Ok, admit it. You’ve heard this mantra before. It bears repeating! Make sure you are drinking enough liquids when your runs will last longer than an hour. Of course we are all an experiment of one and there is a lot of variation as to what, when and how much to drink. Proper hydration will help your body perform to its potential. What should you be aiming for on your long runs?
Why is proper hydration important?
Getting dehydrated on a run can make your perception of effort much higher. As you sweat, your blood volume decreases. As the blood volume decreases, the harder your heart has to work to deliver oxygen to the muscles making you run.Running can be hard enough, why make it feel even harder?!
Getting dehydrated also can make it more difficult to regulate your body temperature and it can make it more difficult for your body to transport essential nutrients to the working muscles. You may feel tired, get chilled or start to have muscle twitches or cramps. Severe dehydration is dangerous and considered a medical emergency.
How do you know how much to drink?
This is not as straightforward as many would wish. It varies greatly from individual to individual. This is why it's important to practice your hydration strategy on a day to day basis.
Monitor your hydration status when you aren't running.
You can do a lot to make sure that you are drinking enough water those other times when you aren’t exercising. Carry a water bottle around. Set a reminder timer to go to get a drink. Set a goal for the day that you can check off. There are even apps on smartphones to keep track for you.You'll know when you are well hydrated for you when you need to urinate every 2 - 4 hours and that urine is a light yellow color.
Hydration during a run
Run to your thirst is the most current recommendation.
Your goal is not to replace all the liquids you sweat out when running. That’s just not possible. Aim for a few swigs of water every couple of miles. When you take in your fuel, add in a couple more swigs, which will help keep your gut happier and make it easier to utilize the carbohydrates in your fuel. If it’s warmer, windy or you know you sweat very heavily, drink more. During training runs, you are also training your body to take in water and fuel. It’s important to start taking in water early in a long run as well as fuel so that your gut will keep processing it and your body has time to use it. If you wait too long to start hydrating, it may be too late.
If you finish a run and your clothing is dripping then you know you need more water on a run. If you finish a run and notice salt dried onto your face, arms and legs then you may also need to take in more sodium. Many gels and sports drinks have added electrolytes but you can also try an electrolyte capsule. These capsules give you a mix of electrolytes (salt is just one of the electrolytes you need for optimal body performance) in an easy to consume format. There are many different brands such Hammer Gel’s Endurolytes and SaltSticks Caps.
It is possible to drink too much? Yes. Hyponatremia where an athlete drinks too much water diluting sodium levels to dangerously low levels is a real and very potentially fatal condition. However, as long as you are not guzzling a lot of water with no electrolytes it is unlikely this would occur.
Hydration after a run
This seems like it’s a no-brainer but we find that a lot of athletes finish a workout and then never really catch back up with hydration. If you are aiming for proper recovery, hydration should also be a part of this plan! Aim for a bit more water during a workout and then plan for making sure to replace lost fluids. Depending on when you run, this may take a bit of planning. Aim for foods high in water content (fruits and veggies!). Coffee and sodas with caffeine count towards your hydration status. Sad to say, that alcoholic beverages do not. If water doesn't appeal to you, find something that does!
Quality training leads to improved fitness and improved fitness sets the stage for a great race. Hydration is a very important piece of the puzzle but takes planning and practice. Drink up!