We always hear that we should drink fluids when we exercise, and judging by all the water bottles in the gym, I guess people are getting the message.
But how much fluid should you drink?
And what is better - plain ol' water or Gatorade?
Well, here's some info to help you make the decision!
First off, let me tell you about the dangers of not drinking enough - dehydration. It is the most common problem among athletes.
Very simply, dehydration is when you do not drink enough fluids to replace the fluids that you lose (such as through sweating). This is what it can do to your body:
- vomiting and diarrhea
- muscle cramps
- bloating and flatulence
- premature fatigue
- decreased endurance, strength and fatigue
- decreased mental functioning
- decreased motivation to exercise
The goal of fluid replacement is to try to replace as much fluids as possible. You may not be able to replace all of the fluids lost while you're exercising, but you can minimize dehydration.
Here's something you can try: drink about 250 mL of fluid (1 cup) for every 15 minutes of exercise, so if you're exercising for one hour, you should drink the contents of a 1 L bottle in that time. This may seem like a lot, but you do not have to drink all 250 mL at once, every 15 minutes. Instead, try drinking a mouthful or two every few minutes. Drinking small amounts more frequently can minimize the risk of an upset stomach, too.
So what do you drink? Is water good enough, or should you be drinking a sports drink - like Gatorade?
Plain ol' water will do for most activities, but if you're not concerned about burning calories, you can try a sports drink. Sports drinks have a little bit of salt, which makes it taste better and also stimulates thirst, so it's easier to drink more fluid. The added flavour also doesn't hurt.
If your sport is an endurance sport, which means you're exercising for more than an hour without stopping (think marathons, distance cross-country skiing, etc.), you will likely benefit from a sports drink. Not only is it extremely important to replace fluids, but the carbohydrates in sports drinks can help to replace some of the carbohydrate you burn as you exercise.
Carbohydrate = energy, so this would be good, right?
Watch out though, because you want to make sure that the concentration of carbohydrate in the sports drink is 6% - 8%. The body slows down absorption when the carbohydrate concentration is above 8%, which means that you are much more likely to develop a stomach ache. So, before you buy a new sports drink, you might want to do some math.
Look at the facts label on the bottle. It will tell you how much carbohydrate is in the sports drink, but chances are it won't tell you how much is in 100 mL ( 6 grams to 8 grams will give you a concentration of 6% - 8%).
Let's do an example: Gatorade Thirst Quencher. It says that there are 14 grams of carbohydrate for 240 mL of fluid. First, divide 240 mL by 100 mL and you get 2.4. To find out how many grams of carbohydrate are in 100 mL of Gatorade, divide 14 grams by 2.4 = 5.8 grams. This means that Gatorade has a carbohydrate concentration of 5.8%, so it likely won't cause an upset stomach.
Want to make your own sports drink? You could always combine 1/3 cup sugar, 4 cups of water, a pinch of salt and either a 6 gram package of unsweetened Kool Aid or some lemon juice. This will give you a 6.7% carbohydrate sports drink.
To wrap up this post, I wanted to point out that there are two ways in which you can monitor your state of dehydration. First, you can check how much fluid is lost during exercise by comparing pre- and post-exercise weight. If you lose weight, that means that you have lost water and will need to replace this fluid (3 cups of fluid for every 1 pound of body weight loss).
Second, monitoring the colour of your urine on a regular basis can tell you if you need to drink more water - you're okay if it's the colour of dilute lemonade, but if it's a darker shade of yellow, drink up!
Also, you should be aware that it is possible to drink too much fluid, and this can be dangerous.
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