Drink to your Health

In my experience as a personal trainer, I have found that few are enthused with my request to drink water. Yet drinking water (and enough water) is one of the most important things you can do to improve both your workouts and your general health.

Just like protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, water is an essential nutrient. And yet it is an often-overlooked component in our diets. While water doesn't provide energy the way other nutrients do, you won't get far without it!

The foods you consume contain various amounts of water, which is absorbed during digestion. (Even meats contain about 50 to 70 percent water.) In addition, though, you need a bare minimum of 8 to 10 cups of pure water daily or about a quart for every 1,000 calories consumed -- and even more to replace the fluids lost through exercise. (For those of you who are more active, the quart per 1,000 calories consumed is the better gauge.)


Water is also used to absorb heat from your muscles during exercise, dissipate it through sweat, and thus regulates your body temperature. "A water deficit of just 2 to 4 percent of your body weight can cut your strength-training workout by as much as 21 percent if you are dehydrated--and your aerobic power by a whopping 48 percent."1 In other words, imagine having only half your optimal power to get through your workout, or being unable to squeeze out a couple more reps during your weight training, all because you aren't consuming enough water. Perhaps some of the challenges you feel during a session (fatigue, hitting your limits, etc.) are simply the result of your body needing more fluids.

Frequent exercisers are often curious whether they're drinking enough fluids to replace sweat losses during exercise. The easiest way is to check the color and quantity of your urine -- it should be light colored with little odor. Scanty amounts and dark color/strong odor indicate the need for more fluids. You can also weigh yourself (without clothing) before and after exercise. Every pound lost during exercise represents about two cups of fluid. Pay attention to how you feel, as well. Chronic fatigue, lethargy, or headache may be signs that you are chronically dehydrated.

Be aware that certain medications may increase your tendency toward dehydration. For example, diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix), spironolactone (Aldactone), and hydrochlorothiazide (Esidrix, HydroDiuril, Oretic, Thiuretic) are common drug treatments for hypertension and congestive heart failure. Blood pressure is decreased through the loss of fluid/increased urine excretion (diuresis). This loss of fluid, combined with exercise, could lead to dehydration.2

Interestingly enough, your thirst mechanism is not a reliable test for dehydration. "By the time you feel thirsty, you've already lost about 1 to 2 percent of your body weight as sweat."3 Furthermore, "you will voluntarily replace only two-thirds of sweat losses."4 Therefore, the best strategy is to hydrate adequately before and during your exercise session. (Seniors, by the way, are even less sensitive to thirst sensations than younger adults.)5


Drink 8 to 16 oz. (1-2 cups) of fluid two hours before exercise. Immediately before exercise, drink another 4 to 8 oz. (1/2-1 cup). In temperature extremes, increase this intake even more.

Drink 4 to 8 oz. every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. Incorporate regular water breaks as part of your training session. You will quickly adapt to the feeling of fluid in your stomach.

Again, if you used the weight test described above, you should drink 2 cups of fluid for every pound of body weight you have lost.

Are sports drinks better for after-exercise fluid replacement than plain water?

That depends to a large degree on the nature of your exercise session. For exercise sessions lasting one hour or less, "there is little evidence of physiological or physical performance differences between consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink and plain water."6 However, if you are exercising more than an hour or consider yourself an endurance athlete, then sports drinks containing water, carbohydrates and electrolytes may be helpful. Electrolytes aid in maintaining the body's internal balance, or homeostasis. Sodium and potassium are the body's major electrolytes. The level and type of electrolytes primarily control the movement of nutrients and wastes into and out of the cell.

Some people prefer sports drinks to water before exercise. "If you choose to drink them 20 to 45 minutes before exercise, their sugar content might trigger a hypoglycemic reaction if you are sensitive to swings in blood sugar."7

One place that sports drinks may have an advantage is in flavor. Many people don't like to drink their necessary intake of water simply because it doesn't taste good. If you don't need the carbs but just can't stand the plain taste of water, try diluting a sports drink with water.

If juice is your drink of choice for rehydrating your body after exercise, it is recommended to dilute it with water by at least twofold. "A cup of orange or apple juice plus a cup of water will provide a 6 to 8 percent carb solution, similar to a sport drink formulation."8 However, try not to use this combination during exercise. The high fructose content can cause intestinal cramping in some people.

Herbal tea
Coffee or tea (decaffeinated is best)

Notice that soft drinks do not appear on the list. They can be among the worst choices for rehydration because of their high sugar content. The sugar in them keeps the fluid in your stomach longer, providing less water to your body and its needs. And sugarless soft drinks contain artificial sweeteners, which remain controversial. You're still better off by drinking cool, pure water. If you're put off by the taste of your tap water, try a water filter or buy bottled water.

A few years back, the American Dietetic Association/Foundation proposed a Food Guide Pyramid for Persons 50 and over. While based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, the most striking change was the addition of water/liquid at the base of the pyramid -- an important reminder that adequate fluid consumption is an important foundation to good health.

Our kidneys need adequate water to filter wastes. However, in a water shortage, the kidneys have to turn to the liver for help. This means the liver can't do its job of mobilizing stored fat for energy as efficiently, and fat loss is compromised as a result.9 So, if weight loss is one of your fitness goals, then drink up!

If you wish to optimize your workouts and your overall well-being, proper amounts of water on a daily basis are essential.

Salud -- L'chaim -- a toast to your health and wellness!

Written by: Seth Swoboda.

1 Kleiner, Susan M. Power Eating. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. p. 72, 1998
2 American Council on Exercise. Exercise for Older Adults., Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. pp. 95-96, 1998
3 Kleiner, p. 74.
4 Clark, Nancy. Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. p. 149, 1997
5 Phillips, et al., Reduced Thirst After Water Deprivation in Healthy Elderly Men. NEJM. 311: 753-759, 1984
6 Convertino, et al., American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Exercise and Fluid Replacement. MSSE, 28(1): I, 1996
7 Clark, p. 158.
8 Kleiner, p. 82.
9 Kleiner, p. 71.