Drinking water is one of the basic things that you need to do every day. Your body needs water in order to function. That’s why it is very important to stay hydrated and to keep constantly replenishing your fluids. This is especially important if you want to gain weight and muscle and generally if you do any type of exercise. When exercising, your body raises its temperature and so in order to cool down, it starts releasing sweat, which is primarily composed of fluids. So in this way your body is losing fluids fast and needs them to be replenished. Dehydration is a serious health risk. You also need to keep a balance between the amount of fluids in your body and electrolytes. If this balance is not maintained or if in general your body loses its fluids, then serious problems will arise.
When exercising, your body loses fluids at a faster rate than it loses electrolytes. So within the first hour of exercise, just drinking simple water is enough in order to keep the body functioning properly. However once you exercise for more than an hour or your exercise is really intense, then your body also starts losing electrolytes. So when you are doing longer and more intense exercises, then you should also look for ways to replenish your electrolytes.
There are three types of drinks that you can consume when exercising:
1) Hypotonic – this is a fluid with a very low (below 4%) to non-existent amount of electrolytes and carbohydrates and which serves for rapid fluid replacement. Pure water is hypotonic.
2) Isotonic – this is a fluid which contains electrolytes and a moderate level of carbohydrates (around 4 to 8%). It serves for fluid replacement during and after exercise and fuel provision during exercise. These types of drinks have a similar osmolarity as plasma in your blood.
3) Hypertonic – this is a fluid with electrolytes and a higher level of carbohydrates (above 10%). This is more of a post-exercise drink for glycogen replenishment. This is not really suitable for fluid replenishment during exercise, as the high level of carbohydrates in it slows down the absorption rate.
Staying hydrated is critical when exercising and dehydration significantly decreases performance (although some studies dispute this, but the majority of studies support this conclusion). One way of telling whether you are hydrated or not is through looking at the coloring of your urine. If the urine is a light color and diluted, that means that you are probably hydrated, while a darkish concentrated urine means that you are most likely dehydrated.
The amount of water that you need to take in depends on several factors and varies from one individual to another. The recommended daily fluid intake is around 2 liters for men and 1.6 liters for women (some studies set much higher recommendations for fluid intake, at 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women). However when exercising, your intake may rise up to 3 to 4 liters or more. Other factors can also affect how much fluids you should take in. If you are training at a higher altitude, then you are losing fluids faster and so need to drink more. Also how much you sweat and how intensive your exercise is are important in determining how much fluids you should take in. Water is not the only fluid that you can take in order to stay hydrated, and you can get fluids even from doing things such as eating fruits and vegetables.
Remember to take in fluids throughout the day, but don’t go overboard. If you drink too much, it could cause some very serious damage to your body. The recommendations cited above are just guidelines (and different studies also give different recommendations, which can confuse people) and so the best way to to guide yourself on how much to drink is to listen to your body. Your body evolved through millions of years of challenges and has mechanisms that should guide you. It will give off signals that will tell you when you need to drink. So remember to drink water, but responsibly! 🙂