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Hydration 101: Are Post Exercise Electrolyte Drinks Really Needed for Recovery?


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You’ve finished your workout, now what? It’s time to start rehydrating, with the goal of replenishing any fluid and salt lost from your sweat. But do these post-exercise electrolyte drinks really help speed recovery from exercise? Let’s dive into that question.


Fluids Are the First Step Post-Exerciseshutterstock_290393030

The most important aspect of your recovery regimen should be fluid replacement (whether your post exercise drink contains electrolytes or not). As a general rule of thumb, you should consume 2 to 3 cups of fluid for every pound lost in your training session. If after several hours you still haven’t urinated, then keep drinking!


For example: You run in the heat for 1.5 hours and lose 4 lbs.

That’s 8-12 cups or 64-96 ounces (2-3 L) of fluid you should replace in the post exercise period.

Ideally fluids are best absorbed by your body post-exercise when ingested gradually, as opposed to a single large amount. So don’t try to guzzle all of this fluid at once!


It’s usually not a problem to rehydrate throughout the rest of your day in preparation for your next training session. However, if rapid recovery is needed (<24 hours) or you lose more than 5% of your body weight in a training session then rehydration becomes more difficult.


For instance, let’s say you are doing double runs—one in the am and another in the pm—rehydrating is key to performing well in that second workout.

There are two ways to ensure you have rehydrated.

  1. The scale
  2. Urine output/color

We have talked about how to hydrate without the scale in a previous post.

Does Coffee, Tea, and Soda Help Replenish Fluid Needs?post exercise electrolyte drinks

The answer might surprise some of you but the answer is YES!  Even though these beverages contain caffeine they still help to meet your fluid needs. Research suggests that unless you consume more than 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight there is NO diuretic effect. So, for a 150 pound individual (68 kg) that would be over 400 mg of caffeine.


Post Exercise Electrolyte Drinks Are Helpful But Is Not Required

For exercise sessions less than 2 hours the resumption of normal meals, snacks and beverages is usually sufficient to restore hydration levels and replace electrolytes. Don’t feel like you need to down copious amounts of Gatorade to restore sodium levels. Most commercial sports drinks are generally weak sources of sodium anyway.


The best bang for your buck is to consume real foods. Examples could be a bowl of soup, a turkey sandwich with pretzels, or other foods that contain sodium (pretty easy right).


One thing we know is that salty food makes you want to drink more— which helps your fluid consumption.

For longer sessions (>2 hours) you could include a post exercise electrolyte (sports) drink. The benefit of a sports drink is that calories and electrolytes get onboard quickly which is great if you have another hard training session the next day. If training will be easy the following day then you could skip the electrolyte drink and reestablish electrolyte balance from eating real food.


Hydration 101: Series Summary

Achieving peak endurance performance requires the proper estimation of fluid needs before, during, and post-exercise. It is vital that athletes create an individualized hydration plan that factors in sweat rates and daily fluids. Also, as exercise duration increases electrolyte supplementation may be required, especially for heavy sweaters. Post exercise make rehydration a priority along with replenishing sodium lost from sweat.


Now for your homework:

Develop your own a post-exercise hydration regimen and share it in the comments below. And if you need a hand, let me know–I’d love to help!

Nab a free PDF with my key hydration do’s and don’ts below.


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