Hydrating Without the Scale


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Guest Post from Hannah Reese, RD

 You’ve probably heard being dehydrated can lead to a decrease in performance.   Fortunately you don’t have to jump on the scale before and after every workout to assess hydration status. Today we are going to focus on other ways to monitor hydration status such as urine color, odor, frequency, and thirst.

As we get started, it is important to note that other conditions unrelated to hydration can affect urine color, odor, and frequency, such as a urinary tract infection or diabetes.  So, it’s always a good idea to use more than one indicator to evaluate fluid status.

  1. Urine color is one of the easiest and most effective methods to evaluate hydration status. You want clear or lemonade colored urine not orange juice or tea colored. Be aware that medications, multivitamins (primarily B vitamins), and other supplements can make urine appear bright yellow or even pink in some cases.

pee scale

  1. If you’ve ever gone to the bathroom and noticed you had “stinky pee”, it’s probably time to hit the fluids unless you had asparagus for dinner. Stinky pee typically has an ammonia like smell and is due to waste products your kidneys are trying to get rid of. Help them out!  Grab some water and drink up.


  1. Monitoring frequency of urination can be helpful especially after a prolonged endurance activity. You should be urinating every 2-3 hours when well hydrated. If not, you know what to do!


  1. Thirst- It is NOT recommended to rely solely on your thirst as a guide to fluid intake. The thirst signal can be delayed as it takes about 1.5-2.0 L of fluid loss before your body will respond with a thirst signal.


Replenishing fluids

Males need at least 13 cups/ >100 ounces and females need 9 cups/ 72 ounces of fluids per day. As sweat is your body’s primary heat regulator during exercise, you could become dehydrated in as little as 30 minutes of exercise in hot, humid weather.  Research indicates fluid losses in hot conditions to be around 1.0-2.5 L/hr (~4-11 cups/hr). That means on your long summer workouts, staying hydrated could easily amount to 24 cups or 1.5 gallons in a day. For most of us rehydrating can be challenging!


Below are 3 questions to help guide the amount and type of fluids you choose.

  1. Are you a light or heavy sweater?
  2. Are you a salty sweater? – For electrolyte replacement go to my blog post Making Your Own Electrolyte Beverage
  3. What types of fluid are you already taking in?


Are you a light or heavy sweater?

Take a look at your clothes the next time you work out. If they are soaking wet and dripping, that is a good indicator that you are a moderate to heavy sweater and will need to take in more fluid to replace what was lost. It is best to evaluate this in warmer temperatures.  Don’t forget you sweat even in cold weather but because it evaporates quickly it is not as noticeable on your clothing.


Salty sweater?

An easy way to monitor salt loss is to look at your skin or clothes after sweating. White lines or gritty texture on clothing and skin may indicate the need to replenish with an electrolyte beverage or meal with a little added salt.


What types of fluid are you already taking in?

No fear if you are not a fan of drinking plain water. There are multiple foods and beverages that can count towards your fluid replacement. Most fruits and veggies are especially high in water content making them a smart choice to help replenish lost fluids (see table). Who doesn’t enjoy a little cold watermelon after a hot workout??


While most beverages can be used as a fluid replacement; alcohol is NOT the best choice. Alcoholic beverages actually make it harder to rehydrate because of its diuretic effect. I know something about a cold beer after a long hot run, just try to limit it to 1 or 2.


Caffeinated beverages such as tea or sodas may also have a mild diuretic effect and should be limited as the sole replacement for fluid intake.


Food with Water

If you do choose to use the scale, the old pint to the pound is now gone. New recommendations indicate for every pound of fluid loss it takes approximately 2-3 cups (16-24oz) to replenish the fluid lost.


Bottom Line

Monitoring your hydration status is important for optimal training and performance. Urine color, odor and frequency plus thirst can help guide fluid needs without having to watch your weight fluctuation on a daily basis.


Remember guys shoot for a minimal intake of 13 cups (~ 100 ounces) and ladies 9 cups (72 ounces) are needed on a daily basis. All beverages except alcohol count toward your daily fluid intake as well as certain foods like fruits and veggies. Drink up and Train on!!



Bonci L. Sport Nutrition for Coaches. Human Kinetics; 2009.

Dunford M, Doyle J. Nutrition for Sport and Exercise. Cengage Learning; 2014.

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL et al. Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2012.





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