Drinking for Fitness Walking: Tips and Guidelines

Hydration Guidelines and Gear for Walkers

Woman with Water Bottle Walking
Stay Hydrated While Walking. Tim Macpherson/Cultura/Getty Images

Drinking and walking should go together. Your body will lose water when you walk and you can end up dehydrated. But it is also important that you don't drink more than your body needs. Learn how much and what to drink before, during, and after your walking workouts.

Drinking Before a Walk

It's good to be well-hydrated before exercise.

  • Drink Before You Walk: Prepare for your walk by drinking a tall glass of water (17 ounces or 500 milliliters) two hours before your walk. This will allow time for any extra to pass through your body and be eliminated in your urine before you hit the trail.
  • Limit Caffeine: Avoid caffeinated beverages before your walk. They cause you to lose fluid, making you thirstier as well as making you take inconvenient stops along the way to urinate.
  • Salt Before a Long Walk: Before long walks, have a bit of extra salt with your meal or snack so you will have enough sodium to stay in balance.
  • Plan for More Water: Carry water with you or plan for water stops along the route where you will be able to get a full drink of a cup of water every 20 minutes. A water fountain may not be able to deliver enough water for you to get a full cup. Use a  walking water calculator chart to find out how much water you should be taking along to ensure you have enough at hand.

How to Drink During Your Walk

The basic rule of thumb is to drink a cup of water every 20 minutes, or approximately each mile. Here are guidelines on what and when to drink during exercise:

  • Water: For walks of two hours or less, plain or flavored water is the best drink.
  • Electrolyte Sports Drinks or Salty Snacks During Long Walks: When your walk is going to be longer than two hours, a sports drink or salty foods such as pretzels can help with water absorption in the body as well as replacement of salt, plus provide carbohydrates for energy.
  • Drink When Thirsty: The old rules of drinking before you were thirsty were tossed out in the early 2000s. The USATF and the International Marathon Medical Directors Association say walkers and runners should trust their thirst mechanisms and drink when thirsty.
  • Take a Larger Drink: An interesting study found that water and other fluids will be absorbed faster if you drink a cup or more at one time, rather than taking in water as small sips over a long period.
  • Drinking When Sweating: You are likely to get thirsty more frequently when you are sweating, so be prepared to have more access to fluids when you know you will be sweating.
  • High Altitude and Weather Conditions: You lose even more fluids at high altitudes, in hot conditions, and when the humidity is low, and you may need to drink more than usual. Again, let thirst be your guide and drink as soon as you feel thirsty.
  • Flavor Your Water: Make your water taste good so you will want to drink more. You can add a squirt of lemon or other flavorings for your water.

Drinking After Your Walk

When you are done exercising, finish with a drink.

  • Replenish: After your walk, end with another tall drink of water
  • Electrolytes: After a long walk, do not overdo on plain water, use sports drink and/or salty foods to replenish salts as well.

Signs of Dehydration

If you lose more water than you replace, you may have these symptoms:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Dark yellow urine or no urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, graying out or fainting
  • Dry skin, eyes, and mouth

    Signs of Hyponatrema

    If you drink too much fluid (water or sports drink), you can end up diluting your blood sodium. This is a common problem of slower runners and walkers at races.

    • Nausea
    • Headache
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle cramps and spasms

    Drink Pure, Clean Water

    You don't need any special type of water to stay properly hydated.

    • Tap water from a municipal water supply in the U.S. or Canada is perfectly fine for most purposes.
    • Some walkers prefer the taste of filtered or designer water. Be sure to clean and dry single-use bottles before refilling them.
    • Do not drink water from a lake or stream unless you filter or purify it. In many places, there are nasty parasites such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium in the "unspoiled" mountain streams. The water is naturally contaminated by squirrels and other small animals

      Sources:

      Dehydration. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/dehydration.html.

      Hew-Butler T, Rosner MH, Fowkes-Godek S, et al. Statement of the Third International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, Carlsbad, California, 2015. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 2015;25(4):303-320. doi:10.1097/jsm.0000000000000221.

      Leiper JB. Fate of ingested fluids: factors affecting gastric emptying and intestinal absorption of beverages in humans. Nutrition Reviews. 2015;73(suppl 2):57-72. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuv032.

      Maharam LG (chair), Hew T, Siegel A, Adner M, Adams B, Pujol P. "IMMDA’s Revised Fluid Recommendations for Runners and Walkers." IMMDA. 6 May 2006. (current as of 2017).

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