Regardless of what your type of favorite outdoor (or indoor) activity is jogging, walking, swimming, hiking during the holidays, several-hour trekking, and etc. hydration is your best friend. There are some important facts to know about before we discuss the best hydration drinks for specific types of activities.
Before we start, you need to know that not all drinks hydrate the same way, and as much as it may be surprising, water isn’t the best hydration drink. So you shouldn’t entirely rely on plain water. If you follow our advice you should want to have something more in your drink. There are also recipes for homemade hydration drinks, but we’ll get to that as well.
Before we dive deep into the science of your body and how to hydrate it best we need to clarify the definition of osmolality. This is the electrolyte-to-water balance either in your bloodstream or in a specific liquid. The electrolytes are nutrient particles (minerals) that the body needs to maintain proper function.
The electrolytes will be dissolved much slower in the body if they come from food. When they are already dissolved and in a liquid form, the body digests them almost immediately, with little effort. Pure water passes quickly through the bladder and does little help to hydrate.
Since we people are different and our bodies come to balance by means of different measures of water, food and nutrients, osmolality is something specific for each and every organism. We’ll explain how to stay aware of your body’s specific needs.
So to be able to calculate how much sweat you’ve lost during an activity, exercise or hiking event, you can first do an experiment. Weigh yourself before exercise, without clothes. Then, exercise one hour (make sure you’re sweating neither too little, nor too much).
The general rule of thumb is to exercise just at the level of pleasure, when you’re not exercising too much so that the activity becomes unpleasant. After that, weigh yourself again (nude). The difference between the start and end weight is the amount of water your body lost. So, remember, for every lost pound, you need 16 ounces of water.
Another important thing to know about sweat is that it contains seven times more sodium than potassium, which is why sodium is your number one concern when choosing a hydration drink. It should contain more sodium, and it should be the predominant nutrient.
Best hydration drinks to try after physical activities
You need to know that all fluids have a hydrating property. That doesn’t mean that they are all equally helpful for you. For example, oatmeal drinks have 84% water, so they aren’t such a good choice for a hydration drink, whereas coconut water is basically 100% water. It’s ideal. So, the higher the water percentage in the drink, the better your body will hydrate.
Option #1 – the electrolyte drink
This drink is basically water that contains high amounts of electrolytes. You find in such drinks lemon juice, coconut water, orange juice, a bit of honey, salt. You can also make your own electrolyte drink at home. It easily dissolves in the body and delivers water to the bloodstream much quicker than conventional plain water. When you sweat you lose electrolytes, so you need to replace them.
These electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, etc. Usually a simple electrolyte drink is the best drink after walking, working in the garden, etc. It is not ideal for after hard strenuous workout like marathons.
Option #2 – sports drinks
Most sports drinks contain sodium and carbohydrates. That is all fine and it still helps the body hydrate much more efficiently than with water only. The optimum amount of sodium shouldn’t be more than 500 mg per drink, or your body will actually start pulling water from the bloodstream to help digesting the minerals. You definitely don’t want to do that, since it will cause thirst and will require you to drink more water. Also, avoid carbonated sports drinks. They will upset your stomach by filling it with bubbles. You absolutely don’t want that discomfort.
When talking about sports drinks we have to mention a new scientific experiment made with athletes. These athletes were divided into two groups. The first had a conventional sports drink with carbs and sodium. The second group was given the same, but with protein content into the drink. The result was the second group hydrated even better than the first. This may definitely improve the products on the market in the future, so you may want to keep that in mind next time you grab a sports drink. If it has proteins in it, go for it.
A secret to the sports drinks is that due to their high sodium content they make you thirsty so you’re prone to drinking more. Of course, too much sodium can also be a negative thing, so if you had already had a sports drink and are still thirsty, better pick the old-fashioned water, but don’t overdo it.
Option #3 – fitness and designer water
These are new categories that appeared lately on the market. They are somewhere between the plain water and most sports drinks. They have fewer nutrients and electrolytes, and are mostly water. At least they are tastier. Nonetheless, they hydrate, so by all means, if you prefer a simpler choice, try fitness water.
The designer water is a category still unproven to entirely follow its own claims. These products contain all the vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and oxygen the body needs. That includes even fat-burning nutrients. As we said, they aren’t proven to work and are a new frontier to be explored. They won’t do you any harm, but we don’t know exactly if they do the good they claim. Of course, if your primary concern is hydration, they serve that purpose to the last drop.
Option #4 – hydration tablets
These tablets contain lots of the most vital nutrients, vitamins and electrolytes in one tablet. They are a very good option for people who don’t have immediate access to water and can carry several tablets in a pocket. While on a marathon, when you come across water bottle, grab one and let a hydration tablet dissolve in it.
It’s a great way to stay hydrated with zero calories (most companies don’t add any calories in hydration tablets).
Do your own drink for proper hydration at home
We can give you some advice on how to actually make your own hydration drink. You don’t have to worry about the label and if that particular drink has all the necessary nutrients or not. It sure is true that you can’t really make a zero-calorie drink, but at least it will be always a low-calorie one.
You need to remember that all citrus fruits contain lots of electrolytes, so basically they are your best friend. It doesn’t matter which citrus fruit you choose to add to water, you’ll end up pleasantly hydrated. The best low-calorie option is the lemon (and lime) and then is the grapefruit.
You can also add in one bottle all types of citrus fruit juices you have at hand. If you’re ok with more calories in a drink, the healthiest option is to add a spoon of honey. It is also packed with a variety of minerals and also, since its simple sugars, it helps the cortisol levels regulate. As we know, during heavy exercising, the body’s cortisol levels spike, which means, the body is in a state of stress. This is why sugar is actually extremely potent against the damaging effects of cortisol.
Don’t forget the all-important salt. Here you have a lot of choices, you can add Celtic salt, Himalaya salt, etc. These contain various amounts of minerals, which is why you need salt as well. The empty table salt is out of the question, since it’s highly processed and devoid of all nutrients. Sea salt, though, is a very good option.
Here is how to prepare your homemade citrus juice. It’s very simple. You need 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 cups of water, salt on the tip of the spoon (about 1/8th), and 1-2 tablespoons of honey.
A bonus idea is to add coconut water, either to the whole mix, or instead of the 2 cups of plain water. If you are vegan and don’t want to use honey (or for some other reason) you can substitute the honey with organic maple syrup. Yet another option is to use organic blackstrap molasses. It’s loaded with magnesium, manganese, calcium and other trace minerals. Mix it all, and you’re done. Enjoy it! No artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors, and other additives of unknown origin.
Another very good hydration drink is the ginger drink. Boil several rings of ginger root, for 15 minutes, and when the liquid has cooled down, add stevia (or some other favorite and healthy sweetener) and sea salt, Celtic or Himalaya salt. Ginger is not only helping the re-hydration process, but also helps ease the muscle pain, and speeds up the recovery after strenuous workout.
A watermelon drink with coconut water is also a very good hydrant. Watermelon is packed with nutrients and since it contains more than 90% water, it’s basically a ‘water fruit’. Try that at home and squeeze several slices of watermelon so you end up with the juice only, add the coconut and salt (follow the above requirements about salt choice). You don’t need to add more sweeteners since watermelon has enough natural sugar content for your purposes.
Beet juice is also another top idea for athletes and active people. It’s very low in calorie content, hydrates the body as good as any other hydration drink in our list, as provides a healthy amount of the necessary nutrients. Its light in taste, cleanses the liver and delivers water to the bloodstream quickly.
The list above won’t be complete if we neglect to mention the trace mineral drops. These supplements are packed with almost all the vital nutrients. You should check the label of the product before you buy it. Also, read where the minerals are extracted from, the source, and how. Some products are for example from the Great Salt Lake.
Most such formulas have no salt (it’s removed) so you shouldn’t worry about taking too much of it. And again, before you commit to a certain product, read the label, its claims, which minerals it contains and also, good advice is to read customer experience. Sometimes, some products claim one thing, but it turns out particular customers have negative experience.
Some tips and tricks from the experts
The first sign of serious dehydration is, as surprising as it may sound, the thirst in your mouth. We are very much used to this sign and don’t pay immediate attention to it, but it is the first thing the body is telling you. You’re already at about 1% of dehydration. At 5% dehydration death occurs. So, consider that next time you feel thirst. The best way to keep dehydration at bay is to drink water or other hydration drink every hour or so. Even if you don’t feel thirst, drink. Thirst is already a serious sign, which you should avoid.
Listen to your body’s signals. For example, pay careful attention when dizziness occurs. You may think you are just lazy and want to push your willpower to continue, but dizziness is a serious signal that you should not ignore. The reason for this is that the water in the bloodstream has diminished.
As a result the blood has thickened which impairs the blood circulation to your brain. Also, if you feel particularly tired in the muscles, to the point of uncomfortable strong pain, you better off stop exercising. Another option is to get a hydration drink, from the ones in the above list. Drink several ounces of any hydration drink and wait for a while. If your dizziness disappears you may continue your workout, if you had interrupted it after you felt dizzy. You can learn more about dehydration and its symptoms from our article on how to stay hydrated.
Pay attention to your body weight. As we advised you earlier, you should weigh yourself before and after exercising. This is a very good way to measure the water your body lost. If it is more than 3% of your body weight, you’re in a state of serious dehydration. You should either finish the activity or immediately drink an electrolyte or sports drink. Never underestimate the importance of weighing yourself before and after a strenuous workout. The body sends its signals when something is out of sync.
To add to your electrolyte and sports drinks’ health benefits, you should eat fruits. A smart way to hydrate is eating a fruit along with drinking water. Be careful though, since some people may be sensitive to water mixed with fruit and may lead to an upset stomach. The best option remains fruit juices mixed with water, to remove the cellulose and simply absorb the all-important vitamins and minerals.
You also have to be aware of over-hydrating. You may be tempted to drink as often as you can think of, but sometimes overdoing it is actually as harmful as not doing it at all. Too much drinking (any type of hydration drink) can lead to hypernatremia. This means that the excess water actually dilutes the sodium content in the bloodstream.
The result of this is swelling of all the body’s cells, especially the brain cells that are easily affected by too much sodium in the blood. Symptoms of this condition are vomiting, headache, muscle cramps and pain, fatigue, confusion, loss of appetite, etc. Usually during exercising this condition is triggered by prolonged workouts and drinking liquids at a higher rate than losing liquid through sweat. We also have an in-depth discussion on overhydration so make sure you check it out.
Urine is another very good way to determine if you’re properly hydrated or dehydrated. When the urine is a darker yellow to orange color, and smells bad, then you must grab straightaway the closest hydration drink at hand. If the color of your urine is pale yellow, then you’re at the ideal hydration state. When it’s colorless, you’ve excess water in your body and you have to slow down drinking.
Finally, you need to know that coffee and tea (and other caffeinated drinks) are not as bad as we thought previously. Coffee may make you run to the toilet sooner than water would, but it doesn’t force the water out of your cells, as previously believed. So, coffee doesn’t dehydrate you any more than water. Same thing is with tea drinks.
It may feel like hydration has become a science in itself, but the fact is that it shouldn’t be something complicated. Of course, knowing the basics is always beneficial and can only be helpful in order to make the right choices.
Nature has provided us with the ideal options for staying hydrated. Not only that, but you can find a wide range of products, specially made for runners, athletes, and people who live active lives. Their formulas are planned so that these drinks provide just the appropriate amount of nutrients and electrolytes, which the body needs. This doesn’t mean you should trust them blindly, but awareness leads to a healthy lifestyle.