Tips on Hydration from Sports Dietitians

Top fitness experts weigh in on how to stay safe when you’re exercising in the summer sun.

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This time of year, it can be tough to stay well hydrated, especially if you exercise. Imagine how much harder it is for those who make a living from physical activity – professional athletes! Compiled here are insider tips directly from top sports dietitians, which will help us stay hydrated during these dog days of summer:

Tips from Roberta Anding, dietitian for the Houston Texans:

Drink early and drink often. Anding works with football players in one of the more humid parts of our country and knows a thing or two about the difficulty of staying hydrated while fighting heat and humidity. She notes that our stomach can only empty so much fluid at one time, so it's better to keep smaller doses going throughout the day, rather than taking huge gulps once thirst strikes. 

High water foods should be part of your hydration plan. Foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, yogurt and soups all contain significant amounts of water and will help keep you hydrated. 

If you're sweating, sports drinks play a role in rehydration. Sweat contains electrolytes, and sports drinks will help replace those, while also providing some carbohydrates to help fuel your activity. Anding notes that plain water as well as some other popular alternatives to sports drinks, such as coconut water and maple syrup water, do not contain electrolytes. 

[Read: Healthy Drinks for Summer.] 

Tips from Leslie Bonci, dietitian for numerous professional sports teams and author of "Sports Nutrition for Coaches:" 

Hydration should be proactive. Counseling professional athletes from football to hockey and baseball teams, Bonci advocates proactive hydration.That means drinking at least 20 ounces of fluid one to two hours before exercise, and possibly more if your urine is still dark. 

If you're drippin', you better be sippin'! Becoming dehydrated during exercise not only interferes with performance, it can also increase the chance for injury and heat illness. Bonci recommends athletes take gulps of water during activity, rather than sips (which helps to speed up stomach emptying). She also tells them that they shouldn't rely on pouring water on their heads to cool off. The fluid must go in, not just on

Replace what you lose. The best way to know how much fluid is lost during an exercise session is to weigh yourself before and after the session. Bonci recommends drinking 24 ounces of fluid for each pound lost over the rest of the day after activity. 

[Read: Foods that Beat the Heat: Part 1.] 

Tips from Chrissy Barth, dietitian for the Arizona Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers: 

Hydrate for optimal performance. While dehydration can definitely be dangerous, Barth points out that it can also greatly impact how well a person functions at physical tasks. She points out that even a 2 percent dehydration level can decrease performance. That's just four pounds of fluid lost on a 200-pound frame. Barth echoes the importance of drinking fluid throughout the day, not just when you're exercising. 

Look at the color of your urine. The best way to tell if you're properly hydrated is to monitor your water output through urine. Barth says your urine should be lemonade in color – if it's closer to apple juice color, you need to drink up! 

Focus on fluid before, during and after exercise. One of her favorite post-exercise fluid replacers is low-fat chocolate milk, which provides fluid along with a good dose of refueling carbs and protein. To determine how much fluid you need in a day, Barth gives this rule of thumb: Drink half to all of your body weight in fluid ounces. For example, a 150-pound woman needs at least 75 ounces and up to 150 ounces of fluid each day. 

[Read: How to Exercise in the Heat and What to Do if You Get Sick.] 

Tips from Lisa Dorfman, dietitian for multiple collegiate, Olympian and professional athletes: 

Mind your electrolytes. Dorfman, a former pro triathlete herself, notes that some of the symptoms of dehydration (such as muscle cramps or side stitches) are actually due to loss of electrolytes. She suggests using a variety of beverages during the day to maintain fluid and electrolytes – low-sugar juices and drinks, tart cherry juice and nonfat milk all meet her stamp of approval. 

If in doubt, check yourself. Each person's fluid needs are different, depending on weather conditions, genetics and how much time is spent exercising. Dorfman recommends considering factors such as symptoms of headaches or lightheadedness during the day, as well as urine color, to adjust fluid intake to meet personal needs. 

[Read: Wondrous Ways That Water Can Improve Your Health.] 

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback. 

Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.