How you feel and how your muscles recover after you exercise will depend on how long your workout was, the kind of exercise you did, how hot it was and how hard you worked. Having the right balance of water, sodium, potassium and calcium in your body during and after you exercise is important. If you drink too much water while exercising in the heat, it can cause you to retain water. There are simple steps you can take to help your muscles recover faster.
You need the right amount of water and a good electrolyte balance to keep your muscles healthy. Three key electrolytes in your body include sodium, potassium and calcium. Electrolytes are used by your muscles, allowing them to contract when they receive nerve impulses. If that delicate balance of sodium, potassium and calcium is disrupted during your workout, your muscles won't be able to respond as well to the physical demands. That will leave you feeling fatigued, and you will have sore muscles.
If you lose too much water and sodium through sweat and follow that by drinking too much plain water, it can cause a condition known as hyponatremia. If you have hypoatremia, your body is retaining water because your sodium levels are too low; when you retain water, your muscles swell. That electrolyte imbalance and resulting water retention affects your muscle recovery. If you run in marathons or other high-intensity workouts, especially in the heat, you are at a much higher risk of water retention and hyponatremia.
Drinking enough water, but not too much, is important if you want to feel good and be at a peak performance level during your workout or sport. Be sure to replace sodium and potassium either by eating a snack or an electrolyte drink after an intense workout or when you exercise in the heat. Electrolyte replacement is usually not needed if you are exercising indoors for an hour or less. The amount of water you need can vary: How long you exercise, the temperature and what you ate beforehand are important factors to consider when determining what is right for your body.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you drink enough water and eat a balanced diet in the 24 hours leading up to any intense exercise or sporting event. In addition, drink around 16 ounces of plain water an hour before your workout. Eat a small, healthy snack an hour or two before exercising to give you a nice energy boost. Avoid drinking too much water during a long workout; it can leave your feeling sluggish if your sodium, potassium or calcium levels are too low. Avoid taking supplements such as creatine before or during a workout unless it's under the guidance of your doctor or a knowledgeable personal trainer. Creatine can cause water retention and lead to muscle cramping, spasms and strains.
- MayoClinic.com: Hyponatremia
- National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus: Fluid and Electrolyte Balance
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Exercise and Fluid Replacement.
- Sports Medicine: Fluid Replacement and Exercise Stress. A Brief Review of Studies on Fluid Replacement and Some Guidelines for the Athlete.
- Sports Medicine: Fluid and Electrolyte Balance in Ultra-endurance Sport.
- Journal of Athletic Training: Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water Without Altering Fluid Distribution
Kris Heeter is a research scientist specializing in basic cancer and disease research. Her work has appeared in several scholarly journals and online publications. Heeter has also been a wellness professional for more than 15 years, teaching healthy cooking courses and fitness classes. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.