How to avoid dehydration when you exercise

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You probably already know that it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, but good hydration is even more important when you are exercising. Fluid is lost at a much faster rate during exercise, especially in hot weather. Water has many vital functions in the body and we can only survive 2 or 3 days without it. Dehydration occurs when the body’s water content is too low and symptoms include headaches and confusion. In sport and fitness, dehydration will significantly impair performance. You should try to sip water frequently during exercise, rather than waiting until you’ve finished and then drinking a large quantity.

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A note on using sports drinks

Provided you have a balanced diet, your body will have enough carbohydrate stored to fuel exercise sessions that are less than 2 hours long.  It’s only after this time that carbohydrate becomes depleted and sports drinks are useful.  There’s no point in using them for shorter workouts and, since they deliver carbohydrate into the blood stream very rapidly, they are not helpful to anyone trying to lose weight.

Daily fluid intake

Tips to avoid dehydration during exercise

Women need 2-2.5 litres of fluid a day and men need about 3 litres.  Some of this comes from the food we eat but most of it is from fluid intake.  The much heard advice that we should drink 8 glasses of plain water a day hasn’t actually ever been scientifically proved and no-one really knows where it originated.  It’s true, though, that water is good choice for hydration because it’s natural and calorie free.  But if you’re not keen on plain water, there are healthy alternatives.

Drinks that are good alternatives to water

All of these drinks are fine as alternatives to water, but ideally you should have a variety of drinks, including plain water.

  • Tea and coffee without sugar
  • Unsweetened cocoa (preferably made with low fat milk or milk alternative)
  • Fruit juice in moderation
  • Vegetable juices
  • Herbal teas
  • Water flavoured with frozen fruit, citrus slices, mint or cucumber

Drinks which are unhealthy and won’t help avoid dehydration

  • Squashes and any juices with added sugar
  • Fizzy drinks (even if they have sweetener instead of sugar, they have lots of unhealthy ingredients, contribute to sugar addiction and aren’t good for hydration purposes)
  • Drinking chocolate and malted milk drinks all have added sugar
  • Large quantities of fruit juice (fruit juice is high in natural sugars, which add calories and reduce its hydrating effect )
  • Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and cause dehydration

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Dehydration can significantly impair sport and fitness performance.  We lose a lot more fluid when we're exercising and so we need to make sure fluid intake is adequate.  Read about the right and wrong things to drink to stay hydrated.

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