With water and sports drinks readily available, there's no excuse for not drinking enough during your workout.  Unfortunately, many athletes allow themselves to get dehydrated. What should you drink and how much?

Water is our body's most natural and welcome source of hydration.  Very few of us drink as much as we should.  Thirst kicks in only when our tanks are low, but our bodies work best when they have ready-access to plenty of fluid.  What does water do for us?  It provides a way for nutrients, blood cells, and waste products to travel through our bodies.  It keeps muscles and joints lubricated and safe from injury.  It helps us sweat and keep cool and helps us digest our food.  Dehydration puts a strain on our hearts, joints, and muscles.  Drinking enough water during a workout is crucial to our health.

How about sports drinks?  For most people, they're unnecessary and may add excess calories you're trying to burn.  Unless you're working out for more than 90 minutes at a time, all you need is water.  But how much water should you drink during a workout, and when should you drink it?

You'll get the best effect if you hydrate early and often.  Try to drink 16-24 ounces of water (or other non-caffeinated fluid) an hour-and-a-half to two hours prior to your workout; then stop drinking until right before you start exercising.  This gives the water time to be absorbed into your blood stream, reach all the cells that need hydration and travel through your kidneys and bladder.  No one wants to run to the bathroom during a workout. 

Drink a half-cup of water at the beginning of your workout and then six-to-eight ounces every 20-minutes.  Follow up with another 16 ounces upon completing your workout, but keep in mind that this might not be enough.  How do you know if you've gotten the right amount to balance how much you sweated off?  A trip to the bathroom will tell you.

  • Step on the scale before and after you exercise.  If you weight less afterward, you've lost water and need to drink more.  If you've gained weight, you've probably had more than enough to drink. 
  • When you urinate after exercising, it should be light in color, and there should be plenty of it.  If there's very little urine and it's dark amber, you're dehydrated. 

It's rare that an athlete drinks too much water but it happens occasionally.  Hyponatremia is a low blood sodium level caused by over-hydration, essentially diluting their blood sodium content with too much water.  This can lead to cardiac arrhythmia and even death.  Don't go overboard with water, and if you're going to be doing extreme sports or working out for more than 90 minutes, switch to sports drinks.