Exercise Tip  
  November 2010
Water and Exercise  

By: Julie Koning "the dietitian on a mission"
Senior Dietetics Student
Eastern Michigan University

Why is water so important? Water makes up our body’s fluids, which are important for our bodies to function. Without it we cannot live. Some basic functions of water in body fluids are:

  • Carry oxygen and nutrients to our cells and removes waste products.

  • Cushions joints, lubricates eyes and spinal cord.

  • Protects our tissues and organs

  • Helps regulate our temperature; sweating helps remove excess heat.

  • Essential role in metabolic activities and reactions

The amount of water we need increases when we exercise because the amount of water loss increases. Water loss through sweating and breathing (vapor exhaled) can increase a lot depending on the intensity and conditions of the physical activity.  For example, high performance or endurance athletes can lose 1.5 liters per hour of physical activity.  To keep electrolytes in balance drinking sports drinks and eating salty crackers or pretzels are recommended when engaging in intense or rigorous exercise especially for periods longer than an hour. (Think marathon runners, basketball players, etc.) However, for the average noncompeting exercise, plain water is a great choice.  It is important to drink the water before you feel thirsty to keep well hydrated.

Schedule for staying hydrated during rigorous exercise:
1. Drink 2 to 3 cups of fluids two hours before and 1 to 2 cups 15 minutes before your exercise activity.
2. Drink water or sports drink throughout your exercise
3. Record body weight before and after the physical activity so they can drink 2 cups of fluids for every pound of weight lost to stay hydrated.

The last step may not apply to you, but either way it is important to drink fluids after exercising. Also, it is better to drink the water spread over the next few hours and not all at once.

Symptoms of dehydration:

Early Signs of Dehydration

  • Feeling thirsty

  • Skin becomes reddened or flushed

  • Body temperature increases

  • Breathing and pulse rates increase

  • Feels more difficult to exercise

Later Signs of Dehydration

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Breathing becomes labored

  • exhaustion

  • Passing out

Visit the American Council on Exercise for more information:


References: Whitney E, Rolfes SR.  Understanding Nutrition.  11th Ed.  Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth; 2008

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