A good workout can leave even the fittest of us tired, sore, and above all, dehydrated. There is nothing quite like a good drink of water after a long session at the gym. But thinking that water is the best drink for post-exercise rehydration is a common mistake.
Staying hydrated is incredibly important for a successful exercise routine. Dehydration impairs aerobic exercise performance in a dose-dependent manner, where the greater degree of dehydration correlates with a greater degree of performance impairment. In summary, the more fluid you lose, the worse you perform.
On the flip side, the body needs to maintain a balance between sodium and water, as this delicate equilibrium controls how much fluid gathers inside and around cells. Drinking too much water too fast can cause the body to enter a state called “hyponatremia” (hypo- meaning low, -nat meaning sodium, coming from its Latin name “natrium”, and -emia meaning concentration in the blood.) This is because water dilutes sodium’s concentration in the body by increasing the frequency of urination, and it can cause everything from nausea, confusion, muscle aches, even death.
With all of this confusion surrounding hydration, ATH Organics wants to clarify how best to rehydrate besides chugging copious amounts of water. The best way to rehydrate after exercise may surprise you.
WE WILL BE COVERING TWO MAJOR QUESTIONS ABOUT HYDRATIONS AND WHAT TO DRINK AFTER EXERCISE, INCLUDING:
- How to tell if you are dehydrated.
- The best drinks to rehydrate, according to the current exercise research literature
Proper hydration can make all the difference in your fitness goals. By dissecting exactly what makes a drink good for replenishing nutrients in the body, ATH Organics equips you with new tools to add to your exercise routine.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM DEHYDRATED?
Clinicians often describe dehydration as the state of losing water due to less fluid intake, or increased fluid loss (or a combination of the two).
- Dry mouth
- Lethargy, or lack of energy
- Dry eyes
- Dark-colored urine
In severe cases of dehydration, individuals can suffer from sunken eyes, irregular heartbeat, confusion and even loss of consciousness. This is because fluid loss happens quickly, and our bodies need a consistent intake of fluids for our cells to function properly. Without any kind of fluid intake, humans can only survive for a few days. This is in direct contrast to the average of three weeks we can go without food.
Dehydration can result from a variety of conditions such as vomiting, fever, diarrhea or consuming diuretics (substances that remove water from your body, like alcohol).
Today, however, we’re focusing on dehydration resulting from physical activity -- losing water through heat and sweat. This is where we get more case-by-case with our recommendations since individuals can vary between how quickly they dehydrate based on sweat rates, exercise intensity, baseline physical activity, and duration of the exercise. Even the humidity and temperature of the environmental factors matter!
WHAT IS THE BEST DRINK TO REHYDRATE?
Now that you know what dehydration feels like, we need to explain how best to combat it. As we’ve examined, fluid loss can lead to unfavorable outcomes if it isn’t corrected post-exercise. You may believe that water alone (i.e. with nothing added) is the standard for rehydrating, but the story goes deeper than that.
When you engage in exercise, you lose fluid in the form of sweat; along with water, you lose sodium. You also deplete your glycogen (polysaccharide of glucose) stores where muscle glycogen is broken down into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and used to complete the exercise. Your liver usually does a good job of balancing the amount of glycogen in the blood, but hypoglycemia can happen if you delay replacing glucose faster than your liver can produce it during extensive training. Glycogen is usually restored through consuming carbohydrates, such as glucose and sucrose; sucrose is preferable to fructose, as there is superior retention of sucrose processing in muscle fibers versus fructose, which is primarily processed in the liver.
Besides protein, we have three major compounds that we excrete/lose during exercise that needs to be replaced for optimal recovery: water, sodium, and glycogen.
THUS, FOR THE BEST RECOVERY, YOU NEED TO DRINK A POST-EXERCISE SOLUTION THAT CHECKS OFF EACH OF THESE COMPOUNDS ALONG WITH WATER. DRINKS THAT DO THIS INCLUDE:
- WATER W/SALT: Adding a small amount of salt to water helps you retain and replenish lost fluid, and this has been demonstrated in a recent paper published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. Now, don’t go chugging a suspension of 50/50 water-to-salt right after lifting, because that would only worsen your condition, and cause gastrointestinal issues, as shown in the study. Researchers suggested that drinks containing 120 mmol (millimoles, a unit of measuring elements) of sodium produced the optimal balance of hydration with minimal stomach problems. This is roughly 2-3 grams of sodium.
- SPORTS DRINKS: post-exercise recovery beverages that are specially formulated for rehydrating athletes will usually have a mix of sodium, glucose, and fructose/sucrose with water. You oftentimes hear of these drinks containing electrolytes, which is another way of saying that they contain small amounts of sodium, potassium, calcium, and sugar. Drinks like these are widely-accepted as improving post-workout recovery. These have the added bonus of supplying you with basically everything you lost during a strenuous workout session.
- CHOCOLATE MILK: that’s right, but before you toss the idea out completely, a recent clinical review found that chocolate milk provided similar, if not superior results in recovery and time-to-exhaustion (how long it takes for an exercise to fatigue you) compared to placebo and typical sports drinks. In theory, this makes sense as chocolate milk has a balanced carbohydrate, protein and fat profile.
- PROTEIN SHAKES: after an hour run, participants within a 4-hour recovery window saw greater hydration after drinking a carbohydrate-electrolyte-whey protein drink than participants that drank either separately. This suggests a drink with a complex profile that includes protein assists in speeding up the rate of rehydration post-aerobic exercise.
These suggestions are based on each drink’s ability to replenish fluid, prevent further loss, and resupply your muscle glycogen with the building blocks it needs. Water alone is not going to deliver all the nutrients that fuel your recovery period. Post-exercise, you’re better off rehydrating with a dynamic drink that contains water and sodium, with possibly glucose, fructose, and sucrose if your exercise was particularly strenuous on your muscles.
Hydrating during and after a workout makes all the difference in your performance and overall health. Chronic dehydration afflicts many of us, oftentimes while we are none the wiser. Ensuring that your body meets all of its nutritional needs through both a healthy diet and the proper hydration drink is important as you continue on your fitness journey.