Proper Hydration Basics
for Sports and Fitness
by Nancy Hearn, CNC

Walking on a treadmill

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Proper hydration is essential for anyone who exercises, but especially for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Since water is one of the most critical components of the body, even minimal dehydration can hinder your sports performance and ability to recover from any type of exercise.

The reason for this is simple: water composes about 75 percent of muscle tissue and about 10 percent of fatty tissue.

But more importantly, water regulates body temperature, aids digestion, protects vital organs, cushions joints, facilitates cellular communication, transports nutrients to the cells, and removes waste, including lactic acid (the primary cause of exercise-related muscle soreness).

Exercise Increases Water Loss

In one hour of exercise, the body can lose a quart or more of water, depending on the air temperature and exercise intensity. Thus, proper hydration before, during, and after exercise is critical for performance as well as health safety.

In addition to water loss, important electrolytes, electrically charged minerals in the body such as sodium, potassium and chloride, can be flushed out of the body through sweating during exercise.

Sports drinks are designed to replace electrolytes in the body and they do have their place in high-intensity or endurance exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes.

In addition, people who sweat profusely or who exercise in hot weather should consider some type of re-hydration drink that will replenish electrolytes.

However, commercial sports drinks do NOT replace the body’s essential need for water. In addition, I do not recommend sports drinks since they are highly acidic and full of sugar.

A healthier way to replace electrolytes in the body is to simply drink fruit juice (no sugar added) diluted 50/50 with water and add with one-half teaspoon of natural, unrefined sea salt per quart of juice.

For optimal results, the quality of fruit juice and salt you use is important. Thus, I recommend organic fruit juice and Celtic sea salt, Himalayan crystal salt, or Utah sea salt, since these salts not only contain sodium, but as many as 80 trace minerals.

This simple re-hydration drink can easily be prepared at home in minutes. I encourage parents to make it ahead of time and put it in an empty sports drink bottle (such as Gatorade or Powerade). Most children will never know the difference!

See Water vs Sports Drinks for more on this topic.

Proper Hydration to Prevent Heat Stroke

During exercise, if the body does not have enough water to cool itself, it will become dehydrated. In extreme situations, this can lead to heat exhaustion or even a heat stroke.

When even slightly dehydrated, the body will lack energy and muscles may also cramp during or after exercise. Recovery time will also be slower.

According to the American Council on Exercise, dehydration during exercise leads to muscle fatigue and loss of coordination. In fact, even a small amount of water loss may hinder performance.

Exercise physiologists and scientists have proven that just 2 to 3 percent hydration loss equates to about 10 to 15 percent decrease in endurance and muscle strength.

For example, at this level of dehydration for someone who normally runs the marathon in about 2 hours and 30 minutes, a 3 percent hydration loss could mean running 15 minutes slower!!

A 4 to 5 percent hydration loss equates to about 30 percent decrease in one’s capacity for physical exertion. For serious athletes, this is highly significant!

Tips for Sports Hydration

In order to prevent dehydration, anyone who exercises (especially athletes) should drink water before, during, and after the workout.

The following tips can help ensure your body has the hydration it requires for optimum exercise performance and recovery. These are general guidelines and may need to be increased for high-intensity or endurance activities or races.

If you are a serious athlete, you may want to weigh yourself before and after workouts to keep track of your fluid losses. Doing so will help you develop an individual hydration schedule.

Before Exercise

  • Drink at 16 ounces of water about two to three hours before exercising.
  • Drink 8 ounces of water about 30 minutes before exercising.

During Exercise

  • Drink 8 ounces of water every 15 to 30 minutes during exercise
  • If exercising longer than 60 minutes, drink about 12 ounces of a sports drink that contains a mixture of carbohydrates every 20 to 30 minutes.

After Exercise

  • Drink 8 to 16 ounces of water 30 minutes after exercise.
  • If you weighed yourself before exercise, weigh yourself again and drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound of body weight lost.

Throughout the Day

  • Drink at least one-half to three-fourths of your body weight in ounces of clean water throughout the entire day.
  • Drink an additional 8 ounces of water for every cup of soda, coffee, tea, or alcohol consumed. These beverages are acidic and contribute to additional water loss in the body.

Important notes:

  • The body can only utilize about 12-16 ounces of water at one time. Thus, when rehydrating, drink 16 ounces of water every 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Drink water BEFORE you get thirsty. When you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Thus, drink water regularly throughout the day.
  • In preparation for a sports performance, the time to really focus on proper hydration is the three days prior to the event.


Food for Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right; Chris Carmichael; 2004.

Fit Facts; American Council on Fitness; 2008.


BeFit-Mom -- Provides free, expert information and advice on all aspects of prenatal and postpartum fitness and exercise to help women have healthier pregnancies and babies.

Further reading . . .

Water vs Sports Drinks - The Ongoing Debate

Water Intoxication - Can Athletes Drink Too Much Water?

Electrolytes in the Body - How to Replenish After Exercise

Electrolyte Enhanced Water -- It's Definition, Usage and Benefits

Sports Dehydration in Children

Bikram Yoga and Electrolytes - When and How to Replenish

Electrolyte Deficiency - Causes, Symptoms and Solutions

Water Based Exercises - Low-Stress, Low-Impact

Training in Hot Weather by Coach Fred Moore

Swimming Chlorine Exposure - How to Minimize the Effects

Return from Proper Hydration to Water Benefits Health Home

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