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Hydration 201

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Hydration 201

You know Hydration 101 like the back of your hand. Pre-workout hydration? Check. Mid-workout hydration from water and Vega Sport Hydrator? Check. Post-workout replenishment (including Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator)? Check. You have the when and what down pat. If you’re still a little curious about the why, let’s talk.

The physiology of hydration

Scientists refer to hydration states a little differently than us athletes. If you are well-hydrated you’re euhydrated (your muscles are about 75% water). Slightly dehydrated: hypohydrated. Severe below-normal water level: dehydrated. Overhydrated: hyperhydrated. Our bodies strive to maintain homeostasis in terms of water balance. In order to stay euhydrated, a series of hormones regulate the retention and loss of water. These hormones are triggered by osmoreceptors (monitoring the level of water and minerals in blood) and volume receptors (monitoring the volume of water). During exercise your body produces increased amounts of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) and aldosterone, to force your body to conserve sodium and water.

Oh no, Orgo

Don’t worry, we’re not going to do a complete organic chemistry lesson. But electrolytes can be confusing. Sure we know that we need sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium, but what the heck is an electrolyte anyways? Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals. They can conduct electrical impulses, and help to regulate your heart, nerve and muscle function. The electrolyte composition of your blood or intracellular water is not the same as your sweat, so in the case of excessive sweat an electrolyte imbalance within your blood or intracellular water can occur. Electrolytes and water are more quickly absorbed into your cells when simple carbohydrates are present.

When do you need to be especially concerned about hydration?

While a state of euhydration ensures the highest level of performance in all athletes, those who are competing:

  • For extended periods of time
  • At a high intensity
  • For extended periods of time at a high intensity
  • In a hot and humid environment
  • At altitude

Need to be especially on top of their hydration game.

Warning signs of dehydration

A 2% drop in body water has a negative impact on athlete performance. Urine color is the best indicator of dehydration. Ranging in color from pale ale to amber to neon green, your pee can tell you a lot about your hydration (and sometimes what you’re eating. What’s up asparagus and beets?). Your kidneys are in command of excreting fluids and the by-products of cellular metabolism. When those osmoreceptors in your blood detect that there’s not enough water in your blood, your body reacts by releasing ADH, forcing your kidneys to retain more water. So when you see those darker shades in your toilet bowl, proactively reach for another glass of water.

Warning signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

If dehydration gets severe enough, it can lead to heat cramps or heat exhaustion. Heat cramps are painful spasms in your legs or abdomen. You need to immediately follow the first signs of a heat cramp with two cups of electrolyte-rich sports drink supplemented with table salt. If heat cramps are ignored, an athlete might start feeling weakness, cold and clammy skin and fatigue. This athlete must stop working out immediately and do anything they can to get cool—even if it means an ice bath. Most severely, heat stroke is a dangerous condition. The athlete will have very warm skin and is likely going in and out of consciousness. Call 911 immediately and let a medical responder take care of the situation at hand.

Shouldn’t I just let thirst determine how much I drink?

Drinking water just when you’re thirsty is an acceptable practice when you’re sitting behind a desk or lounging on your couch. But your body doesn’t signal thirst until a specific amount of water has been lost. And that point is beyond where your body starts to experience drops in performance during exercise. So if you’re moving and grooving and sweating up a storm, it’s a much better idea to continually sip (or gulp every 15 minutes), throughout your workout.

All-day hydration

Even when you’re not competing, keep hydration at the top of your mind by choosing foods that are rich in water and electrolytes:

  • Water: Cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, leafy greens
  • Sodium: Seaweed (kombu, wakame, nori), peas, sea salt
  • Potassium: All fruits and vegetables
  • Magnesium: Pumpkin seeds, spinach, soy beans
  • Chloride: Tomatoes, lettuce, celery, olives

Now that you have a complete background, you can follow hydration best practices with the know-with-all you need to succeed. Here’s to staying hydrated all year long!

Have a burning question about hydration? Ask away!


  1. Benadot D. (2012). Advanced Sports Nutrition.  Human Kinetics. 2nd ed.
  2. Rolfes S, Pinna K, Whitney E. (2009) Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. Cengage Learning. 8th ed.

Elizabeth Jarrard

Elizabeth Jarrard is a registered dietitian in Denver, CO who specializes in medical nutrition therapy and plant-based nutrition. She educates clients and consumers on how to optimize their health through nutrition.
Elizabeth Jarrard