How to Stay Hydrated Before, During, and After a Workout

By Marygrace Taylor |

Water and working out go hand-in-hand. But exactly how much water do you need to drink?

Comfy sneakers are a must for exercise. But there’s one other accessory that’s just as important: a bottle of water. 

Hydrating throughout your workout replaces fluid you lose from sweating and heavier breathing. That can help you stay on top of your game during physical activity and reduce the risk for problems caused by dehydration, explains Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D.-A.P. She’s an advanced practice registered dietitian and certified specialist in gerontological nutrition at Watertown Regional Medical Center in Watertown, Wisconsin.  

Figuring out just how much to sip isn’t always easy, though. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind and when you might need to make adjustments.   

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How Hydration Needs Change with Age 

It’s important for people of all ages to stay hydrated, of course. But it can be easier to fall short on fluids as you get older.  

As you age, your sense of thirst and appetite tends to decline, explains Diana Kerwin, M.D. She’s a geriatric medicine physician with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Changes in the fat and muscle makeup in your body can also increase your risk of dehydration, she adds. Many medications, like diuretics for example, can increase fluid loss too. 

Being dehydrated could leave you feeling foggy-headed, sluggish, dizzy, or weak in the short term. Over time, it can increase the risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs), heat stroke, heart problems, kidney failure, and blood clot complications, the according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). 

So how much fluids do you actually need? The National Council on Aging recommends drinking one-third of your body weight in ounces of fluids. (A 150-pound person, for instance, should drink 50 ounces of water per day.) This is a general rule — it’s best to talk with your doctor about how much you should drink each day. 

You can tell you’re getting your fill if your urine is clear or pale yellow, Kerkenbush says. If it’s a darker shade, that’s a sign you may need to up your H2O. 

How Much Water You Need for Your Workout 

During exercise, your body loses fluids through sweating and breathing — more than a quart in an hour, per the American Council on Exercise (ACE) . If you don’t replace that fluid by drinking water, you’ll quickly start to notice the effects.  

“Dehydration can make exercise seem more difficult because of the increased strain it places on the body,” Kerkenbush says. Older adults are even more prone to exercise-induced dehydration, research shows, because their bodies aren’t as efficient at regulating temperature.  

Sipping water before, during, and after exercise replaces what you’ve lost to support healthy circulation, blood pressure, and heart rate, Dr. Kerwin explains. As a result, you’ll have more energy to make it through your workout and will reduce your risk for dehydration side effects like dizziness or lightheadedness, which can lead to falls. 

As for how much to actually drink? Here’s what the American Council on Exercise recommends: 

  • Before exercise: Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before you start working out 
  • During exercise: Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes  
  • After exercise: Drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound of body weight lost. 

Weighing yourself before and after your workout can give you an idea of how much water you lost. And it can let you know how much to drink to rehydrate. 

If gulping a gigantic glass of water all at once makes you bloated, don’t force it. It’s fine to take small, frequent sips, says the Cleveland Clinic. Just make sure you’re still hitting your quota.  

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Making Adjustments  

The above guidelines are a good general starting point. But in some cases, it may be a wise to shift your fluid intake a little higher or lower. Your doctor can help you decide what’s right for you.  

You may need to drink more if: 

  • You’re exercising in the heat or cold. You’ll sweat more when it’s hot or humid and lose more fluids through breathing when it’s chilly, Kerkenbush says. 
  • You’re exercising at high altitudes. High altitudes can also increase fluid losses, so plan to drink more if you’re active in a mountainous area.  
  • You’re exercising vigorously (think running, jogging, cycling, or rowing) for an hour or more. In that case, it’s time to switch from water to a sports drink. Sports drinks include important minerals like sodium and potassium that are also lost with sweat, plus sugar to refuel your muscles. They’re usually not necessary for a typical 30-minute sweat sesh. But for long, vigorous workouts you may need the extra boost of a sports drink. 

You can drink less if:  

  • You’re engaging in very light exercise. You won’t lose as much fluids with light exercises, like Tai Chi, chair exercises, or water aerobics, for instance, since you’re not sweating as much, says Dr. Kerwin.   

Getting a handle on hydration will help you feel your best during and after your workout. And if you need more guidance, just talk with your doctor. “Together, you can determine how much water you should be drinking daily, including during exercise,” Dr. Kerwin says.  

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Recommended reading: Healthy Eating for Older Adults: The SilverSneakers Guide 

Workout S.O.S.! Relief for 7 Common Exercise Pains 

See our sources: 

Fluid intake recommendations: National Council on Aging  

Water recommendations while working out: American Council on Exercise 

Study on aging and body temperature regulation: The Journal of Physiology 

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