It’s finally here: The season of sunshine, outdoor training, and Tough Mudders galore.
But if there’s one downside to summer, it’s that the higher temps can up the sweat factor of your workouts, making it harder to stay hydrated—and dehydration is a real concern. (Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, shorting your body on the water and other nutrients it needs to carry out its normal functions.)
“Hydration is important for everyone, but especially athletes, because it supports performance,” says Serena Hunt, a registered dietitian-nutritionist based in Brooklyn. And, she adds, staying hydrated is about much more than just replenishing H2O.
“Hydration includes replacing fluid but also electrolytes lost to sweat during physical activity,” says Hunt, who specializes in nutrition for runners. “Electrolytes are important chemicals that regulate our bodies’ nerve and muscle functions, and they also balance blood acidity and blood pressure—all of which is super important when we’re pushing ourselves physically.”
Electrolytes in the human body include potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, which can often be found in sports drinks. But they can also be found naturally in whole fruits. And there’s a bonus: “The advantage to using whole food as a source of hydration is that you get the added benefit of antioxidants, or molecules that protect our bodies’ cells from damage, including the damage that can be caused by exercise,” Hunt says.
All fruits contain water, electrolytes, and antioxidants, making them a triple threat when it comes to hydration. But some pack more of a punch than others, Hunt says. Here are her picks to help fuel your summer training.
7 Foods to Help You Stay Hydrated
The Hydration Factor: It’s no surprise that this juicy melon is full of the wet stuff. But watermelon is also rich in the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene, which is found in most red fruits and veggies. In fact, it packs about 12 milligrams per wedge, which is four times the amount you’d find in a medium tomato. Plus, Hunt says, the water-rich fruit provides the amino acid citrulline, which may increase the body’s ability to deliver oxygenated blood to muscles during physical activity.
How to Eat It: By the slice, of course—but if you want to spice things up a bit, try tossing about 2 cups of cubes with ¼ teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander, chili powder, and salt.
The Hydration Factor: Oranges are a wonderful source of water and they’re also packed with potassium, the electrolyte that helps regulate muscle contractions. (Translation: It helps you train harder, sans cramping.)
How to Eat It: For an all-natural sports drink, Hunt recommends mixing the juice of two to three oranges with ¼ cup lemon juice and 3 cups of potassium-rich coconut water, plus 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Drink up before or after your workout for a hydrating boost.
The Hydration Factor: This melon is another great source of potassium as well as magnesium, which helps move blood sugar into your muscles during exercise (AKA converts food into fuel) and clears out lactic acid, so you can keep moving. Plus, just one 6 oz. serving of cantaloupe delivers 100% of the vitamins A and C you need in a day.
How to Eat It: Try whipping cantaloupe into a simple sorbet with a little bit of water, lemon juice, and honey.
The Hydration Factor: Clocking in at 96.7% water, cukes have the highest H2O content of any solid food. But this crunchy fruit (yes, you read that right) has a few other things going for it, too—namely, high levels of magnesium, potassium, and phosphate. The latter’s main role in your body is to help build strong bones and teeth (along with its partner, calcium), but it’s also essential to nerve and muscle function.
How to Eat It: Forget the fact that they’re fruit—they’re still a perfectly crisp addition to a savory salad. Or simply slice them up and enjoy with hummus or your other favorite dip.
The Hydration Factor: Not only do strawberries pack in the most water of any berry out there, but they’re also one of the best natural sources of antioxidant-rich vitamin C, Hunt says, which may reduce the adverse effects of exercise, including muscle damage and immune system dysfunction.
How to Eat It: Though they may be a natural fit for dessert (read: strawberry shortcake and strawberry-rhubarb pie), try slicing up these berries with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, salt, and lime juice for a sweet-and-savory salsa served over grilled chicken or salmon.
6. Star fruit
The Hydration Factor: You may not be able to find this tropical fruit (also known as a carambola) in every grocery store, but it’s worth tracking down: In addition to its juicy, pineapple-like texture, star fruit is rich in vitamin C and the antioxidant epicatechin, which research shows may help enhance muscle growth and exercise capacity. (For the record, epicatechin is also found in red wine and dark chocolate—but those don’t have the benefit of being 91.4% water.)
How to Eat It: Blend up several whole star fruits along with pineapple juice, ginger syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water for a thirst-quenching beverage that’s perfect for sipping in the sunshine.
The Hydration Factor: Water? Check. Potassium? Check. Vitamin C? Check. Tomatoes are bursting with good stuff, and that list also includes folate, a B vitamin that helps keep hearts healthy. Strenuous activity can decrease the amount of folate in the blood, so it’s important for athletes to replenish their stores.
How to Eat It: Nothing screams summer quite like a tomato-and-mayo sandwich—if you’re into that kind of thing. Or slice a few of the ripe fruits alongside some fresh mozzarella and sprigs of basil for a quick Caprese salad.
Kaitlin Ahern is a HIIT-loving fitness enthusiast who saves all her miles for Saturdays. She has completed two half marathons and a pair of 200-mile relay runs.