What to drink during workout? Hydration rules during exercise.

Cara Marshall

What to drink during workout – mineral water or maybe isotonic drink? Should we start hydrating during exercise or a few hours before? What should runners drink during training and what people training at the gym? Get to know the answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding hydration during physical exercises and take a look at an easy recipe for a home-made isotonic drink.

The question of what to drink during workout should be asked by every person starting the adventure with sport. Why? During training we warm up, which in turn makes us sweat and with sweat we lose water. The process of water loss is therefore a natural response of our organism to the increase of body temperature, the way to cool it down. Unfortunately, along with water we also lose mineral ingredients and if we don’t supplement their supplies, we may lead to dehydration.

Drinking randomly selected drinks at irregular time intervals is not sufficient to maintain water-electrolytes balance in our organism. Therefore, it is worth getting to know the rules of hydration during workout thanks to which you will find out when exactly and in what quantities to drink liquids.

Why is dehydration during training dangerous?

The importance of water in the human organism has been discussed a lot, but it is worth reminding that it constitutes as much as 92% of blood plasma and takes part in transporting oxygen in the organism. Muscles are composed of water in 70%, while in bones it appears in 25%.

However, physical effort leads to losing water and also electrolytes and energy. However, if it wasn’t for this process, we would probably die of overheating – on average, per each 5 minutes of our activity, our body temperature increases by 1 degree, therefore after half-an-hour long training it would reach 40 degrees. In such a situation it would be hard not only to perform an effective training, but also to survive it at all.

We should, however, bear in mind that even if our body mass as a result of water loss decreases only by 2%, it already causes considerable weakness of psychical and mental efficiency of the organism. The volume of blood also decreases and instead, heart burden is higher. Apart from this, we lose mineral components, among others magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium, which have a great influence on the work of our muscles. For example, proper concentration of magnesium guarantees proper flow of nerve impulses to muscle cells. When it is too little, muscles get weaker, tremble and the risk of injury is increased. Sodium, in turn, is responsible for osmotic balance inside cells, which means that when it is lacking, water-electrolytes balance is disturbed in our whole body

Therefore not only the quantity of liquids is important, but also the amount of mineral ingredients that they contain.

What to drink during workout?

There are many possibilities. Which choice is the best?

  1. Spring water

Spring water is usually associated with nature and health – and in fact its beneficial effect cannot be denied. It is especially recommended to the youngest – to the stomachs of infants who badly tolerate mineral elements. It works well as a daily drink, but as a source of hydration during training – not so much. Admittedly our organism absorbs it fast, but spring water is poor in minerals – it doesn’t differ much in composition from tap water (although in the case of the latter there is a risk of contamination). Spring water therefore is good day-to-day, but not necessarily as a source of hydration during workout.

  1. Mineral water

Mineral water is a very good drink for those who train – but only if our training doesn’t last longer than one hour and we don’t perform intensive interval workouts. Mineral water, similarly to spring water is underground water, but it contains constant – considerably higher (even 3-5 times higher) – level of minerals.

Mineral waters may be divided into:

  • very low-mineralized – up to 50 mg/l
  • low-mineralized – up to 500 mg/l
  • moderately mineralized - from 500 to 1500 mg/l
  • highly-mineralized – more than 1500 mg/l.

Proper hydration during training will be ensured by moderately mineralized water, as it contains proper dose of calcium (min. 150mg/l), magnesium (min. 50mg/l), sulfates (min. 250mg/l) and bicarbonates (min. 600mg/l).

Water is the most important fluid of your body, which should be drank as much as possible!
Water is the most important fluid of your body, which should be drunk as much as possible!
  1. Isotonic drinks

    Isotonic drinks are a popular way of hydration of the organism during workout, but it is worth highlighting that drinking them is not always necessary. If we exercise less than an hour, we don’t need to drink beverages with such a large amount of sugar – it especially concerns ready-made isotonic drinks that we may buy in shops in the form of colorful, aromatized drinks.

    Sometimes, however, drinking isotonic beverages is advisable. It concerns the situation in which our training is very intensive (e.g. interval) and long-lasting (lasts longer than one hour) and on top of that it is oriented to fatty tissue reduction.

    What characterizes isotonic drinks? Their composition is similar to the composition of human blood: they contain similar concentration of nutrients and similar amount of water. What is more, isotonic beverages allow to supplement glycogen supplies in muscles. An important ingredient of isotonic drinks is also sodium, responsible for water balance of the whole organism – this kind of beverages contains the doses of sodium and sugar which are essential to proper hydration of the organism during training – 6 mg/100 ml of sodium and 8 mg/100 ml of sugar.

    A recipe for a home-made isotonic drink

    Preparing a home-made isotonic beverage should not be troublesome even for people who hate spending time in the kitchen. The whole preparation time is a few minutes and it doesn’t require the use of any unavailable ingredients.


    • mineral water - 0,5 l
    • 1/8 tablespoon of sea salt
    • 2 tablespoons of honey or sugar
    • Half a glass of freshly squeezed juice from e.g. orange, grapefruit, lemon (optional)


    All the above mentioned ingredients should be mixed until they dissolve completely. Drink up to a few hours after preparation.

    What to drink during running?

    Hydration rules during running training are the same as in the case of cardio training and other activities. For a person who runs half an hour, mineral water will be sufficient, while those who perform longer and more intensive trainings – at least one-hour – should reach for isotonic drinks. Some runners also use carbohydrate beverages, however, it is worth highlighting that these are the products for real long-distance runners, e.g. marathoners. Such drinks contain high doses of sodium and potassium, which we get rid of most from the organism with sweat.

    Even 1-2% dehydration in runners inhibit the processes of thermoregulation in the organism, while intensive aerobic exercises cause the loss of even 5 liters of water per hour. Therefore it is recommended not to exceed the liquid deficit of 2%. On the other hand, excessive intake of liquids is also inadvisable, as the symptoms of hypotonic hyperhydration are similar to those of dehydration, i.e. among others, disorientation and weakness. Hyperhydration is the problem concerning mainly beginners, who set off for long distances and drink as much as more experienced competitors who run faster and sweat more. The tendency to drink excessive amounts of liquids concerns mainly women while they perspire less than men.

    What to drink during strength training?

    Intensive strength training causes lesser water loss that running training – around 2-3 liters in one hour. However, it is worth adding that in the case of people performing strength effort, proper hydration is very important, because muscles in 75% consist of water. During strength and mass training it is recommended to drink 1,5l of mineral water or isotonic beverage (depending on the length of the training) and during endurance training – 2-3l of liquids.

    How much to drink during and after training?

    It is worth knowing not only what to drink during training but also in what quantities. Many studies have been conducted on that topic and certain guidelines have been established.

    American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking from 400 to 600 ml (2-3 glasses) of liquids 2 hours before training, however during exercise, we should drink from 150 to 250 ml (around 1,5 glass) of beverages every 15-20 minutes.

    In order to avoid dehydration, you need to take care about proper water-mineral balance in the organism also after effort. It is recommended to drink 1,5 times more liquids after training than we lost during performing it, i.e. around 450-675 of liquid per every half a kilogram of body mass lost during training.

    The temperature of beverages is also vital – it should amount to 15-22 degrees, as a too cold drink may cause respiratory tract infections. On the other hand, too warm water will be absorbed slower by the organism.

    What NOT to drink during training?

    As a source of hydration during training definitely sweet sparkling drinks and juices will not work well. The former satisfy our thirst slowly due to the high content of carbohydrates. In juices and nectars, on the other hand, fructose is present which irritates intestines and stomach and may cause digestive system dysfunctions during training.

    6 most important drinking rules during training

    During training, don’t drink flavored water full of preservatives and artificial fragrances.

    Summing up, regardless of the kind of physical activity we practice, we should remember about the most important hydration rules during exercises.

    1. Adjust the kind of liquid to the length of your training.

    a) training 30-60 min – mineral water

    b) training above 60 min or shorter, but intensive – isotonic drinks

    c) training above 60 min with high intensity – isotonic drinks with glucose polymers

    2.Drink not only during, but also before and after training

    During training, supplement liquids every 15-20 minutes (150-350 ml) and after training drink at least 450 ml of water/isotonic drink. It is also important to drink before exercises – drink min. 400 ml of liquids two hours before starting the effort, as if you begin your training without proper hydration, you will make your organism dehydrated faster.

    3.Drink water in small doses and slowly

    Lack of liquid intake for half of our training and suddenly drinking quickly large amounts is not a good solution – so far you already have trained with lower efficiency and excessively high body temperature. Therefore it is better to drink regularly and not rapidly.

    4. Avoid drinking sparkling beverages and juices

    Sparkling drinks and juices are tasty, but not recommended as a source of hydration during training. The first contain a lot of carbohydrates and the second – fructose. If you lack something in the taste in water, you may add mint, lemon or home-made raspberry juice to it.

    5. Avoid the factors increasing water loss

    Avoid training in rooms, where there is too high temperature, as the warmer there is, the more we sweat. High humidity is also unbeneficial, as then our sweat vaporize less effectively, which in turn leads to lower cooling efficiency.

    6. Control your state of hydration

    The recommendations regarding the amount of liquids we should drink during training are a significant guideline, however, we may observe ourselves if our organism is properly hydrated. If we experience scotomas in front of our eyes – especially during standing up quickly – it may indicate water-electrolytes imbalance. Similarly, muscle pains and contractions are the sign of too little sodium and potassium level in the organism. Another indicator of liquid deficit in the organism are stomachaches and colic. Intestines absorb water from food and their inhibited work causes increased water absorption and as a result – the appearance of colic. Dehydration leads also to the irregularity of heart work – too low level of electrolytes causes palpitations. Another bad symptom is the change of color and consistency of urine – if we are dehydrated it gets thicker and darker. Why? Too little amount of liquids provided to the organism make our kidneys store water reserves necessary to urine production and therefore it becomes more concentrated.

    What to drink during training - summary

    Moreover, it we don’t hydrate ourselves properly during training, it may also be visible in the state of our skin. If we grasp our skin on hand with a quick movement, raise it up and then let go and it goes back to the previous state as before this activity, it will mean that everything is OK. However, when returning to the state from before pulling will take our skin longer, it may be the state of insufficient hydration of our organism.


    Tags: drink before training, home-made isotonic, hydratation, isotonic, juices, mineral, mineral water, muscle, training, water, what to not drink during training, workout


    1. Avatar
      Brad Bellick

      Hello Cara, Very informative article. Thanks for sharing. One question, Is the information same for a recumbent exercise bike?

    2. Avatar
      Hydration Expert

      I really love your in-depth understanding of this topic Cara. Hydration dehydration and exercise is a lethal combination and is never to be overlooked. Sporting and outdoor junkies should always be ware of this fact. For hikers and trail-runners, I suggest hydration bladders with water or sport drinks for a continuous slow re-hydration. Keep up the great work Cara!

    3. Avatar

      This is very true. Hydration rules exercise.

    4. Avatar
      Ryan Humiston

      I’ve had the best results for myself & clients using this little concoction:

      -Sea Salt
      -Alkaline Water
      -Cell Food

    5. Avatar

      Well done !
      Perfect article ever I read about hydration. Thanks for for nice job.

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