We know that staying hydrated is good and becoming severely dehydrated is bad, right? But why? Here, let me explain.
Our muscles use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to function but can only store a small amount at a time. Therefore, our bodies are constantly using nutrients to create ATP. And what does our body need to make this conversion happen? You guessed it! Water.
When we exercise, our bodies need more and more ATP and so are using more and more water. When we become dehydrated, our bodies cannot keep up with this energy demand. Plus, this loss of fluid lowers our blood plasma volume, which increases blood thickness.1 Therefore, dehydration requires the heart to work harder to try to maintain cardiac output.2
Blood not only carries water and nutrients to our muscles, it also carries out waste. Waste is dropped off at the kidneys. But what do our kidneys need to flush out the waste? Yup. Water. Dehydration can cause our kidneys to turn into a giant landfill, greatly stressing them.3
You know what also gets stressed when you’re dehydrated? You! The physiological stress of dehydration demands a lot of attention, which adversely affects our emotional state. Dehydration can make us become confused, irritable, and unmotivated.4
Dehydration can also make it harder for our bodies to stay cool when exercising in high heat conditions. We sweat to help keep our core temperature down. But, for survival, when we become dehydrated our bodies are going to prioritize heart health, sending signals to decrease intensity and sweat. If we ignore those signals and keep pushing through without slowing down, we risk overheating and having a heat stroke.2
These all seem like great reasons to take precautionary steps to stay hydrated while working out, right? Yes, yes they do. So, what are those steps?
Think of hydration as a lifestyle rather than just an exercise thing.
If you go into a workout already dehydrated, you’re setting yourself up for complications (just reread above). Set yourself up for success instead!
First, sleep. Dehydration can be brought on by not getting enough sleep. The hormone vasopressin helps regulate hydration. It’s released when you’re awake and when you’re asleep. BUT it’s released more quickly later in your sleep cycle.5 So, don’t cut your sleep short! I’m not condoning sleeping in and shirking your responsibilities, but I am suggesting an earlier bedtime, so you can get a full 7-9 hours of sleep!
Second, drink water throughout the day. It’s not a ‘chug-water-when-you-first-wake-up-and-maybe-some-more-right-before-or-after-you-work-out’ thing. Keep a water bottle with you. Whenever you feel thirsty, take a sip. It’s as simple as that.
Third, if you are an endurance athlete, are on a low-sodium diet, or are doing an intense workout in very hot conditions, replenish electrolytes during and after your workout. Why? Because if you deplete your electrolytes and then rehydrate with water alone, you risk hyponatremia, which is a severe drop in sodium concentration in your blood due to it being overdiluted. Most of the population who are working out for 60-90 minutes at a time do not need to worry too much about replenishing electrolytes. Replenishing electrolytes during and/or after exercise is most important for endurance athletes. A 2007 review notes that studies found hyponatremia occurrences in endurance athletes to be around 12-29%, including 8 deaths in the U.S.2 And just to confuse us, the symptoms of hyponatremia are much like symptoms of dehydration: nausea, confusion, and irritability.2 So, if you’re an endurance athlete, doing intense activity in hot and humid conditions, or are on a low-sodium diet, replenish those electrolytes!
What source of electrolytes should you seek? That depends! On what? On you and your individual needs, likes, and wants.
Test out a bunch of different electrolyte drinks, powders, chews, and gels until you find the right one for you. Take my word for it: You do NOT want to test one out on race day.
To get your electrolyte search started, here are some that I tried:
Nuun. Use: Distance runs, hikes, post-exercise recovery. Opinion: This is the winner … the champ ... the almighty.
Nuun is informed-choice certified, gluten free, kosher, vegan, non-gmo, and some are sugar free (or just about 0-2g/serving). The company has a plants-first mindset and is on a mission to inspire more movement. (Preach!) Check out their site to learn how they’re helping us move toward a greener planet. Oh, and it’s tasty, fizzy, and packed full of energy-boosting, hydrating electrolytes. They also just launched Rest, a tablet to help you get the rest you need for recovery, and Endurance, a powder that you can add to your hydration pack for those long runs! Try these gems out! (Caffeinated options available.)
Tailwind. Use: Distance runs. Opinion: Meh.
I couldn’t quite get on board with the taste (none of the flavors). Plus, it’s packed full of sugar (25g/scoop). Too much sugar puts my stomach in distress even when I’m not on a long run! BUT, my superhuman, ultra-marathoner friend swears by it. What I do appreciate about Tailwind is that they personally write your name on every bag you order. That’s pretty cool. Also, it was created by a Leadville 100 finisher and tested on (in addition to others) about 50 other Leadville 100 competitors. That’s also pretty cool. So, don’t discount it because of my experience. Remember, it’s about finding what works for YOU. (Caffeinated options available.)
Gu gels. Use: Distance runs. Opinion: Ick.
I tried a bunch of different flavors and did not like one. When not running, they probably taste fine. But while running, it was the last thing I wanted to be tasting. It’s sticky and not real easy to eat while running. I felt like a dog trying to get peanut butter off the roof of its mouth. What I do like about Gu is that it isn’t too high in sugar (about 7-8g/packet). Also, Gu gels came to be because a father (the founder) was trying to help his ultra-marathoner daughter reach her peak performance without suffering gastrointestinal distress. That’s really sweet. And if you can’t have too much sodium in one serving, most of these have just 50-70mg/serving. Maybe see if this product made out of love works for you! (Caffeinated options available.)
ProBar Bolt. Use: Distance runs. Opinion: So-so.
These energy chews don’t taste bad, but they will stick in the grooves of your molars for some extended release flavor. I’m a salivator (new word), and so having something sugary stuck in my teeth just sends my salivatory glands into a frenzy. Plus, you need to eat 4-5 of them to get one serving, which is a lot of chewing while you’re trying to breathe. What I do like about these chews is that they’re not too high in sugar (12g/serving). Also, ProBar is dedicated to creating plant-based products and fostering genuine connections with their employees, customers, and vendors. And if you can’t have too much sodium in one serving, these have just ~60mg/serving. Give them a go! (No caffeinated options.)
Vitamin Water Zero. Use: Post-endurance exercise recovery. Opinion: Good if the only place to stop for a recovery drink is the local gas station in town.
This is a great alternative to regular Vitamin Water, Gatorade, and other gas station sports drinks, because it has no sugar. Also, it has zero sodium, so if you’re on a low-sodium diet, then this might be a good option. However, it does have a chemical taste to it thanks to the GMOs. So, it shouldn’t be the first choice if there are more natural options available. But if it’s you’re only option, then what the heck! (No caffeinated options available.)
Pedialyte. Use: Post—distance run recovery. Opinion: Bleh.
The taste made me think of childhood medicine, so I kept gagging. It’s not too high in sugar, but it does have food dye in it. And honestly, it just made me feel awful. The only reason I chose Pedialyte as my post—distance run recovery drink is because that is what was available at my local bodega. However, some runners stock their fridge with the stuff, so see if it’s what works for you! (No caffeinated options available.)
Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes (salt tablets). Use: Distance run. Opinion: No thank you.
These are popular with ultra-marathoners. But they, like everything else, take practice. I did not practice and took one when I was already dehydrated, so it just caused me to bloat like I’ve never bloated before. And that one experience has turned me off from them completely. They suggest that you take a dose before exercise, each hour during exercise, and then immediately following exercise. I suggest with these to do your own research and do a few practice runs with them. Let me know how it goes! (No caffeinated option available.)
Sole. Use: Post-exercise / post—distance run recovery drink. Opinion: My usual.
Sole is originally made with Himalayan crystal stones and let to sit overnight. However, you can do the quicker version of putting 1 teaspoon of Himalayan sea salt in a glass of water, stirring it up, and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes (until the water thickens a little). I like to add a few drops of lemon juice too for taste. Then just sip on it for the next hour or two! I have yet to try it in my hydration pack on distance runs, but I'll let you know when I do!
Which ones have you tried and what do you recommend? I would love to know!
1. Jeukendrup, Asker & Gleeson, Michael. “Dehydration and Its Effects on Performance.” Human Kinetics. 2009. https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/dehydration-and-its-effects-on-performance.
2. Marturana, Amy. “This is How Being Dehydrated Impacts Your Workouts.” University of Connecticut. January 27, 2018. https://ksi.uconn.edu/2018/01/27/this-is-how-being-dehydrated-impacts-your-workouts-self/.
3. “Can Dehydration Affect Your Kidneys?” National Kidney Foundation. 2017. https://www.kidney.org/newsletter/can-dehydration-affect-your-kidneys.
4. Pross, Nathalie. “Effects of Dehydration on Brain Functioning: A Life-Span Perspective.” Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism 70, suppl. 1 (2017). 30-36. https://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/463060.
5. Miller, Marjorie S. “Shorter sleep can lead to dehydration.” Penn State News. November 5, 2018. https://news.psu.edu/story/545953/2018/11/05/research/shorter-sleep-can-lead-dehydration.