Fitness Strategies

Drinking Water During Exercise

How Much Water Should I Drink When I Work Out?

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If your workout is particularly long or your environment is hot and/or humid, just drinking plain water during your exercise may not be the best option.

Two hours of vigorous exercise can deplete the fuel supply (called glycogen) that your muscle cells use during vigorous activity. Drinking water alone won’t replenish that fuel. Assuming you can’t take a meal break in the middle of your marathon race, you may need something to drink that also contains carbohydrate for energy and to sustain performance. Commercial sports drinks containing 6% to 8% carbohydrate from various sugar sources are recommended for exercise events lasting longer than 1 hour. Higher carbohydrate amounts should be avoided because they impede the rate at which the drink leaves the stomach thereby slowing down the hydrating benefit. To estimate your carbohydrate need during sustained exercise, aim for about 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of endurance exercise. Following the event, replenish your energy stores using these recommended guidelines.

Likewise, when you sweat heavily for an extended period, you’re not losing just plain water. You’re also losing a significant amount of sodium, which needs to be maintained within a certain range to avoid potentially serious problems like exercise-induced hyponatremia (a serum sodium concentration <130 mEq/L), which can also occur if you drink too much plain water, in a short time period. It isn’t very easy to give yourself hyponatremia: An otherwise healthy person would have to combine hours of heavy sweating with drinking significantly more water than they’re actually losing during the exercise and not replacing the lost sodium. You can avoid this by making sure your water intake during and immediately after exercise is equal to the amount you lose (see above about weighing yourself).

For particularly long endurance workouts OR exercise sessions in hot and humid weather, one may need more than the Tolerable Upper Intake Level for sodium (2,300 milligrams daily). That's why commercial sports drinks are often recommended for athletes taking part in such endurance events. Make sure the sports drink contains about 120–170 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounce serving. If you are looking for a less expensive option for the commercial sports drink, try this simple recipe. You may also need to replace lost sodium by consuming high-sodium foods and beverages following the event. High sodium food choices could include: canned soups, beans and vegetables; boxed side dishes like macaroni and cheese, potato mixes, or rice blends; Oriental style entrees with soy sauce; pizza; jarred spaghetti sauce; salted nuts; and regular cheese.
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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.

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