’s fluid levels change depending on a number of factors like physical activity, your electrolyte levels, and, of course, how much fluid you consume. The key is to pay attention to what your body needs and keep up with good hydration practices to maintain the proper balance. 

The effects of dehydration on your body and performance

Even mild dehydration can have noticeable effects on your health and athletic performance. In addition to weakness, dizziness, and muscle cramps, dehydration can decrease your sweat rate putting you at risk for heat exhaustion and other temperature regulation issues. Perhaps most significantly, dehydration decreases your blood plasma volume which can negatively impact the functioning of your cardiovascular system which, in turn, decreases the amount of oxygen your body can use as well as your work capacity. 

For high-intensity athletes, even very mild dehydration can decrease your capacity for sprinting or powerlifting by up to 45%. Constant dehydration over an extended period of time can lead to even more health issues including decreased kidney function, decreased muscular and joint function, and headaches or migraines.

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How to stay hydrated while training

If you found the list of health issues from dehydration alarming, don’t worry, staying hydrated while you train is completely doable. Scientifically speaking, when you work out, your tissues are broken down and turned into waste that your body needs to get rid of. 

The main way it does this is through the urine. This means that you need an adequate amount of fluid to transport that waste through your kidneys and into your urine. While this might sound somewhat complicated, what that means for you is actually really simple: the more you work out, the more water you will need to consume to help your body get rid of that waste. Here are a few simple but effective hydration practices to help you ensure that your fluid intake is balanced with your training output:

  • Always carry water with you, especially when you’re working out
  • Drink water throughout the day, not just while you’re training
  • Drink water in the morning, right when you wake up. The recommended amount is 1 liter within the first hour. 
  • Drink at least an extra liter of water on hot days or days you’re exposed to high temperatures
  • Consume ½ liter of a 6% saturated solution of carbohydrates in sodium water (like you would get in a properly balanced sports drink) for each hour of intense training
  • Don’t consume sports drinks unless you are doing intense exercise for at least one hour (stick to water)
  • If you do consume sports drinks, avoid those with caffeine which can act as a diuretic, check the serving size to make sure you’re consuming the right amount, and check the nutrition label to make sure it’s not overloaded with sugar or sodium. 

The negative effects of dehydration make it well worth the simple steps you can take to stay properly hydrated. Over time, you can create hydration habits that keep you in track without having to give it much thought, like carrying a water bottle with you or hydrating as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. 

If you stay consistent, you’ll stay hydrated, healthy and ready for peak performance.