Why proper hydration is critical to exercise

It is more important to drink water when exercising since you are using energy and losing water intake by sweating. PHOTO/gettyimages

What you need to know:

  • Drinking enough fluids will help to maintain your concentration and performance, increase your endurance, and prevent excessive elevations in heart rate and body temperature.

Keeping hydrated while exercising is necessary because one needs to replace the fluids lost through sweat and heavy breathing. Without sufficient hydration, we run the risk of heat stress.

Hydration is also necessary for maintaining normal body function and energy levels. Experts advise that not only should you drink fluids during a workout, but also before and after for best results.

Some studies have shown that a person can lose three to four litres in an hour of working out. The human body is comprised of 75 percent water, which might explain why the body relies so much on fluids for proper function. Without proper hydration, joints do not work properly and the body struggles to regulate its own temperature, according to experts. 

It goes without saying that proper hydration is critical to exercise.  Therefore, how much is proper hydration? Which is the perfect beverage? 

Salty water

According to Ntege Ssengendo, a sports doctor, water is a pretty good beverage if you are doing normal workouts. However, if you are doing intense workouts for long periods of time (three hours plus) then water is no longer sufficient in itself. 

“Water is a good beverage for hydrating the body when working out. It is easily absorbed by the body to replace the fluids lost during working out. However, we do not just lose water during exercise, we also lose sodium and calcium, especially during intense workouts. If you add a pinch of salt to the water, you will replenish the sodium you lost,” Dr Ssengendo says. 

He explains that during intense workouts such as marathons, the body loses so much salt that it can be visible on the skin after the sweat has dried. This, he says, must be replaced for the energy levels to be regained.  Dr Ssengendo advises one to always add a pinch of salt in their water to balance the replacement of what the body lost during exercise.

Warm water

Dr Ssengendo says the water should not be very cold. The reason, he says, is because the body temperature during workout goes up and the drink should not be cold since cold drinks in a hot body may cause muscle spasms. 

“In sports events, the players are given sports drinks. If we had sports drinks on the Ugandan market, I would recommend them but we do not. These drinks contain some salt and glucose. So, a pinch of salt and some glucose should help you get the best drink,” he adds. 

Right amount

While the possibility of drinking too much fluid can be uncommon, it might happen during intense workouts such as marathons, triathlons or long distance walking.  The doctor says it is very hard to overhydrate but moderating the intake is advisable, especially if it is plain water. 

Drinking too much water without sodium can result in nausea or vomiting, headache, confusion, or fatigue and loss of energy, among others. 

“Try to drink only when you feel thirsty and pause when the thirst is gone. You can take another drink when you feel thirsty again,” Dr Ssengendo advises.  


The doctor says adding glucose to one’s water before, during and after working out is a good practice since the body uses a lot of carbohydrates during exercise and glucose is the fastest way of replenishing the energy. 

“The importance of glucose to exercise cannot be overstated. The body uses a lot of carbohydrates during exercise. Solid food or porridge is a bad idea during workouts because they take too long to be absorbed by the body. This is why glucose is critical,” Dr Ssengendo says.  

He adds, “In the absence of glucose, get some honey and mix it in lukewarm water and this should give the same results. In the absence of salt, drink mineral water because it contains some salt. Most water bottles indicate that one of the ingredients of mineral water is six percent sodium chloride.”


Dr Ssengendo says to repair tissue damage, one needs protein after a workout. The best source of protein in beverage form is milk. Drinking milk after a workout may help in preventing sore muscles since the protein within repairs damaged cells and tissue. 

“Because eating immediately after a workout is a bad idea, the only way to have protein is to drink it and milk is the best in this regard,” he says.

However, he is quick to add that one needs more of carbohydrates than protein after working out because we expend much more energy than we damage tissue.

No thick beverages

He adds that the need to replenish energy might tempt someone to drink thick beverages such as porridge but advises against this since the bowels are not ready for digestion after a heavy workout. 

Risks of dehydration

Many problems can result from not drinking enough water while working out but the commonest is fatigue. Without enough hydration, the blood gets thicker and your heart has to work harder to push it, causing exhaustion.