Hydration 101: Before, During and After Exercise

Everyone’s fluid needs are different but starting a workout well-hydrated remains a critical first step to get the most out of each workout. A sports nutritionist tells you more.

By D Tejaswi
30 May 2022

Even if you are someone new to exercising, or someone who knows the ins and outs of training, the first step you should care about is hydration. Hydration before, during and after exercise helps you work out longer and harder, helping you get the most out of each workout. On the other hand, dehydration can cause heat illness and overhydration (called hyponatremia) can get you exhausted causing you to drop off the session in middle.


Chances are that you could be more affected by lack of hydration. Research conducted by U.S. Army finds that heat illness occurs far more frequently, 20 times more, than hyponatremia. The study further says that you can reduce the risks of both by drinking the right volumes and right types of fluids during exercise. “Fluid intake during exercise is not a one-size-fits-all proposition because everyone’s fluid needs are different,” says Shiny Sunderan, sports nutritionist, Chennai. “The key lies in understanding your sweat rate to match the hydration needs with your workout goals.”


For instance if you are someone who does intense workouts for long hours in warm, humid conditions, you have a greater sweat loss which means you need a properly formulated sports drink over plain water to replace your fluid losses. The carbohydrates and electrolytes in a sports drink provide functional benefits that aids to maintain exercise capacity. But for those exercisers who do not lose a lot of sweat, water can be an effective fluid replacement beverage, says ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal.


“Sweat losses differ based on the exercise intensity, duration of exercise, clothing, fitness level and environmental conditions,” says Sunderan. “It can vary greatly even for the same person depending on changes in environment.”


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Check your hydration status before you exercise

“Generally, a good test of proper hydration is a urine test. You should pass clear urine, not dark or with a restricted flow. The goal is to have urine that is pale like lemonade not dark like apple juice (signifying a need to drink more) or clear like water (should back off or need lesser fluids),” says Sunderan. However, professionals like athletes and sports persons need individualised plans as they have different needs, she adds. “Athletes should weigh themselves before and after training event so that they can determine how much water has been lost and they can appropriately replace it. A general rule of thumb will be to drink 1.5 liters of water per kg weight lost.”


Not all beverages are created equal

From flavoured waters, to sports drinks and fruit juices, there are many options for hydration during exercise. While plain water only helps you to recover a fraction of your fluid loss, fitness waters do a better job (for most exercisers), finds research. However, not all fitness waters are not low in calories, so read your labels, suggests the paper. “If you are looking for a natural rehydrating beverage in India, you should go for tender coconut water, thin buttermilk, salted lemon juice and fruit juices,” says Sunderan. Besides these natural ones, ORS, sports drinks, dissolvable energy tablets can help you improve hydration and recover after intermediate or intense training sessions, she adds. Sports drinks have carbohydrates and electrolytes to provide functional benefits.


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Hydration while training

Talking about importance of hydration during exercise, Sunderan says to aim taking 500 - 750 ml of fluid two hours before training, 150-200 ml during the session (depending on your thirst levels) and at least 750 ml – 1 litre post session (depending on the intensity of exercise). “Ensure that the fluids are always palatable by keeping them in chilled ice boxes. “Drink ice slushies/ flavoured sports drink if you are sweating profuesly sweat,” she adds.


Hydration while running

“For a sustained fast-paced run, consider drinking 500-750 ml about two hours before your run,” says Sunderan. “You must ensure to drink about 100-150 ml of water every 15–20 minutes while running and about 750 ml – 1 litre of water post running a long distance (depending on your sweat rates), she adds. “If you’re doing a short run that lasts shorter than 45 minutes, you may be able to forget drinking water but it’s never a bad idea to carry water, especially if it’s really hot outside and if you are a profuse sweater.”


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Hydration for swimming

Swimmers should consume 500 ml of water or a sports drink two hours before the training, 250 ml of fluid 30 minutes before exercise and have another 250 ml once every 20-30 minutes to gain back on lost fluids. In case your activity lasts more than 40 minutes, you should have a sports drink instead of plain water to replenish electrolytes, says Sunderan. “Post activity, you can consume 300 - 500 ml of fluids along with a meal and through the rest of the day.”


Hydration for weight lifting

Staying hydrated is very important when you lift weights as it helps maintains muscle pump, speeds up recovery, improves muscle growth, prevents injuries and keeps the energy levels up. “Drink about 750 ml about two hours before lifting, 250-300 ml of water every 30 minutes during training and about 750 ml – 1.5 litre post-exercise of depending on your sweat rate and weight post training,” says Sunderan.



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