Find out the best hydration strategy to support post-exercise recovery—and overall health.
woman drinking water after a workout
Credit: Getty Images

If you're wondering should I drink a glass of water after a workout?, first of all, hat tip to you for either planning to—or already embarking on—a fitness routine.

As a quick refresher, scoring the recommended amount of aerobic and resistance activity per week has been linked to everything from a sharper brain and lower levels of anxiety to better heart health and less chronic inflammation. Not to mention the fact that a consistent routine (yes, even if it's just 10 minutes per day and even if it's entirely performed at home!) can make you feel so much stronger and more confident.

As you forge ahead on or start an exercise regimen, keep in mind that in addition to a quality pair of sneakers and a safe environment to sweat, H2O can be your BFF.

"I always say that hydration is the most underutilized tool for athletes," says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., RD, plant-based sports dietitian with Greenletes in New York City and the author of Planted Performance. "Being properly hydrated is crucial for maximizing performance and energy levels."

Ahead, the best post-workout nutrition strategy, including an answer to that initial question of if it's essential to sip after you sweat.

Should You Drink a Glass of Water After Exercise?

We'll cut to the chase: Yes, you absolutely should. But your hydration strategy should start much earlier than that.

"If you go into a workout dehydrated, you're setting yourself up to fail, especially if you're engaging in a workout that produces sweat. The body needs to be properly hydrated to perform at its best," Rizzo says.

While there's nothing magical about drinking a glass of water right after you wake up, it's best to keep hydration top of mind from morning to night—no matter when you plan to work out.

"Whenever anyone has told me they felt a little dizzy or queasy, and those sensations seemed to happen out of nowhere, my first question is always, 'Are you drinking enough water?' Exercise makes you lose water through sweating, and though sweating helps keep us cool, we need to replenish what our body has lost to ensure that we don't overheat," explains Sherry L. Granader, ACE, AFAA, Instructor at Club Pilates SOMD in California, Maryland. "Drinking water throughout your workout as well as during the day is key."

ICYMI, here's how much water you should drink throughout the day regardless of activity level. Since individuals vary so much in size, age, activity levels and gender, there isn't one standard fluid recommendation for all people in terms of exercise, Rizzo confirms.

That being said, here's what she generally suggests for hydration guidelines for individuals who exercise. This is about on par with the American Council on Exercise's hydration recommendations.

  • Before exercise: Drink 2 to 3 milliliters (ml) per pound (lb) of body weight in the 2 to 4 hours before exercise. For a 150-pound person, that's about 300 to 450 ml, or about 10 to 16 ounces of water per hour in the hours leading up to a workout.
  • During exercise: Drink 200 to 400 ml (6 to 14 ounces) of water per hour. "There's no need to over complicate this; it's simply 2 to 3 big gulps every 15 minutes or so," Rizzo says.
  • After exercise: Since sweat rates vary, there is no standard recommendation for how much to drink after exercise. Continue to drink enough water until your urine is a pale yellow color.

As a general best practice, Granader recommends downing at least 8 ounces within 30 minutes of exercising. Doing so will score you multiple health benefits, Granader says. Drinking water after a workout can help:

  • Prevent muscle cramps. Get this: Muscle mass is about 76% water, so drinking water after exercise can help prevent dehydration. It will also help to prevent cramps and allow muscles to keep contracting normally.
  • Maintain a normal body temperature. "Water is necessary for every process in the body. When you think of the thousands of processes our body goes through on a daily basis to keep us functioning at optimum levels, it's especially important for regulating our body temperature," she says.
  • Decrease risk for swelling. When we don't drink enough water throughout the day—and especially after exercise—the body will tend to "hang on" to whatever water it can get in order to survive. That's why we can experience swelling of our feet, legs and even hands when we're deficient in water. (P.S. Here are 5 more ways to tell that you're dehydrated.)
  • Support digestion. Our bodies are made up of predominantly water, which helps us absorb nutrients, digest food and keep blood circulating at healthy levels. Dehydration can lead to constipation, as well as other less-than-optimal conditions, Granader says.

"Post-workout hydration is really about replacing any fluid lost during a workout. If you fail to do so, you may experience uncomfortable side effects, like fatigue, headaches, nausea and even lightheadedness or dizziness," Rizzo says. "If you don't hydrate properly after a workout, it could also affect your hunger levels by either making you feel hungrier or might even cause nausea that decreases your appetite."

The Best Post-Workout Fueling Strategy

Proper hydration is an important part of the recovery process post-workout, true.

"We break our muscles down during exercise, then they are rebuilt through protein synthesis," Granader adds.

That rebuilding process requires water. And as Granader mentioned, water is extremely important for the digestive system, too. Rehydrating after a workout can help the body absorb the nutrients it needs to recover.

"When we are tired after a workout and not hydrated enough, our blood volume is decreased and that means the heart has to work harder to pump blood to all areas of the body that need vital nutrients and oxygen. This can make us feel unmotivated and cause fatigue. Hydrating post-workout helps us recover from the stress on the body from exercise," she says.

But water isn't the only thing your body might need after your sweat session. To aid with that muscle-strengthening protein synthesis, restore glycogen (energy) stores and support recovery, it's important to eat something after a workout as well.

Since scientists believe that the body's ability to restore glycogen and protein is enhanced after you work out, it's best to nosh on something with carbs, protein and fat within about 1 hour post-workout, experts from the Hospital for Special Surgery recommend. The best post-workout foods and drinks include:

Enjoy one of those snacks alongside a glass of water or two within 30 to 60 minutes post-workout and you'll be well on your way to a speedy recovery and an even stronger workout next time.

As you rehydrate after exercise, keep in mind that it is possible to overdo it. While rare among healthy individuals, hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the blood becomes too diluted from drinking too much water and sodium levels in the blood drop too low.

"This can happen to athletes like runners who participate in marathons and consume gallons of water before, during and after exercising," Granader says. "Hyponatremia can lead to seizures, weakness, nausea, muscle cramps and confusion. Since these symptoms are similar to those who are dehydrated, it can cause one to drink even more water, making the situation even worse."

The best way to prevent hyponatremia is to drink an electrolyte beverage to replace lost body fluids, she says, or to follow the general ounce suggestions above and monitor the color of your urine to ensure adequate hydration.

The Bottom Line

Active individuals need to keep their muscles energized in order to maintain high energy and perform well. If we're dehydrated, we can quickly experience an energy dip, brain fog, a sour mood, along with dizziness, cramping and other serious side effects.

"Hydration helps transport nutrients throughout your body, keep you healthy and help you perform well at the highest levels for you," Granader says.

The main goal of water right after a workout is rehydration, Rizzo adds. Since most people end a workout in a slightly dehydrated state, H2O helps replenish the body with the fluid that it needs to function properly.

"Drinking water before and during a workout is equally as important, though," Rizzo says. "And for that matter, drinking water a few hours after a workout is necessary too. Basically, you want to try to stay hydrated throughout the day to help you feel and perform your best."