Most of us don’t need reminding to drink water after working out. Exercise is thirsty work, after all. As such, reaching for a drink after a sweaty run or gym session is instinctive. But the best way to rehydrate may not be so obvious. Here we explore why rehydrating after exercise is so important – and what’s the best way to do it.
During exercise, the body loses between 0.5 and 2 litres of water, mostly through sweating and breathing. Replenishing the water and nutrients lost during a workout is crucial for the body’s health, recovery and future performance. Let’s take a closer look at what happens to the body during exercise, and the role hydration has to play.
The human body is made up of 60% H2O and water is essential for every bodily function. Amongst other vital processes, body fluids impact digestion, transport nutrients to cells and rid the body of toxins. Insufficient hydration will inhibit the body’s ability to carry out these functions, negatively impacting overall health.
Dehydration occurs when the body expels more liquid than it takes in. The ramifications can be serious: not drinking enough water can result in heat exhaustion, kidney problems, seizures and hypovolemic shock. Unless your workouts are particularly long and strenuous, you are unlikely to experience severe dehydration as a result of exercise. However, even mild dehydration will affect the health and efficiency of the body, potentially resulting in a dry mouth, tiredness, headaches and dizziness.
Restoring water and minerals lost during a workout is vital for the body’s recovery. Drinking water after working out not only cools and refreshes the body, but it also enables it to repair itself so that it’s ready and rejuvenated for your next session.
When we exercise, we create tiny tears in our muscles. It’s the body repairing these tears that makes muscles bigger and stronger. For muscles to be able to rebuild themselves, they must be well hydrated: dehydration will slow down this process and delay recovery and toxin removal. So if you don’t want muscle soreness to linger, get sipping!
Muscles also need nutrients such as proteins in order to repair themselves. Efficient digestion is crucial for aiding this refuelling process and is entirely dependent on the body being adequately hydrated. The body needs liquid to produce saliva and stomach acid – both essential for breaking down food and absorbing the vital nutrients needed to restore the body.
Hydration is not just important after your workout: once you have re-hydrated it is important to drink water regularly up until and throughout your next workout. This is because dehydration can have a drastic impact on physical performance, meaning you won’t get the most out of your session.
Not drinking enough water will affect:
We now know why it is important to rehydrate properly after exercise. But how can we rehydrate most effectively?
Drink the right thing
There are now many different sports drinks on the market, designed to enhance recovery after exercise by replenishing glucose and minerals. But are they really necessary? For the majority of workouts, the answer is… not really: unless you are engaging in exercise that’s particularly gruelling or long, plenty of water and a healthy snack will be all you need.
If your workout is particularly lengthy then you might want to think about a drink with some added extras. But before you fork out for an expensive and excessively sugary shop-brought sports drink, consider making your own. Drinking a sugary squash with a pinch of salt will replenish carbohydrates and sodium levels while hydrating you. Or, for a slightly healthier alternative, try mixing fruit juice and water with a sprinkling of salt.
Drink the right amount
It can be difficult to know how much you should drink after a workout. The amount of liquid your body needs will depend on many factors, including your size, fitness level, environment and how hard you workout. If you’re fit and exercising in a cool environment, you will sweat less and will need less water to rehydrate yourself. If you began your workout already dehydrated and exercise in a warm room, you are likely to need a lot more water post-exercise.
Unless you are a serious athlete, you can probably get by with an educated estimate. However, if you want to accurately determine how much water your body needs, then try weighing yourself just before your workout and again afterwards. The difference will tell you how much water you have lost. For every kilo lost, you will need to drink up to 1.5 litres to properly rehydrate.
Remember that it is possible to drink too much water: consuming too much liquid can lead to an uncommon, but serious condition called hyponatraemia. If you experience symptoms such as disorientation, bloating or loss of balance, seek medical help.
Listen to your body
Your body is an incredibly intelligent machine, which relies on crucial resources such as water to maintain homeostasis or balance. Fortunately, for the most part, your body will tell you what it needs. Thirst is the most obvious way your body can warn you it is not hydrated enough, but as we have discovered, there are many manifestations of dehydration in the body.
Tune in to how your body feels before, during and after your workouts. Be mindful of your water intake throughout the day, but especially when you engage in exercise that can throw your body out of balance. Your body is incredible – respect its needs and it will reward you with a physical performance you can be proud of.