What Supplements are Best for Hydration?

We all know that hydration is important, but beyond drinking plenty of water, many people are not sure what they need to do in order to make sure that they are properly hydrated. With an estimated 75 percent of the American population suffering from chronic dehydration, it is clear that most people are not meeting their bodies’ hydration needs. People who are looking to maximize their athletic performance, recover more quickly after a big night out, or prevent cramps and fatigue are increasingly turning to hydration supplements to ensure that their bodies have everything they need to perform their best both on the field and in the office. With so many different options available, it can be confusing trying to figure out what supplements are best for hydration.

What are the signs of dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. In a dehydrated state, the body does not have enough water or fluid to carry out necessary functions that are essential for life. Anyone can experience dehydration, but very young children and older adults are more likely to experience the condition than people of other age groups. Dehydration can occur over an extended period of time due to not taking in enough fluids or electrolyte, or it can occur quickly as a result of extensive vomiting, diarrhea, or heavy sweating. Although we are often told to drink water when we are thirsty, waiting to feel thirst is actually a sign that you are already dehydrated and need fluids right away. Common signs of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diminished urine input
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Dark yellow urine

When severe, dehydration can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. Signs of severe dehydration include:

  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Sunken eyes
  • Quickening heart rate
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Shock
  • Seizure
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Reduced elasticity of the skin

Severe dehydration requires emergency treatment or it can become fatal. However, dehydration is preventable in many cases.  The best way to prevent dehydration is to ensure that you take in the correct amount of fluids and electrolytes to support your activities each day, including workouts and daily tasks. Water is the most important tool in the fight against dehydration, but there are some cases in which water alone is not enough and can actually be dangerous. When the body takes in too much water, an imbalance of sodium called hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition, can occur. Hyponatremia is indicative of too little sodium in the body and can be fatal. That’s why it is critical to replace electrolytes through the use of an electrolyte supplement that ensures an optimal ratio of electrolytes to fluids, particularly when working out.

What are electrolytes?

Many people think of electrolytes as the salty substances that are included in sports drinks, but electrolytes have a much broader definition. Electrolytes are mineral substances with a positive or negative electric charge when they are dissolved in water. Although there are many different uses for electrolytes, we most often associate them with impacts on hydration, nutrition, and athletic performance. Electrolytes can be found in your sweat, blood, and urine; we most commonly lose electrolytes through sweating and urinating. The body needs electrolytes in order to carry out many different critical bodily functions, including:

  • Muscle function
  • Proper hydration
  • Nervous system function
  • Balancing internal pH levels

Electrolytes that can be found in the human body include sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate; however, sodium, potassium, and magnesium are considered the three major electrolytes. When the body has an imbalance of electrolytes, serious complications can result. Electrolytes are closely associated with athletic performance due to their impact on hydration and on muscle function, and if too many electrolytes are lost through sweat during a workout, performance can suffer. The need to replace electrolytes during workouts has given rise to the sports hydration industry, which began in the 1960s with the invention of Gatorade by researchers at the University of Florida. Since then, achieving peak athletic performance has become a common goal of hydration supplements, but there are many other reasons why people should use hydration supplements that have nothing to do with maximizing your workout.

When should hydration supplements be used?

There are many reasons to use hydration supplements regardless of whether you exercise regularly or not. Although we once received many of the minerals and electrolytes we needed directly from natural spring water, today, bottled water is highly over purified and usually does not contain the electrolytes we need. That means that you could be drinking plenty of water but still not achieving optimal hydration. People who work outside in hot conditions, such as construction workers, can benefit from hydration supplements to restore the electrolytes lost while sweating during the work day. If you consistently find that you wake up feeling fatigued and have difficulty focusing, hydration supplements can be used to improve your energy level and focus during the workday. If you’ve had a big night out and maybe had one too many cocktails, hydration supplements help replenish your electrolytes and reduce headaches, feelings of nausea, and more. If you’re feeling a little under the weather and are worried you might be coming down with something, making sure you are properly hydrated is a great way to help your body fight off infection. Children and senior citizens are more likely to experience dehydration than other age groups, so these groups can also benefit from hydration supplements.

Of course, the most common reason why hydration supplements are used is to replenish electrolytes after a tough workout. However, there are also other ways to use hydration supplements to boost your performance. Maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte levels is key to ensuring optimal cardiovascular function, regulating your body temperature during your workout, and maximizing athletic performance. Although each person sweats at a different rate depending on the length of time they work out, how intense their exercise is, and the climate in which they work out, following these guidelines can help ensure that your performance is never compromised due to dehydration:

  • Before your workout: Make sure to drink plenty of water before you workout in order to fend off dehydration. Drinking about 16 to 20 ounces of water approximately four hours before you workout will help you stay hydrated as you exercise.
  • During your workout: While you’re working out, drink water according to your thirst. If you’re working out for more than an hour, replenish your electrolytes with a hydration supplement, particularly if you are working out at a high intensity. Salty sweaters or people who sweat excessively are also more likely to need to replenish their electrolytes, as they are losing more electrolytes through their sweat.
  • After your workout: In order to calculate how much fluid you need to consume after a workout, weigh yourself prior to your workout and again afterwards. You should drink between 16 and 24 ounces of water for each pound of body weight lost during exercise. Hydration supplements can be helpful after your workout in order to restore your energy, provide the body with needed minerals for muscle gain and recovery, and allow you to come back to your next workout recharged. 

  • What ingredients should you look for in a hydration supplement?

    When choosing a hydration supplement, you want to make sure that your choice isn’t doing more harm than good. That means looking for supplements that maximize the benefits of electrolyte replacement without adding in any junk. The three most important electrolytes in the body include sodium, potassium, and magnesium, so any hydration supplement you choose should feature each of these minerals. Ingredients like zinc and chloride are also helpful in regulating the body’s natural processes and supporting recovery. 

    What ingredients should you avoid in a hydration supplement?

    One of the biggest issues with many hydration supplements is that they often contain lots of sugars, carbs, and calories. While there are some situations in which sugar and carbohydrates are helpful for performance, such as running a marathon, most people don’t need them to optimize their daily workouts or recover from a big night out. In fact, the average American consumes more than three times the recommended amount of sugar per day, often in the form of sugary drinks like soda and sports drinks. When looking for a hydration supplement, try to steer clear of products with added sugars, high levels of carbohydrates, or high calories. These ingredients, which are often accompanied by artificial ingredients and sweeteners, can do more harm than good in the long run and won’t help you improve your hydration. It’s best to steer clear of carbonated hydration supplements, as carbonation can cause an upset stomach, particularly during a workout.