Water: Before, During and After

I just got this question from one of my blog followers...
Q:  I know that it is important to drink water before, during, and after exercise. But can you say something about why this is so? What is the science behind this?
A:  Water serves many important functions in your body.  I recommend you read my blog entry The Power of Water: The Wonder Liquid where I break down many of the great things this important nutrient does for us. For example, water is the main ingredient in something called synovial fluid, which is a slick substance in between your bones that assures your joints move smoothly.  If you are dehydrated, you will have less synovial fluid, or the amount that you have will be more viscous and less efficient at protecting your joints.  This could lead to discomfort and injury. So if you have been drinking the proper amounts of water throughout the day, there is actually no need to drink extra water before you exercise. It is more important to make a regular habit of drinking water throughout the day than it is to have it before you exercise.  
While you exercise, the temperature of your body increases. The longer you exercise, the more heat you create. Our bodies require a very precise and delicate balance of nutrients, minerals, salts and water.  An increase in body temperature of more than a few degrees can not only decrease your performance, but can be dangerous. So, your body uses water to create perspiration, which, when it evaporates off of your skin, cools your body. Even if you don’t think you’re perspiring because it’s not dripping off your body like what happens to me, you still are perspiring.  It’s evaporating and keeping you cool.  This results in a net loss of water, which you need to replace or risk becoming dehydrated. 
Studies have shown that exercise performance is best when regular sips of water are taken. The theory is that since there is such a delicate balance of water and minerals in your body, that even the slightest decrease in the amount of water available in your system, had enough of an effect to slow down your metabolism and decrease your energy output.  Taking a sip of water every few minutes, keeps your electrolytes and other substance levels at the optimum and helps you perform better. 
One caution to be aware of is the fact that as you exercise, if you sweat profusely, your mineral levels can become very low.  In other words, you will have a concentration of minerals in a low-water solution. You will have lost a lot of minerals AND a lot of water. If you suddenly drink a lot of plain water, it is possible to over-hydrate and create a situation where you actually dilute your mineral balance, which can be just as dangerous. It is rare, but people have died from this ‘water toxicity’. 
If you have been sipping water periodically during your exercise, you shouldn’t need to drink copious amounts of water afterwards and your risk of water toxicity will be greatly reduced. After exercise having a moderate amount of water is fine.  Just be cautious about drinking anything over about 8 ounces immediately after a prolonged sweat. 
So, to summarize the answer to your question:
Drink plenty of water at all times, not just right before you exercise. While exercising, think of water as a magic elixir that improves your performance and helps to prevent pain and injury.  But only use it in small sips every five or ten minutes.  And after exercise, imagine that you are replacing the water that you lost through perspiration, but don’t go overboard.  If you didn’t leave a puddle of sweat on the floor, or completely soak your clothes, you probably don’t need to replace a great deal of water.  One glass should be sufficient. 
If I do a particularly hard workout and I sweat a lot and exert a lot of energy, I drink coconut water instead of plain water.  There a lots of natural electrolytes in coconut water and the risk of diluting my body’s minerals is much less. Plus it’s very refreshing and tastes yummy.  I stay away from sports drinks like “Gatorade” which are loaded with sugar (or even worse, artificial sweeteners) and have too much sodium and artificial colors and flavors.  If you must have them, I recommend you treat them as a concentrate and mix them with equal parts plain water, or even use a 2:1 ratio, (2 parts plain water to one part sports drink.)
Thanks for the question, I hope that helped.


Tina said…
Thank you, Jason. This was very helpful.
Penelope said…
That answered a lot of questions for me. Thanks!

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