It’s all about electrolytes: How to stay hydrated during workouts in the summer heat

Female jogger drinking from water bottle
Female jogger drinking from water bottle Getty Images

Kansas City summer is upon us – and with it comes the feeling of drowning in your own sweat.

The heat and humidity of the Midwest can affect anyone, anytime — even on a short stroll outside. But for people who run, bike, hike, or participate in any kind of outdoor endurance activity, hot weather can be dangerous.

That’s why it is crucial to understand what hydration strategies and products are right for you.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should consume 16 to 20 ounces of fluid before you exercise, and then six to 12 ounces every 15 minutes during the workout.

For avid distance runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes, a hydration schedule is even more important. In the Kansas City heat, athletes lose important minerals such as sodium and potassium. Some athletes lose so much sodium through sweating that they have a layer of salt on their skin after a long run or bike ride. So if your activity level is going to be intense and prolonged while the temperatures are high, it’s important to consume something other than just water.

“You have to ingest something else, something with those electrolytes in it,” says Anne Sharkey, co-owner of Playtri (formerly Endurance House), a store in North Kansas City that sells equipment and products for endurance athletes.

The good news is, plenty of those products are on the market these days. Something like a bottle of Gatorade Endurance is an obvious choice, and one many people will reach for when they want to stay hydrated. But there are plenty of other options.

Avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, coconut water, and yogurt are all packed with electrolytes.

For day-to-day hydration, Sharkey recommends Nuun tablets. The tablets, which dissolve in water, contain electrolytes and come in flavors such as cherry limeade and mango orange.

Sharkey recommends drinking water with Nuun tablets daily — even while sitting in a cubicle at work.

“Staying on top of electrolytes throughout your day is really important, especially as it gets hotter,” she says.

Sharkey also likes powdered electrolyte products by Base Performance.

“You have Base Hydro, which comes in four or five flavors,” she says, “then you have your Base Amino, with amino acids, which help with muscle recovery.”

Base also offers an Electrolyte Salt formula that contains 84 essential minerals.

Sharkey says many of her customers mix Base’s Hydro, Amino and Electrolyte Salt products into a supercharged drink they call “Rocket Fuel.”

“You get that extra boost from the calories and electrolytes, but also the amino acids and vitamins that give you that extra push,” she says.

Signs to look for when it comes to severe dehydration include cramping, dizziness, or feeling like your brain is a little foggy.

And don’t swing the pendulum too far to the other side: If you overdo it with hydration products and flood your system with too much sodium, hypernatremia is a possibility. This could lead to kidney shutdown or other organ failure.

Sharkey says the key to surviving intense heat during a workout is tuning in to how you feel: “It’s really all about knowing and listening to your body.”