Does drinking water while exercising cause cramps?

Neal Spruce
Neal Spruce on behalf of dotFIT

Not unless you drank or ate too much before the exercise and then continued drinking. Drinking too much of any fluid before exercise can cause cramps or "side aches,” also known as stitches. It’s always a good idea to sip water during workouts and by sticking to fluid recommendations specifically spelled out for “during activity” (see below for complete guidelines) you should be fine. Keep the following in mind: (1) any time you eat or drink too much before or during a vigorous activity, you run the risk of cramps because your stomach directs blood to help digest the foods (and transport fluids), but your muscles need it to power the training and therefore no one wins and discomfort sets in.; (2) you should be properly hydrated before the workout and if the training does not last more than an hour you shouldn't need to take in fluids during the period (unless you feel like it).  Fluid guidelines for athletes and exercisers:

 General Fluid Requirements :

  • Fluids should be cold, palatable and selected based on the type and duration of the activity.  
  • Sports drinks should contain four to eight percent carbohydrate. Drinks greater than 10 percent carbohydrate may slow stomach emptying, cause abdominal cramping and impair performance.
  • Drinks with a combination of glucose, glucose polymers and fructose may enhance water absorption.

Pre-exercise Guidelines:

  • Drink approximately 16 to 24 ounces of fluid two hours before activity.
  • On warm or humid days, drink an additional eight to 16 ounces 30 to 60 minutes before activity.
  • Water is adequate for activities less than an hour as long as meals are consumed regularly.
  • For endurance events, training sessions longer than 60 minutes, or multiple practices a day, choose a sport drink containing four to eight percent carbohydrate (e.g. Gatorade).

During Exercise:

  • Depending on your sport, consume three to six fluid ounces of water or sports drink every 15 minutes.  This equates to approximately 32 ounces per hour.
  • For prolonged exercise greater than 60 minutes, choose a sports drink with small amounts of electrolytes.

Post-exercise Guidelines:

  • Immediately following activity, drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of fluid for every pound of weight lost to ensure proper rehydration. Supervise youth athletes to ensure they drink the entire amount of fluid you provide. Drink an additional 16 ounces with your post workout meal. This meal should be consumed within two hours after activity.


There is no evidence that drinking water during exercise causes cramps. It is extremely important to drink fluids during exercise to minimize the effects of dehydration and possible heat illness. Take frequent water breaks to ensure your body is well hydrated and able to perform at its maximal capacity.

Guidelines for fluid replacement during exercise are as follows:

  • Consume 14 to 22 ounces (1.75 to 2.75 cups) of fluid 2 hours before exercise.
  • Drink 6 to 12 ounces of fluid for every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise.
  • Fluids should be cold because of more rapid gastric emptying.
  • Ingest 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after an exercise bout, especially if rapid rehydration is necessary, as in twice-a-day training.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.