Water or Sports Drinks ̶ Best Hydration for Exercise

No matter what your activity level may be, it’s essential to stay hydrated. The more physically active you are, though, the more important hydration becomes. We’re all familiar with drinking water’s benefits during exercise, but some fitness enthusiasts prefer to use sports drinks with electrolytes for hydration. Which option is best for you?

How much water should you drink a day when exercising?

The exact amount of fluid you need will depend on several factors. Your body size is one. The larger your frame, the more fluid your body will need. Another is how vigorously you exercise and under what conditions. You’ll need less fluid if you’re taking light exercise in an air-conditioned gym than you will if you’re running a mile on a hot day. The familiar advice to aim for eight cups of water per day is generally sound, although you will need much more if you’re exercising for more extended periods. Drink fluid before you start, periodically during your workout, and then afterward as you cool down. Aim to consume between four and six ounces every 20 minutes.

When are sports drinks appropriate for hydration?

There’s an ongoing debate regarding water vs. sports drinks for athletes. Sports drinks are heavily marketed as offering a significant performance boost, claims that are often questionable on closer examination.

The solution to the ‘sports drinks vs. water’ dilemma generally boils down to how long your workout will be. For shorter workouts and general daily hydration, water is sufficient. If you find water boring and need a flavored drink to encourage you to hydrate, try an infuser bottle with your favorite fruits.

For extended workouts, sports drinks may be more useful. Be aware that most commercial soft drinks marketed as ‘sports’ beverages may, in fact, be very unhealthy. They’re often loaded with sugar in amounts that you don’t necessarily need. These drinks usually contain lots of unhealthy additives too. Choose a sports drink that doesn’t have excessive sugar quantities and consider diluting it down with more water.

You can easily make your own sports drinks, which will be significantly more cost-effective and healthier than commercial sports drinks. Mix fruit juice half-and-half with water and a tiny pinch of salt to create an isotonic beverage that will hydrate you and provide the carbohydrates you need. Fruit juice contains fructose or fruit sugar, which is easily absorbed into your bloodstream. The salt, which should be dissolved in a full pint of water, makes the fluid isotonic. This means that it is more easily absorbed by your cells.

Why is hydration so important?

When you’re working out or competing in sports, proper hydration is essential. Thirst stops being uncomfortable and becomes actively dangerous. You need fluid to ensure proper function of your circulation, your muscles — in fact, all of your body’s systems. Dehydration is a problem in itself, and can also lead to further health issues such as heat stroke.

For those who engage in vigorous physical activity, particularly if they’re not trained, a lack of proper hydration can contribute to rhabdomyolysis. Exercise has the effect of breaking down muscle fibers, which the body then rebuilds to make them stronger. The dead cells from the destroyed tissue are carried away in the bloodstream and processed out of the kidneys’ body. In rhabdomyolysis, the kidneys can’t process all of the protein from broken-down muscle tissue. This then builds up in the kidneys and may cause them to stop functioning correctly. ‘Rhabdo’ may even cause your kidneys to fail. Dehydration can be a significant contributing factor here, as your kidneys can handle impurities more effectively if they’re diluted. It’s a good idea to seek medical advice regarding your exercise program, especially if you’re taking up a new sport or physical activity. Your doctor will be able to advise you on exercising safely.

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