The Importance of Water During Exercise

By Russell Laurie
Besides air (oxygen), water is the element most essential to human life, with the body unable to survive longer than several days without it. Water is critical to the functioning of every single cell and organ system in the human body, and makes up more than 2/3 of our entire weight.  Making sure your body is properly hydrated is especially important during exercise.  Adequate fluid intake for anyone training is essential to comfort, performance and safety.
Over the next few months, as the weather starts becoming warmer, it is extremely important to keep well hydrated whilst exercising in the heat, to avoid dehydration.  High heat and humidity conditions can make you lose more water through perspiration than you normally would, and that water loss must be countered by sufficient rehydration.  Thirst is not a good indicator of when your body needs water, with the thirst sensation only beginning to be perceived after 2% of your body water is already lost, and by that stage your body has already begun to be dehydrated.  Severe dehydration occurs when 5% of your total body weight has been lost.  These relatively small changes in body weight due to dehydration lead to very significant negative changes to your ability to train and perform, so proper hydration must be taken seriously.
Signs Of Dehydration
–          Thirst is the first indicator of dehydration (but is not an early warning sign)
–          Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
–          Having a dry mouth
–          Producing less urine and of a darker colour.
–          Nausea and vomiting
–          Muscle cramps
With severe cases of dehydration, confusion and weakness will occur as the brain and other body organs receive less blood.  Finally, coma and organ failure will occur if the dehydration remains untreated.
During training sessions you need to be taking in water before, during and after exercising to keep your body well hydrated throughout the whole process.  If you are going to be doing a morning workout, you must start to drink water once you wake up.  For a lunchtime session, drink water throughout the morning; drink all day if you are having an evening workout.  It is better to sip water constantly throughout the day, rather than try to meet your minimum requirements by drinking a lot all at once.
Because there is a wide variability in sweat rates, losses and hydration levels of individuals, it is nearly impossible to provide specific recommendations or guidelines about the type or amount of fluids you should consume.  Finding the right amount of fluids to drink depends upon a variety of individual factors, including the length and intensity of exercise and other individual differences.  There are however some basic guidelines that you can follow to have adequate hydration.
Basic Recommendations For Maintaining Fluid Balance
–          Drink 0.5L of water 2 hours before exercise
–          Deliberate hydration should be practised during exercise even if you’re not thirsty
–          Monitor urine volume output and colour
–          Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replace the equivalent weight in fluid (assume 1kg = 1L) over the next 2 to 4 hours
–          Carry a water bottle around with you during the day
By making sure you stay hydrated throughout the day, you will have more energy to perform each of your training sessions, and it will also help you recover faster after each workout.  If you find you are not drinking enough fluids for exercise, it’s not hard to get into the habit. Increase your intake gradually, and in time you’ll easily consume what your body needs to make sure you are staying well hydrated.

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