Hydration Advice

Hydration is one of those areas that is often over looked especially on the longer distances, usually because it can be daunting and there is uncertainty on what to do. It isn’t however as complicated as you may first think.

When you run, you sweat, unless you are unique or have a very rare condition, it’s a fact and something that the body is designed to do. The more you sweat, the more your blood volume decreases, as you lose essential fluids. The more your blood volume decreases, the harder your heart has to work to deliver oxygen to your working muscles and as a result the harder your exercise becomes.

Sounds potentially dangerous, but it’s really not, it’s the body’s natural way of cooling you down. Runners almost never experience dehydration levels sufficient to cause major health consequences, but normal levels of dehydration will make you feel uncomfortable and cause you to slow down. This could be an issue for the mind as well as the body over the longer distances. If you want to get that top performance and elusive PB, then perhaps hydration may aid you in that, perhaps even more so than strapping lightweight shoes to your feet and shaving your body!!

Drinking while you run can help limit the negative effects of dehydration. But the questions that puts people off doing it are; what should I drink, how much, and when?

As we get better at understanding the body and how it performs, we have learned to tweak old practices to increase present performance. In the past, athletes were encouraged to drink as much as possible during exercise, or at the very least drink enough to completely offset dehydration (i.e. to drink enough to prevent any decrease in body weight during exercise). However, it is now understood that this is bad advice, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is possible to drink too much during exercise. Forcing yourself to swallow more fluid than your body really needs while running may cause gastrointestinal distress, and in extreme cases it can cause a dangerous condition known as water intoxication, or hyponatremia. Something that I think that runners will want to avoid this at all costs. Secondly, research has shown that drinking to completely offset sweating offers no advantage with respect to performance or body temperature regulation compared to drinking by thirst.

Newer exercise hydration advice is to drink according to your thirst. As long as you keep an adequate supply of a palatable drink accessible during your runs, you will naturally drink enough to optimize your performance if you just drink as often and as much as your thirst dictates. This requires you to have increased body awareness BUT an understanding of what you feel like. Being mindful of your ‘thirst’ feelings will enable you to react to the body’s needs and what you need to do, which is namely drink.

Dehydration only affects performance in workouts lasting longer than an hour, so you don’t have to drink during workouts that are shorter than an hour. However, you can if you like. It is suggested that you carry some liquid with you just in case you are planning to go for a longer run. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Plain water is adequate, but sports drinks can offer a couple of advantages. Specifically, sports drinks replace some of the sodium and other minerals that your body loses in sweat along with water. In addition, sports drinks provide an extra energy source for your working muscles in the form of carbohydrates. Research has shown that sports drinks enhance performance significantly more than plain water in high-intensity and long-duration runs and races.

Since you do not seek to test your performance limits on every run, it is not necessary to use a sports drink every time, so it is safe to use plain water in your easier runs and save the sports drink for your faster and longer workouts. It is important though to consider taking the sports drink on a couple of your longer runs, especially if you are planning to take it on the day OR the event offers it. There is nothing worse than having an negative reaction to a drink on a long race.

Maintaining access to fluids during runs can be challenging, we’re not camels and we don’t have a car driving by our side like in the Tour De France. You can however carry fluids in a squeeze bottle stashed in a fluid belt worn around your waist, but this may not be enough fluid to cover your longest runs. To ensure that you have enough fluid to cover these runs, either plan to return home midway through the run to refill your bottle, carry some money and refill your bottle at a convenience store or try a more volumetric solution like a bladder pack.

Wearing a fluid belt will slow you down in your faster runs, but hydrating will in the long run increase your performance. On your shorter runs either carry a small water carry solution just to get use to taking and carrying water and/ or stash a bottle at a convenient place and grab it for a quick drink as you pass by. On the longer runs, plan to take more with you so you can hydrate when and where needed. Remember though, don’t force down fluids, drink in a measured way and as experience and practice dictates.