Whether you're completely new to running, biking, CrossFit, or any other type of workout, or you're a seasoned veteran who crushes marathon-distance runs as casual weekend training, hydration matters… especially as temperatures rise.
Exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist Stacy T. Sims, Ph.D., has some tips for how to stay properly hydrated, even on the hottest days.
Hydration doesn't just mean water
Watermelon sprinkled with a bit of salt is Sims' favorite post-workout treat and mid-day snack during the summer. She's also a huge fan of making sure your diet is packed with lots of water-rich vegetables and fruits. "It's easy to think that hydration just has to come from water," she says. "But there are so many water-rich foods that have other electrolytes and nutrients that we need," she says. Swapping a breakfast bagel for a smoothie that's packed with fruits, veggies, protein, and some healthy fat is a great way to start the day by hydrating and satiating.
Hydrate before you train
Think about it like this: If you were to leave on a road trip, you wouldn't want to start with your gas tank on empty if you knew there wouldn't be a gas station for the next 100 miles, right? So why start a workout that you know is going to dehydrate you in an already low state? From when you wake up to when you head out for your workout, steadily sip on water and eat water-rich foods. But, don't chug a pint of water right before a workout—that will just make you need to pee five minutes into your run.
Sip, don't guzzle
During your workout, whether you're out on a long bike ride or in a HIIT class in the park, it's tempting to only grab your water bottle to chug most of it at once. But Sims advises slow sipping rather than big gulps for optimum hydration. It's easier for your body to process small amounts of water, versus a deluge in your stomach. (Plus, slamming a full water bottle can lead to an upset stomach!)
There's no perfect formula
It would be much easier if there was a simple formula of X ounces-per-hour of water that you had to drink in a workout, but Sims is quick to point out that there are so many factors at play that it's impossible to give one right amount of water. It's a game of trial and error: You might find that drinking a full water bottle per hour makes you feel bloated and uncomfortable, or you might find that a bottle of water still leaves you feeling parched. Hydration is highly individualized, so if you're training hard for a goal race or event, pay close attention to how much you drink and how it makes you feel. You'll start to figure out approximately how much you need to drink to stay comfortable.
… But you can check your pee
Post-workout, you want your urine to be light yellow, not dark yellow, says Sims. And if you're peeing a lot and it's completely clear, you might be over-hydrating. Yes, checking your pee color can be a little awkward, but it's an easy indicator of hydration status. You can also use a pee stick to check, if you want a more exact result (or if your toilet is a dark color that makes it hard to see what color your pee is).
Salt is your friend
You don't need to get an actual salt lick, but if you're outside sweating it out on a regular basis, you can usually afford to have a bit more salt in your diet. If you eat a more whole-food oriented diet and avoid processed, pre-packaged foods, you likely aren't eating a lot of excess sodium by accident, so a pinch of sea salt in your water is only going to help with hydration. Too much water without sodium electrolytes simply won't be absorbed by your gut, Sims explains.
Sipping a protein shake—think just water plus protein powder, not a huge smoothie—after training can both stimulate muscle recovery thanks to the protein, but also serve as a vehicle for rehydration. Not a protein powder fan? Make sure you're drinking water with something salty (or with a pinch of sea salt) to help rebalance both hydration status and electrolyte stores when you have your recovery meal/post-workout snack.
Ease into hot workouts
As the sun (finally) comes out, it's tempting to get hard-core about your workout regimen: Suddenly, that one-mile run you've been doing twice a week becomes five miles, four times a week. But your body needs time to adapt and adjust to the escalating temperatures, Sims says. Don't add too much volume or intensity all at once, she cautions, and consider shifting workouts to earlier or later in the day—at least for the first few weeks of hot weather—to let your body gently ease into the heat of summer.