Water is essential to human life. It keeps our organs and systems functioning, flushes out toxins, provides nutrients to cells and so much more. When your body doesn’t get enough water, these essential functions begin to decline.
Water is lost through every activity you perform—even breathing. That water supply must be replenished to prevent dehydration. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men get about 13 cups, or three liters, of fluids per day, while women should get about nine cups, or 2.2 liters.
Exercise causes your body to use up water more quickly through perspiration, so it is easy to become dehydrated during exercise—particularly in hot weather, when you tend to sweat more.
How much water do you need to drink during exercise to stay hydrated?
The answer to that question depends on the duration and intensity of your exercise. In most cases, 1.5 to 2.5 cups (or 400 to 600 milliliters) should be enough. A longer, more intense workout would require more water. If you exercise in higher altitudes, you may need to drink more water.
As a general rule of thumb, drink at least one glass of water within an hour or so after working out. Some studies suggest any fluids, including coffee, tea and soda, help to keep you hydrated, although water is always the best option.
Are sports drinks better than water during exercise?
Sports drinks, like Gatorade, contain high amounts of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, sulfate and bicarbonate. Electrolytes, which are necessary for the body to function, are lost through sweating, but can also be lost through vomiting or diarrhea. Losing too many electrolytes could lead to dehydration or seizures.
Sports drinks can help replenish electrolytes, but sports drinks are less healthy if you are not exercising intensely for 90 minutes or more, or are already dehydrated. Unless you are participating in extreme sports or working out for more than 90 minutes at a time, plain water is best.
Is there such a thing as drinking too much water?
Yes. Over-hydration can be just as dangerous as dehydration. Low blood sodium (a condition called hyponatremia) can cause tissue damage and affect brain, heart and muscle function. The condition can cause confusion, lethargy, agitation, seizures and even death.
Early symptoms of hyponatremia, like disorientation, nausea or muscle cramps, are very similar to those of dehydration. To avoid drinking too much water, The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking no more than 12 quarts of water/fluids in a day.
In most cases, it is more likely that you’ll become dehydrated than drink too much water. Stick to the recommended daily water intake (13 cups for men or nine cups for women), and be sure to drink after exercising or doing any other activity that may cause you to sweat.