How to Hydrate – 6 No-Nonsense Hydration Tips for Runners
Hydration is definitely one of the most aspects of running to pay attention to. How well you are hydrated can make or break your training, race, or even your health. There are some things you ought to know about hydration if you’re a runner, a topic we covered in Podcast #30. Below is a summary of the conversation.
1. Know the Dangers
Just like anything else, your body has to stay in balance when it comes hydration. And it’s not just fluid that’s important. Electrolytes play an important role as well. For example, Sodium not only supports cellular activity, but it also helps your body retain the fluid it has. Without it, precious fluid goes in to your bladder rather than your cells. So, what are the dangers of this balance? There are two extremes to watch out for.
Dehydration is when your body does not have enough fluid in the bloodstream and cells. Your cells need the proper amount of fluid to do many, many things, so getting to a dehydrated state can cause severe medical problems. Your goal should be to never become dehydrated
What causes it
- Starting a workout with too little fluids
- Losing fluids at a greater rate than replacing fluids
Conditions in which it might occur
- During warm and hot conditions (can also be big problem in cold conditions due to people thinking they don’t need to hydrate as much)
- In high humid conditions
- When training or racing lasting hours
- Higher intensity training or racing
Hyponatremia occurs when the concentration of Sodium in your bloodstream is too low. This is also often referred to as water intoxication. Hyponatremia is a very dangerous condition and you definitely want to avoid it.
What causes it
- Having too little Sodium in the bloodstream
- Taking in excessive fluids and/or not replacing sodium lost through sweat and urine
Conditions in which it might occur
- During long training runs or racing
- In conditions where your sweat rate is low (if you don’t watch your fluid intake)
- Using replacement fluids that don’t contain Sodium replacement during high sweat activity
2. Know Your Sweat Rate
Measuring how much you sweat in various conditions is a great idea. Doing this can give you some pretty good idea of how much you sweat during activity, and provide guidelines unique to you as to how much you should consider taking in. Measuring your sweat rate is a pretty easy formula:
((Before Weight – After Weight) + Ounces Consumed) ÷ Hours Running
Tips for Measuring Your Sweat Rate
- Record the temperature, humidity, sunlight level, and other various data with your sweat rate
- Measure your sweat rate for various conditions (temperature, humidity, sunlight level, etc) and keep a record for each
- Measure for all sports you participate in (sweat rate varies by activity)
- Weigh yourself without anything on for both your before and after run weights (very important!)
- Don’t drink anything between your two weigh-ins
- Pre-measure your workout drink (so you know how much you drank)
- Wait to use the bathroom until you’ve completed both weights
One of the best ways to combat running in to hydration issues is to start your training or race pre-hydrated. Here are a couple tips:
- Start hydrating 3-4 hours prior to your workout or race
- Don’t guzzle your drink, take it in over time
- Avoid trying to “catch up” right before your activity – it’s not possible to catch up with hydration
- A good indicator you are well hydrated is light yellow urine
4. Get a Meal In
What? Eating in a blog about hydration? What gives? Not only will a pre-run meal or snack be helpful in ensuring your performance is top notch, but it will also provide at least some fluid and more importantly, it will likely provide some sodium (remember, it helps retain your fluid). Here are some tips:
- Don’t choose something too sweet. Too much sugar in your food or drink can actually cause fluids to move from your bloodstream to your stomach
- Don’t restrict Sodium on days you are training or racing*
- Some sources suggest adding salt to taste to increase Sodium levels, especially on hot and humid days*
*please note – if you have dietary restrictions or metabolic conditions, please check with your physician before upping your salt intake
5. Quench Your Thirst While Running
Even if you start well hydrated, you will likely need to have a source of hydration with you during your run. This is especially important on runs over an hour or in hot and humid conditions. As you sweat, you’ll need to replace that fluid. Here are a couple tips:
- Avoid drinking for the sake of drinking – Listen to your body and drink when you need to
- Even with well measured sweat rates, you may sweat less or more, even in the exact same conditions. Use it as a guide, and listen to your body
- Use sports drinks over water, particularly on runs over an hour or in hot/humid conditions
- Experiment with different sports drinks – some may cause you GI distress
Why sports drinks over water?
Excellent question, I’m glad you asked. Firstly, don’t forget that in addition to water, we need electrolytes. Sports drinks generally have the right balance of electrolytes to water. They also have the added benefit of having a fuel source (sugar). If you get a sports drink that you like and doesn’t upset your stomach, you are more likely to drink as needed. In fact, several studies show that when using a sports drink in place of water, athletes drink more and offset their fluid loss much better. Here is one such study.
6. Replenish Your Fluids
Finally, after you’ve exhausted yourself, make sure you replenish the fluids you’ve lost.
- Aim to replace fluids lost in the first 1-2 hours after your finished
- Replace with fluids that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates to aid in recovery
Now that you know how to survive the heat and stay hydrated, stay safe and keep running!
Dan Cuson – USAT Level 1 Coach