What should you drink during exercise?  

How to stay hydrated when you work out – and at all times – is one of the questions our Ottawa physiotherapy and sports medicine clients ask about the most. With so much information (and misinformation) out there, it’s a good question and important to know. Most of our bodies, as the saying goes, are made up of water – up to 60 percent, as it happens. When you work out and sweat, you can lose a lot of liquids, and not just that. You can lose electrolytes or salts, and other nutrients. What should you drink to replenish all you need?


Water is still your best and most basic choice for hydration before, during, and after you exercise. It’s easily digested, and replenishes the liquid you are using from sweating. There are a couple of important things to remember:

  • If you plan on exercising for 60 minutes or less, plain water, or water flavoured with a sliced lemon, orange, a handful of strawberries, or other fruit, is ideal and all you should require.
  • If your exercise routine extends beyond 60 minutes, you will also require some calories and electrolytes (salts) to function at your best.

 Here are some other liquids that you’ll find useful in keeping you hydrated during your exercise routine.

  •          Coffee or tea, preferably black – if you drink this pre-run or pre-exercise, it has been shown by clinical studies to improve your endurance.
  •          Coconut water, clear with no preservatives – a good source of potassium and sodium (electrolytes).
  •          Vegetable juices – typically a good source of sodium.
  •          Chocolate milk – some runners swear by the carbohydrate and protein boost chocolate milk provides to aid muscle recovery.

Store Bought

If you don’t care for plain water and you want to use store bought sports drinks, the key is to read the label.

  •          Stay away from added sugars and high calorie preparations;
  •          Avoid coffee-based and high caffeine drinks during your workout;
  •          Avoid excessive use of preservatives.

How Much?

The general guidelines should only be used as a reference.

  •          2-3 hours before exercise, the general guideline is to drink between 17 and 20 ounces of water.
  •          20-30 minutes before exercise – 8 ounces.
  •          8 ounces of water every 30 minutes after you begin to exercise.

There are ways that your body will tell you it needs more hydration, or other nutrients.

  •          Are you thirsty? Drink!! Thirst is your best guide for whether you are hydrated enough.
  •          Cramping – it’s been shown that dehydration seems to play a role in muscle cramping as you exercise.
  •          What are the environmental conditions? If it’s hot and humid, you’ll need more hydration than when it’s cooler.
  •          The bathroom check – what colour is your urine? It should be a transparent, lemony shade. Darker, and more opaque, means you are not sufficiently hydrated.
  •          The sweat test – this involves weighing yourself just before and immediately after your workout with a very accurate measure. If you’ve lost 16 ounces, for example, then you’ll know it’s been lost as sweat, and 16 ounces of water is how much you need to drink.


Just blend all the ingredients, and store in the fridge for up to a week. Here are a couple of ideas for homemade sports refreshers that will provide hydration, carbs for energy, electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals.

Ice Tea Cooler

4 cups herbal tea
2 -4 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Lemon Sports Drink

4 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup honey

Let us help you perfect and manage your exercise routine. Our Ottawa physiotherapists and sports medicine professionals can provide expert advice on your hydration needs and any other questions you may have. Call us or come by one of our Ottawa physiotherapy clinics today.


Blog Archives