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 Fluids, Hydration and Sports Drinks

Hydration / Dehydration

Maintaining hydration is by far the greatest concern for regular exercisers.  If you are dehydrated you will fatigue earlier and lose coordination skills.  Your performance can suffer when you lose as little as 2% of body weight due to dehydration.  To prevent this from happening, exercising individuals must drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after a workout.  Relying on thirst as an indicator of how much fluid is lost is not an accurate method.  If you relied on thirst, you would only put back 50 to 75% of the fluid that you lost and you would start your next workout already in a state of dehydration.  Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink, and do not stop drinking once your thirst has been quenched.  Most people have no idea how much fluid they need, let alone how much they have lost during the day or during exercise.  To gain insight into fluid losses, you should monitor your fluid levels by one of two methods:

  • Weigh in before and after a workout.  Consume two to three cups of fluid for each pound of body weight lost.
  • Check urine color.  A dark gold color means that you are dehydrated.  A pale yellow color, or no color at all, means that you are headed toward a state of hydration.  If you consume a lot of caffeine, which is a diuretic, you will have pale or clear urine even though you are, in fact, dehydrated.  Alcohol also is a very powerful diuretic.

Sports Drinks

Most experts will now recommend sports drinks to exercising individuals, especially if their workout lasts longer than 60 minutes.  The fear that sports drinks impair fluid absorption is unfounded, and it has been shown that sports drinks formulated with 6 to 8% carbohydrates plus at least 100 mg sodium per 8 oz replace fluids just as fast as water, improve performance, and help ensure optimal rehydration.  They also maintain physiological function as well as, if not better than, water.

Comparison of Sport Drinks and Other Beverages

Beverage Carbohydrate
Concentration (%)
Sodium Concentration
Per 8 oz (mg)
Gatorade 6.0 110
AllSport 9.0 55
Met-RX 8.0 125
Powerade 8.0 55
Cytomax 8.0 50
Endurox 15.0 153
Revenge 4.2 48
Ultima 1.7 8
Cola 11.0 34
Orange Juice 11.0 7
Red Bull* 11.0 207
Water 0.0 0
* Also contains caffeine

Pay attention to the percentage of carbohydrates in each drink.  Those containing less than 5% carbohydrate do not provide enough energy to enhance performance, and beverages containing 10% carbohydrate or more (fruit juices and soda) are associated with intestinal cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and impaired absorption.

Guidelines for Fluid Raplacement

  • Consume one to two cups (8 to 16 ounces) of fluid at least one hour before the start of exercise.  If possible, consume 8 ounces of fluid 15 to 30 minutes before the start of exercise.
  • Consume 4 to 8 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes during the workout.
  • Consume 16 to 24 ounces during the 30 minutes after exercise, whether thirsty or not.

References:  ACE Personal Trainer Manual




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