Why is keeping hydrated during exercise so important?
Most people know that water is estimated to make up about 60% of our body. However, you understand just how important water is when you realise that water accounts for 83% of our lungs, 64% of our skin, 73% of our brain and heart, 79% of our muscles and even 31% or our bones. It’s no wonder that dehydration can affect our bodies so badly.
If we are feeling thirsty we are already dehydrated. Our mouth, lips and eyes will feel dry, as well as our skin. Our urine will become dark and concentrated and that can cause frequency, pain and infection. Other symptoms include, bad breath, muscle cramps, fatigue, headaches, low blood pressure and decreased sweat production, that hampers our body’s ability to cool down. Dehydration can make us feel hungry and also increase cravings for sweet, sugary food and drinks that can lead to weight gain. It also causes brain fog, poor judgement, mistakes and memory loss.
Our bodies work hard to maintain homeostasis, one example of that is it tries to keep the body temperature and fluid balance within a certain range, to achieve optimal function or our organs and cells. The balance between water and electrolytes is crucial to how our systems function, including our nerves and muscles. A properly hydrated body will flush toxins out of the body, transport nutrients into the cells, regulate body temperature and pH balance it will also help to reduce muscle soreness and tension.
It makes sense then that you should aim to be well hydrated before you begin exercise. The easiest way to monitor this is to look at the colour of your urine. It should be light straw coloured and you should produce a good volume. It can take time to absorb the fluids into your body so drink steadily throughout the day. If you are in a hot building, or it is a sunny day you will need to increase the amount.
It is important to drink throughout your exercise routine as this will help maintain your energy levels and give you the best opportunity to hit your exercise targets. Keep a water bottle close by and drink little and often as this is better for your hydration than drinking large amounts less often.
After exercise is complete you’ll be ready for a drink but please resist alcohol. It has diuretic effect meaning your kidneys produce more urine, that in turn will remove water from your body making you even more dehydrated. You could add fruit or cucumber to your water for a really fresh tasting drink, or out fruit in an ice cube tray with water and freeze, ready for when you need to change from plain water. You should drink until the colour of your urine is back to normal.
There is an array of sports drinks on the market and it can be difficult to know which one to choose or if they are of real benefit. If you’re doing moderate amounts of exercise, or for less than an hour, water is really all you need. Sports drinks may be useful if you are doing strenuous exercise as they provide fuel to your body. They can contain elements like sugar, sodium, potassium and magnesium which can all be lost through sweating. On the downside they can contain additives and can be expensive. For most people water is the best choice.
Although maintaining good hydration is important in exercise, it is also important to keep hydrated at all times. Listen to your body, keep your water bottle handy and take frequent sips.