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Study Suggests Nearly Half of Exercisers Arrive at the Gym Dehydrated

  [ 124 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • May 12, 2003

A new study suggests that nearly half of all exercisers are starting their workouts at a real disadvantage -- by arriving at the gym already dehydrated even though many mistakenly believe they are drinking enough.

Even minor dehydration can have a major effect on your workout. According to research, as little as two percent dehydration can affect workouts by dropping an exercisers' endurance, and causing workouts to feel much harder.

"When exercisers arrive at the gym dehydrated, it's a challenge for them to catch up on their fluid intake, and their workout undoubtedly suffers," says Dixie Stanforth, M.S., Kinesiology lecturer at The University of Texas and spokesperson for IDEA Health and Fitness Association.

One possibility for the surprisingly high percentage of exercisers that may be dehydrated could be due to the fact that nearly half of them indicate "it's a struggle to drink enough" before, during and after working out.

Experts say what exercisers choose to drink can affect the amount they're able to drink and ultimately, their ability to stay well hydrated. Research has shown that when drinking plain water during activity, exercisers only replace about 50% of what they lose in sweat, adding insult to injury when it comes to achieving an optimal workout. Research also shows that people will drink more of a lightly flavored beverage than they will of plain water(3), increasing the likelihood that they'll consume the amount of fluids they need for proper hydration.

"I tell my clients, especially those that have a tough time drinking enough plain water, that one of the best ways to conquer dehydration is to opt for a lightly flavored, very low-calorie beverage, like Propel Fitness Water, which helps promote drinking for optimal hydration," says Stanforth. To ensure that fitness professionals understand the prevalence of dehydration in the gym, IDEA Health and Fitness Association, the world's leading membership organization of health and fitness professionals, has committed to ensuring that its 19,000 members are aware of the results of the new study and receive new hydration tools that can help them in working with clients.

In addition to the overall dehydration findings, the study revealed:
* A trend towards men being more likely to be dehydrated before they start their workout, as compared with women

Of the exercisers who arrived at the gym already dehydrated:
* More than 90 percent work out three or more times a week

* Nearly 75 percent planned to work out for an hour or more

* More than half thought they were properly hydrated

* Almost half admit it's a struggle for them to drink enough

To help exercisers stay better hydrated, Stanforth sums up her recommendations by offering three simple tips:

1. Bring fluids with you. If you're at the gym, the water fountain is not going to cut it; you need fluids in your hand.

2. Flavor is key. Research shows that people will drink more of a beverage that has a little bit of flavor, like Propel Fitness Water, than they will of just plain water.

3. Drink on a schedule. Once an exerciser is thirsty, it's too late. It's important to drink before, during and after exercise.

As a final bit of advice, Stanforth clarifies when a sports drink is in order for hydration, "When I work with athletic clients who need to rehydrate by replacing the electrolytes they lose in sweat, I recommend a sports drink. It also provides carbohydrate to fuel working muscles to last longer."

The study, conducted by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute at Bally Total Fitness locations in Chicago and Los Angeles, measured the hydration status of more than 300 exercisers upon their arrival at the gym. Subjects' pre-workout hydration status was predicted by measuring urine specific gravity (USG), or the weight of urine relative to its volume (grams/milliliter).

When a person is dehydrated, the weight rises relative to the volume of urine produced, making the urine heavier, or more concentrated, when compared with the same volume of urine collected when a person is well hydrated.

Most experts in the exercise science community recognize 1.02 g/ml as the cut off for normal hydration, meaning individuals with a USG of 1.02 g/ml or lower are most likely normally hydrated, while individuals with a USG over 1.02 g/ml are most likely dehydrated(4). USG can be affected by a number of physiological and behavioral factors, and therefore provides a prediction of hydration status rather than an exact measure.

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