Staying hydrated is one of the most essential parts of safe exercise. Whether you’re at the gym, out for a run, cycling, hiking or even on the slopes, it’s important to stay hydrated to maintain not just your performance, but also a healthy body.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the basics of hydration and consider how best to maintain a healthy body through drinking enough and understanding its importance as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Signs of Dehydration
First, let’s take a look at what we’re trying to avoid. Your body is made primarily of water and as a result, it’s necessary to top it up throughout the day as you lose moisture. If you feel thirsty, the effects of dehydration have already begun. Don’t act on it and you can find your mouth goes dry; you feel lethargic, get cramps, a headache and even feel nauseous. A good way to see how well hydrated you are (though not the most appealing) is to check your urine. Healthy urine should have only a slight yellow colouring, darker urine is a sign of dehydration and if your urine is dark yellow you could have serious dehydration.
How to Tackle Dehydration
It’s generally advisable to always keep water close to hand that you can drink throughout the day to maintain a healthy level of hydration. Don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty because, as we mentioned above, thirst itself is a sign of dehydration. The amount of water you need is specific to you, so it can take some time to work out how much you need. Take sips of water at regular intervals rather than gulping back a glass when you need it, this keeps you hydrated and refreshed through the day.
Keeping large amounts of water on you at all times may seem like a nuisance but there are easy ways to keep well stocked up on the move. If you’re out hiking, cycling or even running at distance, a hydration pack is a smart investment. Lightweight and streamlined, these packs won’t weigh you down but have space for essentials like snacks and hold several litres of water with a spout for drinking on the go. These are also good for hydrating without having to stop. For shorter runs and gym visits, a water bottle is perfectly adequate.
It’s also a good idea to stock up on salty snacks, energy drinks and hydration salts. Salty snacks maintain electrolytes that help your body control its water level; energy drinks also restore electrolytes and bring sugars into your system for a boost. Hydration salts are an essential for any first aid kit and can be used to bring your hydration level back to a healthier level if you are feeling the effects of dehydration.
Hydration and Exercise
When physically exerting yourself by exercising, your body will sweat to keep you cool. As you sweat you lose moisture that in turn you need to renew by drinking fluids. Not effectively managing your hydration during heavy exercise can be dangerous.
Staying hydrated during exercise begins before you even start. It’s advised to drink fluids a couple hours before you begin to prepare your body for the loss of fluids through sweating. Plus, when you’re well-hydrated, you’re more focused and your muscles (which are 75% water) are working at their optimal level.
While you are exercising, continually sip water every 10-20 minutes to replenish the moisture you are losing. If you are taking part in prolonged strenuous activities such as a long run, hike or distance cycle, make sure to introduce sports drinks or salty snacks that replenish electrolytes. This prevents overhydration, which can have serious effects too. However, as long as you take breaks for food and other liquids, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Once you’ve completed your activity, you need to replenish everything you have lost. Drink plenty of water and try to eat something salty; this gives you more electrolytes and will also make you thirstier, encouraging more drinking.
It’s difficult to overstate how important hydration is to a healthy lifestyle and effective exercise. Whatever you’re doing with your day, make sure you keep a supply of water close to hand. Aim to bring more than you actually need and as stated before, take the time to work out how much you need. Everybody’s body is different and takes a different level of maintenance, what’s right for someone else may not be for you.