We all know that when we exercise hard we sweat, and we get thirsty. These things are, obviously, related! When we are sweating we’re losing the proper level of hydration we need for optimum performance. body’s hydration during exercise. It’s clear that it is important to stay hydrated during exercise, but what happens if we don’t? What are the warning signs of dehydration? What does sweating actually do, and what is the best way to hydrate after (or during) exercise?
What Happens If You’re Not Hydrated During Exercise?
If you’re exercising–and “exercising” can mean anything from running a marathon and lifting weights to mowing the lawn and raking leaves–then you are going to start to lose hydration because you’re beginning to sweat.
We all sweat. It’s nothing to get embarrassed about. It’s the body’s natural reaction to getting overheated: the sweat forms on your skin, evaporates, and the process of evaporation cools the skin–and your body temperature.
But what happens if we don’t don’t get enough to drink? What is the importance of hydration during exercise?
Well, for starters, as you lose hydration both your body temperature and heart rate go up, because the amount of water in your body can’t regulate your heat (this is called hypohydration). Then you start to get tired. You may have trouble concentrating or thinking coherently, and you can begin to lose motor control. You can get stomach pains. All of this comes because your body is not hydrated.
What Does Dehydration Look Like?
So what does it mean when we slip past “thirsty” and get into “dehydrated”? When you’re dehydrated you will begin to get headaches as your brain is literally shrinking (your brain mass is losing water). You will be tired, have mood problems, and lose some amount of coherency–people who are dehydrated often make poor decisions about their hydration if someone is not nearby to help them through it. You can even get hallucinations if you’re very dehydrated. Also: muscle cramps are common, and if you’re able to urinate your urine will be a dark color.
Obviously, we want to steer totally clear of dehydration and get good hydration while we’re exercising.
How to Hydrate When Exercising (and What Not to Drink)
When you’re trying to hydrate while exercising you will want water first and foremost. You should drink water before, during and after you exercise.
But what about electrolytes? We always hear about sweating out electrolytes, and we know that we need to replenish our electrolytes. But what exactly are electrolytes? And can’t we just get them all back from a sports drink?
The most well-known electrolyte is sodium (salt) and that’s what you’re going to find in the most popular sports drinks–they definitely will replenish your sodium. But there’s actually more to electrolytes than sodium. In fact, electrolytes include potassium, magnesium, calcium, and bicarbonate. And optimal hydration comes when you get all of these–the whole is greater than the sum of their parts. If you can get all of these electrolytes in one place you’ll be much better off than just getting sodium in a sports drink.
What you should definitely avoid are juices and soft drinks, which are high in carbs and low in sodium, and you should definitely avoid anything with caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means that it’ll make you urinate more often, losing even more fluid.
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