Fluid Needs for the Athlete: Part III – After Exercise Hydration

In Part I and Part II of this series, I reviewed the importance of hydration before and during exercise. In Part III of this series, I will help you learn how to properly hydrate after exercise.

The goal of fluid consumption after exercise aims to restore the body to a state of “euhyration”, which is just a fancy word that indicates you are properly hydrated. To achieve this, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Begin rehydrating as soon as possible after exercise, especially if you were exercising for a long period (>1 hour) and/or you sweat a lot as a result of being in a hot climate.  Fluids should be consumed within 2 hours of the cessation of exercise, but it’s better to start sooner than later.
  • Beverages and foods that you consume after exercise should contain both carbohydrates and sodium. These nutrients help you absorb fluid and also replace energy and electrolytes lost during exercise. Examples of these foods include vegetable juices, soups, whole grain crackers, nitrate-free lunch meats, banana with salted peanut butter, and yogurt with a handful of salted nuts. If you eat one of these foods, you may not need to hydrate with anything besides plain water. If you don’t have an appetite, a fluid replacement drink like Gatorade that includes carbs and sodium might be helpful in getting you the nutrients you need in the absence of whole foods.
  • Depending on where you will be exercising, you may need to plan ahead. Buy extra water or sports drinks before you head out for your run or plan to go home immediately afterwards to eat and drink.
  • Make it easy! Develop a hydration plan that is easy to follow and convenient. Some people like to make their own sports drinks while other’s would prefer to buy something like Gatorade because it’s easier. Determine what is best for you and stick with it.

Are hydration supplements okay after exercise?

There are hundreds of fluid replacement and recovery supplements on the market today making it overwhelming when trying to decide what to buy.  Some of these products can be very helpful in restoring energy and electrolytes while other have many additives that are unnecessary and can do nothing more than promote unwanted weight gain. Here are some tips on choosing a good post-exercise rehydration supplement:

  • How filling is the product? If the product is too high in calories, it might fill you up before you get all the fluids you needed. Many products have upwards of 120-350 calories per 8 ounces and can prompt you to stop drinking before you replenish your fluid needs. Choose a product that is lower in calories especially if your fluid needs are high. Unsure how much fluid you need? Check out Part II to learn how to calculate your fluid losses during exercise.
  • How many carbohydrates and sodium are present? As we mentioned, carbs and sodium are useful after exercise but some products fall short in terms of how many carbs or sodium they contain. A good example of this are the products marketed as zero calories. These products typically contain NO carbohydrates and if this is the sole source of replenishment after a long event, it could have an impact on subsequent performance that day. They also have artificial sweeteners which can cause gastrointestinal issues in some individuals. If you worked out hard or for a long duration, reach for a fluid that has moderate carbs and sodium added.
  • How expensive is it? There are good and bad products on the market but they all can cost a fortune! Water, juices and carbohydrate rich sources of food can all be used to replace water and nutrient losses at a much more affordable price. Some may like the convenience of supplements and are willing to pay the extra price so the “pros” and “cons” should be weighed.
  • What else is in the supplement? Supplements are well known to load up their products with several vitamins and minerals. If the recovery drink is the only item consumed that day these products could end up delivering mega-doses of vitamins and minerals that are unnecessary and possibly dangerous. Look closely at the label and confer with your nutritionist to determine what product will be best for you and your sport.

If you have access to a healthy, well-rounded meal and a big glass of water within 1-2 hours after you exercise, this may be enough. Other times, access to food is more challenging so it’s important to plan ahead, read labels and make choices that best suit your situation.

This article concludes this series on hydration. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about your specific hydration or energy needs, contact me today!

In Health,

~Beth