Updated: Nov 16
In hot and sweaty Singapore (we love it!) maintaining proper hydration for exercise, and life in general, is important. Even without the sweaty rigours of exercise many people are not properly hydrated, so for those who exercise it is worthwhile to understand more about proper hydration and to have a strategy for longer or harder - sweatier - sessions.
As ever, please talk to your doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your medical history before implementing any changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment. Links to any supporting studies or resources are at the end of page.
For light exercise or short durations workouts, where dehydration is not an issue, plain water is fine. For those who are more focused on their hydration needs, it is worthwhile to create a hydration strategy. I am a heavy sweater, I often run for an hour or longer - this applies to me and could well apply to you.
The first question to ask is, are you aware of your state of hydration and your sweat rate? If not, then read this article..
Drinking plain water - chugging back a few glasses pre-session - can have the effect of just filling the stomach and activating a response to pee it out. There is also a risk of hyponatremia, a dangerous imbalance of salt caused by over hydration.
Sweat is water with minerals: sodium, chloride, potassium; some small amounts of magnesium and calcium. This is what we need to replace, especially if we are sweating out a litre or two. Easily done over a long workout in the heat.
When pre-session hydration or in-session hydration becomes necessary, then a mix of water, electrolytes and mixed carbohydrate allows for optimal hydration. There is a limit as to how much water can be transported from the small intestine into the blood by each type of carbohydrate (any single type of sugar e.g. glucose only, hits a limit) and electrolyte, therefore using a mix of sugars and electrolytes is beneficial.
One solution (pun intended) is to purchase so called sports beverages but these are often energy drinks (loaded with sugar) rather than, what we are focused on here, hydration beverages that have much less sugar that allow better hydration. Electrolyte sports tablets (e.g. NUUN or SIS brands) are also popular and convenient but can be costly.
Make Your Own Sports Hydration Beverage
Another solution (pun also intended) is to make your own hydration beverage, worthwhile for pre-workout hydration or during the session itself.
A sports hydration protocol typically might state that 1 hour before exercise you drink 500ml of water. Use the following mix per 500ml / 17 ounces of water, to create a 2-3% carbohydrate solution:
A 16th teaspoon of salt.
1 teaspoon of sugar OR a teaspoon of, say, maple syrup, or a small dash of fruit cordial.
For greater quantity, simply increase the volume as necessary. I usually make 2 litres.
This mix / ratio is also suitable for runs up to 2 hours. For longer endurance sessions, where you might need more energy, additional carbohydrate and sodium may be required. We will not deal with that in this article.
Because I know my sweat rate, I know how much water to carry. My hydration pack has a 2 litre bladder, for a longer run I will use all of this. When it comes to making my own hydration beverage, the following has been of use:
I have a set of kitchen measuring spoons to measure the salt.
I don't get overly hung-up on fine tuning the sodium/potassium mix. I mix half salt with half lo-salt (it is mixed sodium chloride and potassium). If I didn't add the lo-salt, I wouldn't be concerned.
I use a splash of - tasty - fruit cordial in the water, rather than adding sugar, maple syrup or honey.
I throw some ice cubes into the bladder. Singapore is hot (day 32c/90f, night 25c/77f), the chilled beverage is more palatable than room temperature water.
During my run I takes a few sips every mile or 2km. This has worked to keep me well hydrated under the tropical conditions that I run in. You will need to work out what works for you.
When it comes to sweat rate and hydration everyone is unique, not only on a physiological basis but also depending on the conditions where they are running. In cool temperatures, low altitudes, your sweat rate will be very different than in the summer heat, tropical climates or higher altitudes.
For those in the latter scenario, where dehydration can be common, proper hydration makes a real difference to performance. Not only for performance during the the workout but also for the day ahead.
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Rowlands DS, Kopetschny BH, Badenhorst CE. The Hydrating Effects of Hypertonic, Isotonic and Hypotonic Sports Drinks and Waters on Central Hydration During Continuous Exercise: A Systematic Meta-Analysis and Perspective. Sports Med. 2022 Feb;52(2):349-375. doi: 10.1007/s40279-021-01558-y. Epub 2021 Oct 30. PMID: 34716905; PMCID: PMC8803723.