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Hydration: All you need to know about water & exercise

Young or old, Olympic athlete or weekly workout warrior, water is essential to our health and wellbeing. It lubricates our joints and transports the nutrients that give us energy.

How much water should we drink each day?

The amount varies depending on our age, size, weight, health, activity, job and the climate, but the NHS guidance still advises around 8 glasses of water and other liquids per day. This equates to around 1.5 litres and can be made up of water, lower fat milk, sugar-free drinks, tea and coffee.

Why stay hydrated during exercise?

We can lose a litre of water during an hour’s exercise through sweating and breathing so we need to top this fluid back up. Our bodies are made up of around 60% water so it’s really important to stay hydrated for everything to function properly.

Getting dehydrated affects our general health and our ability to exercise efficiently. Water is used to fuel our muscles so drinking before, during and after exercising boosts our energy levels and helps us to control our body temperature.

Some studies have shown that your physical performance can be affected by just a 2% loss of water in your body. Dehydration increases tiredness and makes exercise feel harder, not to mention possible muscle cramps, dizziness and nausea.

When is the best time to drink around exercise?

It can take a little time for liquid to be absorbed by our body so it’s important to drink steadily through the day and top up with more fluids in the 15 minutes before you exercise. If your body isn’t hydrated when you begin, your heart will have to work harder than usual.

Always have a bottle of water with you when you exercise and keep sipping water throughout your workout. People sweat at different rates, depending on gender, size, fitness level, environment and the intensity of your exercise. Try not to wait until you feel thirsty to drink as this is already a sign of dehydration.

What about after exercise?

The quicker you take water on board, the quicker you will replace the lost fluids and recover from your workout. Try to avoid alcohol after exercise as it increases your urine production, removing liquid from your body.

How do sports drinks compare to water?

Sports drinks often contain added sugar and some have electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium that can replace what you lose through sweating. Watch out for sports drinks that contain caffeine as this makes your body create more urine too. If you’re doing moderate exercise for an hour or less, water is absolutely fine to keep you hydrated.

For lots more useful information about exercise, nutrition and wellbeing, check out the Gemma Pearce Fitness library of blogs at

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