How much water should you drink a day? Are you drinking enough when you exercise? A lack of fluid will zap your strength and put a serious downer on your workout. To get the most from your routine, pay attention to these hydration essentials.
What difference does a drink make?
Around 70% of your body is made up of water - and keeping those levels topped up is vital. Here’s why you should pay close attention to your fluid intake…
It keeps you going for longer. Not feeling up to that extra set of squats? Proper hydration can stop you hitting the wall too early. With adequate water on board, your heart is able to pump more efficiently and feed the muscles you’re working. It means higher energy levels along with a lower risk of cramps and strains.
It can boost your ability to burn fat. If fat-busting is your aim, then cutting down on water intake is not the way to go. In fact, less-than-ideal water levels can slow down your metabolism, reducing the rate at which you burn calories. It’s also needed for a healthy gut and regular bowel movements for the removal of waste and toxins from the body.
It keeps you focused. Research shows that even small levels of dehydration can reduce your mental functions. Keeping thirst at bay ensures that your brain gets the oxygen it needs to keep up concentration levels.
It’s good for your immunity. You need water for your immune system to fight colds and other viruses.
How much water is enough?
The NHS recommends that most people should be drinking about 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) each day to prevent dehydration. This can include water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee.
Alongside this, be aware that when you’re working out, you’re more likely to be losing a higher-than-usual amount of water through your breath and sweat. All of this means you’ll need to take some extra fluid on board.
As always, people suffering from medical conditions, who are pregnant, take certain medications or are otherwise unsure should consult their GP or a certified professional before making changes to their dietary or nutrition habits.
Water intake: Before, during & after exercise
Before your workout
Pre-exercise nourishment helps ensure you get the most out of your routine - and hydration is an important part of this. As a general rule, try to drink about half a litre of water around 2 hours before you start exercising.
Next, drink about 200ml of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising (or during your warm-up).
During your workout
- Sessions of 30 minutes or less: Unless it’s warm, you probably won’t need to drink during exercise (but see below for post-exercise rehydration).
- Sessions of 30-60 minutes: Aim to drink approx. 200ml of water every 20 mins.
- Sessions: of 1-3 hours: Regularly take sips from a sports drink containing carbohydrate (CHO).
- Sessions of 3 hours or more: Regularly take sips from a sports drink combining water, CHO and sodium/salts.
After your workout
Drink approx. 200ml of water no more than 30 minutes after you finish exercising.
So are you getting enough water?
Just be aware that these are general guidelines for healthy adults working out in comfortable conditions. There are actually lots of factors (e.g. your level of experience, age, BMI and the intensity of the exercise) that can all have an impact on the rate of water loss during a workout. Also, some people simply sweat more than others!
With this in mind, here are some common signs that you might need to up your water intake:
- You’ve got a headache. Dehydration is a common cause of both headaches and lethargy. A workout should leave you feeling exhilarated (not in need of a lie down and an aspirin).
- Yellow urine. If you’re properly hydrated, it should generally be pale.
- You’re constipated. Without sufficient water on board, your body will draw water from stools, making it harder to pass them.
- Your workouts are getting harder. Water is needed for muscle recovery.
- You’re thirsty. A no-brainer. But just be aware that your thirst sensation doesn’t usually start to kick in until you’re 1-2% dehydrated. So don’t be waiting until you feel thirsty to take a drink!
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