If you’re among those who reach for water post-workout, you may want to think twice. While water is essential for staying hydrated, it isn’t necessarily the best option for replenishing your body after a strenuous workout. Rehydrating yourself after intense training requires more than just water because water on its own doesn’t give your body the electrolytes it needs to rehydrate itself.
A look at the science behind dehydration can be helpful in understanding why water alone isn't a great option for rehydrating yourself. When your body is dehydrated, it loses more than just water through sweat, perspiration, and just being alive. It also loses important electrolytes that are responsible for regulating signals between the nervous system and brain, including magnesium, potassium, calcium bicarbonate, and sodium. A host of symptoms can result, including nausea, confusion, dizziness, and muscle pain.
Originally formulated to combat medically-related fluid loss, an oral rehydration solution helps the body increase its water and sodium absorption to make more effective use of the body’s sodium-glucose transport system. These solutions are made by different brands, but the best ORS contains sodium to help the body absorb glucose, sodium, and other nutrients to boost energy levels. An ORS also needs to contain electrolytes, including chloride and potassium, to balance fluids and alleviate cramps post-workout.
An ORS speeds up hydration. This hypotonic solution makes it easier for the body to absorb fluids and body salts, so hydration and after-workout recovery are swifter.
Water isn’t great on its own for rehydrating, but it’s still better than some drinks. For instance, some folks down sports drinks, coconut water, or fruit juices. These also lack electrolytes, so they're not a big help either. Fruit juices and sports drinks are loaded with sugar, and while coconut water does contain potassium — an important electrolyte — it doesn’t have the most important electrolytes lost during dehydration, including sodium and calcium bicarbonate.
Working out aside, staying hydrated is important to overall health. Stick with water as your drink of choice, adding flavor enhancers as necessary to make it more palatable if you don’t care for plain water. If you must have drinks such as coffee or soda, add a glass or bottle of water or some ORS between servings of those other beverages.
Now that you know how to hydrate well, it's important that you also recognize the symptoms of dehydration. Moderate dehydration causes increased thirst, dry mouth, irritability, restlessness, and decreased urine. Severe dehydration is marked by fatigue, very dry tongue and mouth, absent or weak pulse, minimum or no urine output, and low blood pressure.
If you experience signs of dehydration, work to resolve it quickly. Signs of serious hydration, however, may require immediate medical attention and possible IV infusion of electrolytes.