Every summer, there are two questions I often get asked especially when the weather starts to heat up. How much water should I drink while playing sports like tennis in hot and humid weather? And, do we need sports drinks commonly found in the grocery store like Gatorade and Powerade?

How much water do we need for sports or to say properly hydrated?

The reality is that the most effective way to properly hydrate for sports is to make sure that you are properly hydrated all of the time. The average American only consumes about 4.5 cups of water a day along with dehydrating beverages such as coffee.

On average we need half of our body weight in ounces of water daily so if you weigh 125 pounds, you would need on average 64 oz. or 8 glasses. This does not take into consideration how much water is lost during physical activity or if we consume dehydrating beverages such as coffee or alcohol which increases our need for water.

So how much do we need if we playing sports especially in hot and humid conditions?

  • Drink 1-2 cups of water at least 4 hours prior – drink slowly or sip for increased absorption.
  • Do not gulp as you will quickly release the water rather than absorb it.
  • Two hours prior to working out, drink at 1 cup to 2 cups depending on your weight.
  • During exercise – Drink 2-3.5 cups of water or sports drink per hour. Easier to do than you think – make sure to have enough water with you when you are on the tennis courts!
  •  Post Exercise – Drink 2-3 cups per 2 pounds lost during exercise. Don’t know how much you lost during exercise – go for that 2 cups at least within one hour of working out.  And, that beer or glass of wine doesn't count!

It is that simple!  But you say – I will be in the bathroom all of the time!!

The Solution – Sip Not Gulp

The biggest complaint that I get is – if I drink that much water, I will be in the bathroom all day! Well, the answer to that problem is to sip not gulp your water. Gulping is basically like pouring water over raisins and wondering why they do not plump up. They don’t absorb the water.

The only exception to this rule is when we are engaged in sports activities, drinking more 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time or gulping to meet thirst needs.  Let your thirst be your guide.

Aren’t Properly Hydrated?

What happens when we are not properly hydrated during physical exercise? First, dehydration will start to affect your athletic performance, begin to place a cardiovascular strain, and eventually negatively affect muscle metabolism leading to loss of endurance.  Some signs of early dehydration are fatigue, muscle cramps, headache, and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Simply put – you won’t be able to get that drop ball as well as you would if you had drunk those extra cups of water!!

Cramping will also occur  BUT most cramps are caused by an imbalance in electrolytes – most notably potassium and magnesium! This will occur more readily if you are dehydrated as your cells will release potassium and magnesium.  Both of these minerals love to stay nice and cozy inside of the cell but when you are dehydrated the body will get fluids anyway that it can and that means minerals will “leak” out with the fluid held in the cell!  So should you supplement with magnesium or potassium to prevent cramps?  It all depends on where and when you get muscle cramps!

What About Sports Drinks

Should you drink sports drinks – do you need them? One of the advantages of sports drinks is that you will most likely drink more because they taste better! Most average athletes probably don’t really need them unless they are exercising a great deal or tend to experience cramping.  My discussion here is about sports drinks that DO NOT contain any carbohydrates or sugar as this is a discussion on its own.

First, I have to admit I usually cringe when I see someone with a bottle of Propel, Powerade or Gatorade.  Why?  In my opinion, these sports drinks are just bottles of chemicals in the water.  Whereas the electrolytes are to some benefits – those benefits are outweighed by the chemicals like artificial colors and flavors and chemical preservatives.

What do should you look for in a sports drink?

First, a balance of electrolytes – most of the lesser expensive sports drinks like Powerade, usually do not contain magnesium and/or any nutrients like vitamin C.  Also, make sure that there are not any artificial ingredients or colors.  There is no reason to use these chemicals when there are so many natural and beneficial coloring agents like beet powder.

If you are looking for extra nutrients besides the electrolytes – make sure that list not just the amount of nutrients say vitamin and minerals but what form they are in.  Research shows that nutrients especially minerals, the form makes a big difference in absorption rates.  Most inexpensive sports drinks don't list them because what they are using is the cheapest form and in most cases the lest absorbable.