Imagine the scene. You’ve just finished that last set of Romanian deadlifts at the gym when you realize just how dehydrated you are. Quick, you reach for that bottle of Gatorade and start slugging it down. But wait-you think to yourself. Is this really the best thing for me right now?
And it’s very true, you should be thinking about how you are keeping your body hydrated while you’re exercising. Depending on whether you burn your calories on the dance floor, the gym, or the court, you should be hydrating differently. To explain:
The general rule is that you should be drinking water throughout the day, no matter your level of physical activity throughout the day. Clearly, if you sweat profusely at your job in construction or in the kitchen, you should be drinking more. As a rule of thumb, your urine should be the color of pale lemonade, so if it is clear, cut back on the water, while if it’s closer to the color of apple juice, you’re clearly dehydrated and should be slugging back much more H20.
There’s a nifty trick to figuring out how much to drink during your workout. Weigh yourself without clothes on before you exercise, then right after you finish (before eating or drinking anything). If you weigh one pound less, you sweated about 16 ounces of water and should be drinking at least that much water to rehydrate properly.
Figuring out what to drink based on what kind of exercise you did can be a bit of a hairy issue. If you’re one of those people who simply can’t stomach water, you can substitute with one of the many flavored waters on the market. Check your labels and avoid anything with added sugars and artificial ingredients. At least try squeezing some lemon juice and throwing some mint leaves into your canteen before completely forgoing your much-needed water.
If, and only if you’re working out for longer than an hour, or if your regular 30-minute workout made you sweat profusely (as in sweat pouring down your face) should you grab for anything other than good old water, flavored or natural. A good option for longer workouts is coconut water. The stuff is full of electrolytes that will help you regain the salt you lost while breaking a sweat.
Be very careful if you insist on drinking a generic sports drink. Most of them have loads of sugars and added caloric content that are especially hard to burn off. Also, avoid packaged caffeinated beverages and energy drinks, they are not suitable for sports use. These drinks will in fact dehydrate you more than anything else, an especially dangerous occurrence on a hot and humid day.
If you’re looking for an all-natural sports drink, try making your own! Dissolve 8 teaspoons of sugar into a small amount of warm water, then add 2 teaspoons of honey and 1/3 of a teaspoon of salt. Pour in 24 ounces of water and stir in 1 teaspoon of lime juice. Congratulations, you’ve just made your own Gatorade.
The bottom line is that your safest bet when it comes to staying hydrated during and after your workout is to choose water. It is the ultimate beverage for any occasion and should always be your first choice. But be careful not to over-hydrate, as can be the case with many professional athletes. Doing so thins your blood and can make you very lightheaded and dizzy due to the salt levels in your body depleting.