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Hydration: The Key to Exercise Success

Quench your thirst safely this summer and avoid dehydration.

Choosing Your Hydration Fluid continued...

When choosing a sports drink, look for salt and sugar on the label and choose a flavor that you like. While shoppers may be bombarded with vitamin-infused beverages, Maharam says added vitamins are useful for recovery and post-event muscle soreness -- not for hydration the day of the event.

It's also important to replace the fluid you lose during exercise, he says. Weigh yourself right before and after workouts and for every pound lost, drink eight ounces of fluid.

Moreover, "step out of bed every morning and onto the scale, and if you're anywhere from 1% to 3% lighter than yesterday, rehydrate by drinking eight ounces of fluid for each pound lost before training again," he says. "If you are between 3% and 6% lighter, rehydrate and back off that day's training intensity. And if you lost over 7%, get to the doctor."

Dehydration is somewhat insidious, adds Cohen. You can't always tell when it's starting.

"Humans don't have a 'fuel gauge' like your car, so there is no way to tell if you're full or even approaching empty, and thirst is typically a poor guide," he says. Early signs of dehydration may include poor concentration, headache, and inability to think clearly.

"Most people are chronically dehydrated as it is," says Eric von Frohlich, a group exercise instructor at Equinox in New York City and the chief exercise officer of Roadfit, an outdoor training group fitness organization. "Drink before your thirst kicks in," he says, touting the benefits of prehydration. "Drink 16 ounces before an event or session so have some extra fluid. You don't want to suck down two glasses of water and bolt out the door for a run." So wait about two hours before engaging in your activity of choice.

During fitness classes, "I constantly remind people to drink," he says. You should work through a water bottle within 45 minute of any class.

The best way to tell if you are dehydrated is to check your urine, he says. "If your urine is pale to very clear it's a pretty good indication that you are well hydrated, while darker, more concentrated urine suggest you may be dehydrated."

But beware: Guzzling too much water can also cause serious problems for summer athletes. Drinking excessive amounts of water can cause a rare, life-threatening condition called hyponatremia, experts tell WebMD. It's often coined "water intoxication" and has been getting a lot of attention of late.

Hyponatremia refers to low levels of salt in the blood. This occurs when someone drinks so much water that they dilute the sodium in their blood. Low sodium levels can cause a clouding of consciousness, nausea/vomiting, lightheadedness, dizziness, and in severe cases, seizures, unconsciousness or death. The condition is less likely in the weekend athlete, but those participating in endurance sports like marathons are at higher risk and should take precautions.

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