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Friday Fitness: How much should I drink while exercising?

Today is the first day of June and the summer months are officially here! For many people across the country you have been experiencing the summer-like heat for a few weeks now. As the temperature is rising, let’s not retreat to the gym, but embrace the warmth of the sunshine. With that being said, let’s exercise smart by talking hydration!

A few weeks ago I participated in the Qualifier marathon in Bay City, Michigan. I chose this race to escape the heat of the south, the average temperature in years past has been 50’s to low 60’s. Come race day the temps started in the high 70’s and by the end of the race were up in the high 80’s…not ideal! As a result of soaring temps, duration of exercise and an improper hydration strategy, I found myself in the medical tent suffering from hyponatremia. This is a very serious electrolyte imbalance, where a significant amount of electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium) are lost through sweat. If those electrolytes are not replaced and only water is taken in, then an imbalance occurs. Think of a cup of salt water, pour out half of the contents (lost through sweat) and fill it up with water. You have diluted salt water; this is where I found myself post race. Although I was taking an electrolyte supplement, it was not enough to balance what was lost on that very hot day through intensive exercise.  I am amazed and deeply grateful of how my body responded to this condition—our bodies are truly incredible and although fragile, also extremely resilient. I am going to be honest that it was not an easy or pretty road back to proper balance but again I am grateful for my body and plan on respecting it more by learning what I can do to allow it to function at its best under hot conditions!

Although marathon participation is an extreme form of exercise, we can all benefit from a proper hydration plan to fuel our activity. During the cooler months, you may have found it easy to go out for a long walk and not bring any water along with you, but as the temperature rises it is essential to rehydrate during prolonged exercise.

A general hydration plan looks like this:

  • 1-2 hours before exercise drink 15-20 oz of water
  • 15 mins before exercises drink another 8-10 oz
  • During exercise, drink 8 oz every 15 mins
  • For activity lasting over an hour, you may want to consider an electrolyte replacement drink or supplement.

To establish a more specific hydrating plan, consider calculating your sweat rate.

  • Choose a day/time that is typical of when you exercise. Also plan on doing a workout that is typical for your routine. Sweat rate can vary depending on conditions and intensity of workout so you want to set up your experiment as close to normal conditions as possible.
  • Before going out for your workout, weight yourself without clothes, moments before heading out.
  • When you return, towel off and immediately step on the scale without clothes.
  • Subtract your post workout weight from your pre workout rate and convert that number into ounces. If you consumed any fluids during your workout, add that to this number (example: you lost a pound and drink 16 oz, your total fluid loss is 32 oz).
  • Divide this number by 4 to determine how much you should be drinking every 15 mins.

If you have any questions or want me to review your math, leave a comment below!

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