1. Don't be average. Research suggests that the average person does not consume enough fluids to be adequately hydrated. In fact, even people who exercise regularly often aren't properly hydrated before they work out, a situation that exacerbates their exposure to the health risks associated with dehydration.
2. Don't ignore the odds. The potential consequences for exercisers of being inadequately hydrated run the gamut from not-all-that-important to extremely serious. On the relatively less-weighty side are a diminished level of performance, a heightened level of muscular fatigue, and a loss of coordination. On the much more grave end of the continuum is an elevated risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
3. Don't fail to be prepared. Physically active people can undertake several steps to ensure that they are properly hydrated. For example, ACSM recommends that individuals drink at least 16 oz of fluid approximately 2 hours before they exercise. During exercise, at least a half cup of fluid should be consumed every 15 minutes. After physical activity, individuals should drink about 16 oz of fluid for every pound of weight they lost while exercising.
4. Don't overlook the signs. A number of indicators suggest the onset of dehydration. Among the more common signs, in this regard, are muscle cramps, muscle fatigue, diminished performance, headaches, loss of coordination, inability to pay attention, and dizziness. A much more serious hydration-related sign is when a person stops perspiring - which may be an indication of a heat injury.
5. Don't rely on a sense of thirst. Although it seems entirely logical that if your body needs water, you'll be thirsty, the reality is something else. By the time you feel thirsty, your body has already begun to dehydrate.
6. Don't believe all of the hype. The number of possible options targeted at people who want to address their fluid needs seems virtually endless. Regardless of whether the fluid is augmented with electrolytes, vitamins, carbohydrates, sodium, caffeine, or just plain flavor, each of the these choices is typically touted as the "best" way to deal with hydration. Unless the bout of exercise is going to exceed an hour, water is the recommended fluid of most registered dietitians (a group that constitutes the most-informed source of sound information on all things nutrition).
7. Don't let the bottle get you down. From a hydration standpoint, it is important to keep in mind that alcoholic drinks are diuretics. Given the fact that consuming such drinks can cause you to lose fluid through urination (in one end, out the other) almost as fast as you drink them, it is a good idea to either avoid alcoholic beverages altogether when trying to hydrate or plan to match every glass of them you drink with the downing of a comparable amount of water.
8. Don't overfill the tank. Truth be known, drinking too much water also can cause serious problems for exercisers, as can drinking too little. Consuming an excessive amount of fluid can lead to a condition known as hyponatremia, which results when the level of salt in the blood is unduly low. The consequences of having this condition can be life threatening in some situations.
9. Don't buy the smaller-sized clothes just yet. Water loss should not be confused with fat loss. Too many individuals mistake the relatively substantial loss ofweight that often occurs during an exercise session as fat loss. Unfortunately, it's fluid lost from sweating - not fat expendedwhile exercising. Individuals will replenish the loss of fluid as soon as they drink fluids again.
10. Don't forget to remember. Proper hydration is not only an issue for serious exercisers, it's a concern for everyone. As such, all individuals should pay attention to their fluid intake throughout the course of the day, starting with drinking a glass of water when they first wake up and continuing with taking sips of water throughout the day. In other words, people need to remember to make proper hydration a habit that they practice daily.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.