Water is more than just an excuse to stop and catch your breath while you exercise. Medline Plus calls water the most overlooked but necessary nutrient for athletes. As you lose water from your body via sweat, you'll need to replace that fluid with new water to stay healthy and stave off the dangerous effects of dehydration. Understanding the importance of water during exercise means appreciating that water break even more than before.
Water Loss Woes
Your body perspires to cool itself down during exertion, which means you lose water during exercise. The body can lose several liters of water during a one-hour period of exercise, so you'll need to replace that water or face the effects of dehydration. Of course, water isn't the only nutrient you lose during exercise. Sweat also contains both sodium and potassium, which can be a concern during longer periods of exertion, such as a marathon.
If you think skipping your water intake isn't a big deal, think again. Dehydration can occur when you neglect your hydration needs, leading to issues such as a loss of coordination, muscle fatigue, heat illness -- think confusion, cramps and exhaustion -- and an inability to regulate your body temperature, all of which can affect your athletic performance and make you sick. The American College of Sports Medicine notes that you can assess your level of hydration by examining urine output and color. It should be frequent and pale yellow. Infrequent urination and a dark yellow urine indicates dehydration.
The American College of Sports Medicine points out that you need to drink water before, during and after exercise to maintain a level of healthy hydration. Aim for 17 to 20 ounces a couple of hours before your workout and then 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before you start. When in motion, plan for 7 to 10 ounces for every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise and then cool down with 8 ounces within at least 30 minutes after a workout. Investing in a water bottle with measurement markings can help you ensure that you're drinking enough.
If you're going to be exercising for more than 60 minutes, a swig of water probably won't cut it. That's because your body loses sodium and potassium as well as water. This can lead to issues like confusion, muscle cramps and even water intoxication (too much water and not enough sodium in the body). While sports drinks are unnecessary for shorter workouts, long-distance running or sports games may require an electrolyte-based sports drink after an hour.