Hydration: How to, how much, and DO YOU NEED GATORADE?!

While we’re still working on the move, I’m going to regurgitate for you some materials I’ve written for work. We currently have a wellness challenge going on with several different workshops woven in. This is a modified version of the handout I put together for our hydration workshop.

It’s getting hot in Texas. Nowhere near as hot as it will be, but I’ve discovered a new superpower: I can saturate a sports bra with sweat after only an hour of running regardless of whether the sun is up or not! Of course, this skill has just been under wraps since I left Louisiana, but you get the gist – it’s hot. And when it’s hot, one must hydrate.

Why it matters

Good hydration allows waste products to be flushed out of your body effectively, aids in digestion, and keeps hunger at bay.  Drinking enough fluids ensures that your blood can circulate efficiently, which keeps organs functioning properly and allows your immune system to keep you free from illness.

Even mildly poor hydration can lead to muscle cramping issues, make you tired and hungry, give you headaches, and reduce mental acuity – all significant detractors from overall well-being and work productivity.  Luckily, staying hydrated is easy as drinking the right beverages in the right amounts. A quick way to tell if you’re hydrated is the pee test: is your pee a light straw color or clear? GOOD. Is your pee bright yellow to dark brown? BAD. Here is a handy dandy chart to go by:

How to hydrate

Water is the best, but all fluids count: water, tea, coffee, milk, other beverages, and moisture from foods like fruits and vegetables which typically makes up about 20% of daily fluid requirements.  Keep in mind that while they are hydrating,  beverages like soda, sweetened milks and teas, and juice (yes, even 100% juice) should be avoided. These often have little or no nutritional benefit and don’t fill you up, but contain lots of added sugar and calories resulting in weight gain.  Even sports drinks like Gatorade are unnecessarily high in sugar for everyday use and should only be used for moderate to high intensity exercise that lasts for over 60 minutes, especially if the goal is to replenish carbohydrates, as in endurance athletics. Why is this in bold and underlined? Because for some reason whenever the mercury rises above 75 degrees, everybody is suddenly convinced that they and their kids MUST have a sports drink in order to survive the scorching temperatures. Not true. Let’s play a little game called “do I need Gatorade”

Do I need Gatorade?

A close up on a set of isolated sports drink bottles.

I’m going to outline some scenarios, and you’re going to guess before scrolling down whether it’s appropriate to have a sports drink based on what I just told you. Got it?

Scenario 1: Workin’ on My Fitness: I’m getting pretty pumped about beach season and ready to get my swell on at the gym so I’m nice and toned for that itty bitty bikini hanging in my closet. I have been going to the gym for about 2 hours a day. I typically spend 45 minutes on the elliptical, then do some low-weight high-rep sets of all the selectorized weight machines. In between sets I chat with my gym friends. It normally takes me about 5 minutes per machine, and I do 10 different machines. After this lifting sesh, I go to the stretching area where I do some ab exercises like crunches and planks, and stretch. DO I NEED GATORADE?

Scenario 2: Soccer Kids: I’ve got two kids, one is 6 and one is 13 and they are both on soccer teams. The little one is doing it more for fun and to build coordination skills, and the older one is getting really competitive. My 6-year-old typically has hour long practices one evening per week where they mainly practice skills like passing and dribbling and will play some fun games to work on these that involve running. The 13-year-old has two practices and two games per week. Practice is two hours, and starts with a jog around the field and skill drills in the beginning, followed by lots of scrimmaging and simulated play drills that involve half or full-field running. At least once a week, practice ends with 30 minutes of conditioning. DO THEY NEED GATORADE?

Scenario 3: Weekend Warrior: I am 45, work full time, and am very into my running. I started running a few years ago when I realized that after having kids and falling off my gym schedule, I’d gotten pretty out of shape. I started just jogging around the block, but then joined a group that runs from a local running store. From there, the rest is history: that whole group was really into training and racing, and now I’ve run three full marathons, seven half marathons, and have been experimenting with shorter triathlons. I generally run 5-7 miles a couple nights a week while waiting for the kids at sports practices, and meet that group of friends on Saturday mornings for a long run – could be up to 20 if we’re training for something! It’s getting warmer, and my weekend runs are pretty long these days. DO I NEED GATORADE?

Scenario 4: Hasta la Vista, Baby: I am basically Arnold Schwarzenegger. I pick things up and put them down. I am a personal trainer, so I spend most of my time at the gym but my daily workouts include 2 sessions of about 45 minutes of heavy lifting. I also spend a good amount of time stretching and rolling out. Sometimes I do yoga. DO I NEED GATORADE?


Scenario 1: NO. Although this scenario includes 2 hours of exercise, it’s not 2 hours of moderate to intense exercise. In fact, low weight, high rep lifting is not a very effective way to work out at all, but I’ll leave that one to the ex phys people. If this girl is really crankin’ it on the elliptical, with resistance WAY up and sweating buckets then following it by some heavy lifting, she might benefit from a sports drink. But as it stands, it sounds like her workouts have a lot of rest time interspersed with light to moderate activity. Additionally, the climate control inside a gym prevents excessive fluid loss from sweat.

Scenario 2: NO for the 6 year old and YES for the 13 year old. The 6 year old is just running around with plenty of time to rest and bring the heart rate down. I’m sure this kiddo works up a sweat but it’s not excessively demanding. The 13 year old, however, is doing a lot of running in full sun and gets little rest depending on how the coach has structured practice. This kid could probably use some replenishment via Gatorade if it’s hot out, but I would still reach for water first.

Scenario 3YES. Endurance athletics are a no-brainer when it comes to whether or not sports drinks are appropriate. If you’re running over an hour, they can help your performance. Having some sugar in your blood stream allows muscles to use that for quick energy rather than breaking down stored carbohydrate (glycogen) or fat, which are inefficient processes. Additionally, when it gets hot out a lot of electrolytes can be lost through sweat when you’re spending that long constantly working – have you ever felt the dried salt on your face after running for a few hours (no is a fine answer, we’re not all crazy)? You’ve gotta get that back into you and Gatorade definitely does the trick.

Scenario 4: No. While this exercise is certainly high-intensity and will leave this guy sweating, it’s not sustained for a long enough period to cause worrisome electrolyte loss that merits replenishment from a sports beverage. For the most part, body builders steer clear of the sugary stuff anyway.

So how do I know for sure if I need it? The simplest answer is try water first. If it’s really hot out and you are sweating a lot, If you’re participating in endurance athletics, or if you have multiple games in one day without a lot of time in between to replenish salt and electrolytes with your normal diet (which can be done, btw – electrolytes are nothing more than nutrients that are found in your regular foods), consider using a sports beverage. If you are exercising for fitness or weight loss purposes, it’s likely not needed and it’s also going to add extra calories because that’s what it’s meant to do. The idea of exercising with a goal of weight loss while drinking a sugared beverage does not match up. In this situation, you may wish to choose a low-carbohydrate electrolyte beverage like Powerade Zero, which will get that salt and electrolytes without replenishing carbohydrates with sugar.

The right amount

Daily fluid recommendations can be found in the following chart.  If you’re physically active, additional fluids may be needed to replace what’s lost as sweat.  To make sure you get enough fluids, bring a water bottle to work and track how many times you fill it up and drink it.  Try to make sure you drink a full 16-oz four times over the course of the day, with a glass of water at each meal.

Fluid Requirements in Liters/Day

Age Women Men
9-13 2.1 2.4
14-18 2.3 3.3
19-30 2.7 3.7
31-50 2.7 3.7
50+ 2.7 3.7

For something more palatable, try making an infusion: cut up fruits, vegetables, or herbs and toss them in a pitcher of water in the refrigerator overnight to add light flavor. Additionally, sparkling waters like La Croix and Ozarka are widely available and low cost, with new flavors emerging frequently.  Unlike soda these options don’t have sweeteners (artificial or otherwise), and are exactly the same as drinking regular water – just more fun.

My favorite sparkling waters are anything from Polar – ESPECIALLY their seasonal varieties. Since I can’t get that down here, La Croix Cherry Lime is my current fave (although while looking up their website to post the link I see there is MANGO?!? HEB please get it together and stock this for me).

Try the following infused water recipes instead of paying $1.99 for a bottle of water with one slice of strawberry in it 🙂

Cucumber-Basil Water

2 quarts tap water

¼ cucumber

5 basil leaves

Slice cucumber thin and tear basil leaves into large pieces.

Put both into a large 2-quart pitcher and fill with water.

Refrigerate overnight.

Lime-Watermelon-Mint Water

2 quarts tap water

1 lime

10 mint leaves

1 cup watermelon, cubed

Slice lime into thin rounds and rough chop mint leaves.

Add both to 2-quart pitcher with watermelon cubes.  Fill with water.

Refrigerate overnight.


3 responses to “Hydration: How to, how much, and DO YOU NEED GATORADE?!

  1. Pingback: Water — Drink Up! | All in Moderation·

  2. Pingback: Electrolytes without the extra pounds | How to Eat, R.D.·

  3. Pingback: Race Week Nutrition | How to Eat, R.D.·

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