Is Drinking Cold Water During or After Exercise Good or Bad?

The truth about drinking cold water

Drinking Water While Walking
Drinking Water While Walking. mihailomilovanovic/E+/Getty Images

Question: Is drinking cold water during or after exercise good for you or bad for you? Does the temperature of the water matter at all?

Answer: Believe it or not, cold water is absorbed faster by your body than water at room temperature or water that is at body temperature. For that reason, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that water and other drinks be chilled when used during exercise.

Cold Water and Cold Drinks Rehydrate Faster

Research has shown that cold water passes through the stomach faster and is therefore sent to the intestines for quicker absorption. During and after exercise, you want to rapidly replace fluids lost due to sweat, so cold water and cold sports drinks are preferred to room temperature drinks.

Cold Water and Cold Drinks Taste Better

Another reason for drinking cold drinks is that most people find that they taste better, making you more likely to drink more and to drink more often. That helps prevent dehydration.

Drinking Ice Water Burns a Few More Calories

Your body expends a little more energy to warm up ice cold water to body temperature. The effect is minor - about 17.6 calories for a 16-ounce glass of ice water. But if you repeat this throughout the day for five or more glasses, you may burn as many calories as walking or running a mile!

Cold Water Does Not Cause Cancer

Urban legends expert David Emery dispels another myth, that cold water after a meal causes cancer. No, it doesn't.

What to Drink and When

The 1996 Position Paper of the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:

  • Cold: Drinks for exercise should be cooler than room temperature.
  • Flavored: Drinks should be flavored to make them taste more appealing, helping people to drink more. A squeeze of lemon juice or a pinch of a flavoring can help without adding calories. 
  • Handy: Drinks should be served in containers that let you drink without disrupting your exercise. Sports bottles have a sipper valve on top allow you to drink without removing the cap. Hydration packs have a sipper tube. Bottles with a wide neck allow you to add ice to your water or sports drink to keep it cooler throughout your walk or exercise session. Some bottles are squeezable, while others have a straw to allow you to drink without squeezing. It is better to carry a water bottle with you in a water bottle-holding pack when walking rather than relying on water fountains along the way.
  • Sports Drinks: Use a sports drink to replace carbohydrate and electrolytes when exercising longer than 1 hour. You lose electrolytes (body salt) by sweating. Without replacing it, you risk hyponatremia if you continue to replenish with plain water and no salt.
  • Plain Water: If exercising less than an hour, plain water is just fine, maybe with a squeeze of lemon juice or other flavorings if preferred for taste.
  • Drink to Thirst: The old advice, still given by some coaches, was to drink, drink, drink and that thirst couldn't be trusted to tell you when you needed to drink. However, slower runners and walkers were taking that too much to heart and ending up with hyponatremia. That is a serious condition. Updated guidelines in 2006 caution endurance runners and walkers that over-drinking can cause hyponatremia, so most exercisers should use thirst as their guide rather than forcing fluids.
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