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Fitness Strategies  ›  Exercise Basics

Drinking Water During Exercise

How Much Water Should I Drink When I Work Out?

-- By Dean Anderson, Personal Trainer and Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian
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The Well-Watered Exerciser
Except for oxygen, there’s nothing your body needs more than an adequate supply of water. And the more you exercise, the more important it is to drink the right amount of water before, during, and after your workouts. Dehydration can make it hard to get the most out of your workout, and in extreme situations, can even be dangerous to your health. However, drinking too much water at the wrong time can also hinder performance.

So what’s an exerciser to do? How do you know how much you need to drink, when to drink it, and when you might need something other than plain water, like a sports drink? Obviously, people differ a lot in body size, how much they sweat, the type and amount of exercise they do, and the climate in which they exercise. All these factors make one-size-fits-all recommendations on drinking water ineffective or even dangerous. An approach used by competitive marathoners in hot, humid weather isn’t going to make much sense for you if you’re jogging or walking for 30 minutes on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym (or vice-versa). Therefore, a competitive athlete could benefit greatly from an assessment of individualized fluid, electrolyte and energy needs by a Registered Dietitian with experience in sports nutrition.

Do you need to worry about drinking during exercise?
The good news is that staying hydrated during exercise really isn’t complicated for most people. If your typical exercise session is around 60 minutes or less, and doesn’t involve vigorous activity outdoors in hot, humid weather, you probably don’t need to interrupt your exercise session for a drink unless you prefer to. A healthy, average-sized person can produce as much as 32 oz of sweat during an hour of moderate to vigorous indoor exercise. That may feel and look like a lot of sweating, but it shouldn’t be enough to cause problems unless you’ve been seriously short-changing yourself on fluid intake prior to starting your exercise. You can tell whether that’s a potential problem by checking your urine color before exercise. If it’s dark yellow with a strong urine smell, it’s a good idea to have a cup or two of water 30-60 minutes before you start exercising. If it’s clear to light yellow, it should be fine to just rehydrate gradually after your exercise session without worrying about stopping to drink during the middle of it.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, dehydration is likely to start affecting exercise performance when sweating causes you to lose 2% or more of your normal (hydrated) body weight. That's more than 51 ounces, or a little over 3 pounds, for an "average" person of 160 pounds. At this level of mild dehydration, you’ll probably be a little thirsty (though many people don’t experience thirst until they’re already dehydrated), and you may start to feel as if you have to work significantly harder to maintain your performance level. As dehydration gets progressively more severe, you may start to feel lightheaded, uncoordinated, or have muscle cramps. If you continue, you may start experiencing the symptoms of heat exhaustion, and that can progress to heat stroke, which is potentially fatal and needs immediate medical attention.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • JELLO1274
    I receive emails from the company I bought my water filtration pitcher (I absolutely love it! Its from drinksoma) and recently they sent me an awesome interactive tool to figure out about how many cups of water I personally need each day. I thought this tool would be good to share with everyone since I grew up being told 8 cups of water is what I need to stay hydrated and healthy, but this tool Soma gave me proved that old saying wrong!
    Here is the link in order to find out how much water you personally need based on your weight and how long you work out a day, https://www.drink
    soma.com/wate
    r-calculator
    Check it out! Its awesome - 7/16/2014 5:28:18 PM
  • UWGRAD07
    Thanks for sharing...I've also read that we are supposed to drink half our body weight in ounces. I drink one bottle of water on my way to work every morning and I keep 3 bottles of water on my desk, this helps me to remember throughout the day to drink water. I also keep a case of water at work so it's always handy instead of trying to purchase or reach for other beverages. - 6/17/2014 11:47:41 AM
  • Good reminders. Thanks for sharing. - 9/14/2013 7:36:34 AM
  • Loved the article and it applies to people like me with relatively moderate workouts. However, there is some interesting research about rigorous work outs and recovery meals. Apparently eating high carbs immediately following an intense workout (over and hour) significantly reduces to recovery time of you body. For example, a college level athlete might be given a whole pizza following a football game and a second high carb meal 60 to 90 minutes later. Just interesting fodder...... - 8/25/2013 9:25:04 AM
  • Great advise. I need to remember to drink more water! - 2/14/2013 9:23:37 PM
  • EMILYAW1
    For me, I always have water on-hand when I work out, but I rarely finish an entire 12 ounce bottle before my workout (even 60 minute ones) are over.
    This is because I find that I don't need to rehydrate my body so immediately during a workout as I need to wet my whistle. I especially don't drink more than a sip or two when I'm about to do ab work (on my back or front). If I do, I can feel the water rise in my throat.
    It's best to drink in moderation during exercise, and excess afterwards. - 12/8/2012 4:55:53 PM
  • Good info, good reminder, basic and solid need to know information. - 10/4/2012 12:28:14 AM
  • This is such a good reminder, along with specifics I never knew. It's 2pm and here I am haven't had a drink of water at all today! - 10/2/2012 3:06:43 PM
  • ASHPATCH11
    For me ....

    During any one basketball game I often have many sips where I sub off or its half time. However if I am super thrity i try not to chugg or it makes my belly sloshy no good to run with.

    During a weekend tourmament with 3-4 games within a few hours i will drink water and a sports drink.

    During a 60min run outside i dont drink any water during the run but i do drink just before and after the run.

    I like the advise of doing what feels right!
    - 10/2/2012 11:39:40 AM
  • All good info, especially the part that says - do what feels right and you prefer!
    - 8/24/2012 9:39:05 AM
  • This sounds like a sane article; certainly made me feel better. Like some commenters, I cannot bear the thought of drinking during my exercise sessions. I even feel nauseated if I think of drinking about 15 minutes afterwards. I feel weird because I am really the only one in my gym without a water bottle; everyone else is sipping away. The ironic thing is that very few people work out at my intensity, plus I sweat until my clothes are drenched. But I do not want to drink. I pack a small thermos of cold water or lemonade and drink it in the car about 15-20 minutes afterward. - 8/24/2012 8:50:20 AM
  • I cannot drink during any type of exercise. I get nauseous. have vomit a couple of times. - 8/24/2012 7:28:32 AM
  • I'm someone who needs to take at least a sip to a few gulps of water between each routine during Zumba. It makes sense, because I sweat a lot, but it still seemed like a lot of water to be drinking--about 8 oz. per 15 minutes of exercise. I'm relieved to find out that it's an acceptable amount of water to be drinking. :) - 6/28/2012 1:42:40 PM
  • == *If possible, weigh yourself on the same scale, before and after exercise so you know how much to drink for rehydration. ==

    There are people I really wish could understand this - that the only real change from before to after exercise is water loss and that it needs to be replenished rather than celebrated as a weight loss. - 6/18/2012 12:39:42 PM
  • This article answered a long-time question for me. I find that if I drink while I run I get really sick to my stomach -- almost like motion sickness -- and I feel like I am going to vomit. It has a significantly detrimental impact on my running. So my answer was not to drink while I run. But my running partner thinks I'm crazy and I'm going to die. She drinks almost constantly while we run -- even short 3 milers. After reading this article I realized that starting about an hour and a half before a run (and stopping about 30 minutes before) I drink a LOT of water. By the time I start running it is no longer sloshing around in my stomach and I'm fine. I know that I don't have any symptoms of dehydration because I am able to maintain my pace without problems and I don't have any cramping. I will have my running partner read this and then maybe she will feel better (or at least know when she needs to call the ambulance if I do get dehydrated! ;-) Thanks SparkPeople - 6/18/2012 11:32:03 AM
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