By: Lacey Thacker
When you’re at the gym, pounding it out on the treadmill or lifting a heavy set, you may be familiar with a special feeling that comes over you—thirst. Though perhaps more commonplace than we’d like to admit, it’s more serious than it seems—it’s a signal you’re already dehydrated. It’s easy for it to happen, particularly if water isn’t your favorite beverage. However, since our bodies are mostly composed of water, it’s important we work to maintain homeostasis through regular fluid intake. And just to be clear—for the most part, these fluids must be water. While coffee, tea, and soda may be tasty, the caffeine can actually dehydrate you over the course of the day, while any added sugars have other drawbacks.
There are several clues that let us know we’ve reached a critical point and need to seek fluids immediately. If your urine is dark, rather than a light yellow, or your lips or mouth feel dry, it’s time to fill a glass. If you become dizzy or lightheaded, stop what you’re doing, sit down, and slowly drink water or an electrolyte beverage until you feel normal again.
It’s much easier—and healthier—to simply stay hydrated. Make it a goal to down one or two eight-ounce glasses of water before leaving the house in the morning. By replenishing fluids lost during the night, you start the day hydrated, which will increase clarity and focus. While at work, aim for four to six ounces of water per hour. This will help you maintain a healthy hydration level and get ready for your workout later on.
At the gym, quick, regular breaks to drink are easy to add in. If lifting, take a sip of water between every set, or drink a slightly larger amount between different exercises. If it’s a cardio day, drink an ounce or so every five minutes—twelve to sixteen ounces of water per hour workout will about compensate for the sweat you loose during that time. And remember—continually sipping water is more effective than chugging large amounts at once. If you are substantially dehydrated already, consuming a large volume of water at once can make you ill.
What about electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks? Often seen in the hands of people doing even light workouts, these drinks are actually designed to replace electrolytes lost during a long or intense workout (60 or more minutes). Typically, water is the preferred liquid for replacing what’s lost in the gym, but for endurance workouts, or workouts of an hour or more, it’s a good idea to consider adding one of these beverages to your hydration plan. Electrolytes are extremely important for nerve and muscle function; without a proper balance, it’s also very hard to re-hydrate.
It comes down to this: for optimal athletic performance, drink water all day. Drink a bit extra at the gym. If it’s a particularly grueling session, consider including an electrolyte beverage. Follow those guidelines, and you’ll be one step closer to training at your peak.