18 Tips and Guidelines for Drinking While Fitness Walking

Drinking and walking should go together. Your body will lose water when you walk and you can end up dehydrated. But it is also important that you don't drink more than your body needs. Learn how much and what to drink before, during, and after your walking workouts.

Water Intake Strategies for Exercise

There are different ways to determine how much water (or other fluids) you should consume before, during, and after exercise. Sports medicine experts have identified two primary schools of thought to determine how much to drink. The type of hydration plan that is right for you will depend on certain factors, such as the duration of exercise and your level of exercise performance or competition.

Programmed Drinking

Programmed drinking is a pre-established drinking plan where you drink predetermined amounts of fluid during and after exercise. The purpose is to minimize fluid losses in order to maintain peak exercise performance, reduce cardiovascular and thermoregulatory strain, decrease the risk of heat illness, and prevent exercise-induced hyponatremia (also called water intoxication).

To accomplish this, you must estimate sweat losses by evaluating changes in body weight before and immediately after you exercise and then drinking enough fluid to avoid body mass changes of 2% or greater.

Typically, this type of hydration strategy is used by competitive athletes who exercise for a duration of 90 minutes or more, especially in high heat. Athletes who are concerned about peak performance and those who need to ingest carbohydrates during exercise may also use this strategy. Also, those with high sweat rates may find this strategy helpful.

Experts advise that when determining sweat rates, you should do so under conditions that are similar to competition (in terms of exercise type, intensity, and pace) and tailor fluid needs accordingly.

Drinking to Thirst

Drinking according to your thirst level is another useful and well-documented hydration strategy. This plan simply means that you drink when you feel thirsty in the amount that satisfies your thirst. While this strategy seems remarkably simple, researchers have found that our innate thirst mechanism can be a useful guide in determining the proper fluid consumption to prevent both hyponatremia and dehydration.

Drinking to thirst can be a smart strategy when exercise duration is shorter (usually less than an hour or up to 90 minutes), when you are exercising in cooler conditions, and when the exercise intensity is lower. This strategy may not be the best option for those who train for race walking or other types of competitive events or who exercise for longer sessions and/or in high heat.

Fluid Needs for (Most) Walkers

Many people who walk for exercise do so at a moderate pace. For example, walkers might schedule sessions of 30 minutes to an hour several times per week in order to reach the American Heart Association's recommendation of 150-minutes of moderate exercise per week. Generally, a moderate pace is faster than 2.5 miles per hour and may be as fast as 3.5 or even 4.0 miles per hour.

If you participate in moderate walking sessions that aren't too long, then a fluid strategy based on thirst might be the best option for you. Follow these guidelines for drinking fluids.

Before Your Walk

It's good to be well-hydrated before exercise. So, drink plenty of water throughout the day. Guidelines for daily water intake can vary (see the tips section below), but this is another area where you can use thirst as a guide. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Caffeine: Avoid caffeinated beverages before you walk. Caffeinated beverages cause you to lose fluid, making you more thirsty as well as making you take inconvenient stops along the way to urinate.
  • Salt: Before long walks, have a bit of extra salt with your meal or snack so you will have enough sodium to stay in balance.
  • Water: Prepare for your walk by drinking a tall glass of water (17 ounces or 500 milliliters) two hours before you head out. This will allow time for any extra to pass through your body and be eliminated in your urine before you hit the trail.

Carry water with you or plan for water stops along the route where you will be able to get a full drink of a cup of water when you are thirsty. A water fountain may not be able to deliver enough water for you to get a full cup. Use a walking water calculator chart to find out how much water you should be taking along to ensure you have enough at hand.

During Your Walk

Here are guidelines on what and when to drink during exercise:

  • Electrolytes: When your walk is going to be longer than two hours, a sports drink or salty foods such as pretzels can help with water absorption in the body as well as replacement of salt, plus provide carbohydrates for energy.
  • Flavor: Make your water taste good so you will want to drink more. You can add a squirt of lemon or other flavorings to your water.
  • High altitude and weather conditions: You lose even more fluids at high altitudes, in hot conditions, and when the humidity is low, and you may need to drink more than usual. Again, let thirst be your guide, and drink as soon as you feel thirsty.
  • Sweating: You are likely to get thirsty more frequently when you are sweating, so be prepared to have more access to fluids when you know you will be sweating.
  • Thirst: Make it a habit to do a mental "thirst-check" every 15 minutes or so. If you are thirsty, consume enough water to make you feel comfortable.
  • Water: For walks of two hours or less, plain or flavored water is the best drink.

After Your Walk

When you are done exercising, finish with a drink.

  • Electrolytes: After a long walk, do not overdo on plain water; use sports drinks and/or salty foods to replenish salts as well.
  • Replenish: After your walk, end with another tall glass of water

Warning Signs to Look For

There are a few warning signs that might indicate that you are not getting enough water for your walking workouts or that you are getting too much.

Signs of Dehydration

If you lose more water than you replace, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Dark yellow urine or no urine
  • Dizziness, "graying out," or fainting
  • Dry skin, eyes, and mouth
  • Extreme thirst
  • Fatigue

Signs of Hyponatremia

If you drink too much fluid (water or sports drink), you can end up diluting your blood sodium. This can be a common problem of slower runners and walkers at races.

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Nausea

More Tips for Hydration

There are a few other water-drinking tips that can help you to stay properly hydrated during walking workouts and for other activities of daily living.

Drink Water Throughout the Day

To make your walking workouts more effective and comfortable, it's important to be properly hydrated when you begin. That means, maintaining proper hydration throughout the day. There is no hard-set rule for fluid intake and needs might vary by age and sex.

According to one study, adequate intake ranges from about 2,700 mL per day (almost 11.5 to 12 cups) for adult women to 3,700 mL per day (15.5 to 16 cups) for adult men.

To try to meet your daily hydration needs, get a refillable water bottle (or a few) and keep them in places where they are easy to see. Place one on your desk, keep one in your car, and keep one in your gym bag so that you can refill them and drink up.

Drink Clean Water

You don't need any special type of water to stay properly hydrated. But if you are out walking, you might be tempted to drink from sources that don't provide clean water.

  • Do not drink water from a lake or stream unless you filter or purify it. In many places, there are nasty parasites such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium in the "unspoiled" mountain streams. The water is naturally contaminated by squirrels and other small animals.
  • Some walkers prefer the taste of filtered or designer water. Be sure to clean and dry single-use bottles before refilling them.
  • Tap water from a municipal water supply in the U.S. or Canada is perfectly fine for most purposes.
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