Hot weather and high humidity means one thing: it’s time for my annual blog about hydration. Please make sure that you get enough fluids to prepare you for running and to help you to recover.
If you only take away one idea, it’s this: Have a hydration plan. A hydration plan is more than maybe thinking about drinking some water. Instead, you need to think about the length and intensity of your upcoming workout, consider your personal sweat rate, know the heat and humidity conditions, and then figure out how you are going to keep yourself hydrated.
Why do I need a plan?
You need a plan because dehydration and hyponatremia are dangerous and you can get in trouble quicker than you realize.
Sweating –– which typically increases during hot and muggy conditions –– reduces your overall blood volume and makes your blood more “gummy,” which makes your heart work harder as it pumps thicker blood. A two or three percent reduction in blood volume will slow you down, but a four per cent reduction will result in a visit to the medical tent. The tipping point sneaks up rapidly and the consequences of ignoring hydration are sudden and severe. If you start experiencing the symptoms of severe dehydration (headache, dry eyes, ringing in the ears, muscle spasms, narrowing vision, or dizziness), do not try to ignore it or hope that they will go away. Get some fluids! NOW!
Sweating can also rob your body of sodium, which is critical for proper pulmonary function. As your sodium level drops, you can develop a condition called hyponatremia. Simply put, your cells swell, resulting in fatigue, headache, confusion, nausea, muscle spasms, seizures, and coma. Yes, it’s serious. And, yes, the initial symptoms are reminiscent of dehydration –– which is a problem. If runners with hyponatremia slam water to rehydrate, they only further dilute the amount of sodium in their bloodstream and make the condition worse. (Maybe you’re heard the stories about marathoners who hit every water stop thinking that they were insulating themselves from hydration woes only to get in deep trouble before the finish line.)
You see now why it’s important to make a plan, right? Let’s keep safe out there.
How do I make a hydration plan?
Although it might sound a little gross, it’s important to calculate your sweat rate. To do this, weigh yourself without clothes before an easy run. During your run, don’t take any fluids and weigh yourself as soon as you get back. Every pound that you have lost is equivalent to 16 ounces of liquid that you need to replace. (You can also measure your hydration level by assessing your urine. You should aim for a pale-yellow or straw color. Dark urine is not good.)
You should also be aware of the saltiness of your sweat. If you notice during longer runs that you develop salt deposits on your clothing, you are probably a salty sweater and you should be cognizant of both getting more liquids into your system as well as replenishing your electrolytes –– particularly your sodium levels. If you are a salty sweater, be sure to add some sodium to your sports drink: 750 milligrams per 32 ounces of fluid is recommended.
Implementing your plan: before, during, and after.
Before: Drink sufficient amounts of fluids (use the pee-color check) during the week. Two to four hours prior to your run, take in some additional liquid to top things off. Don’t binge drink the morning of a long run; that won’t provide adequate hydration but it will make for an interrupted run as you seek out pit stops. (Maybe that’s just me.)
During: If you start your run well-hydrated, you can just concentrate on replacing the liquid that you lose while running. Consider factors such as humidity, altitude, and intensity level. If you are running more than an hour, you should take water with you and try to consume twelve to twenty four ounces.
There is some debate about when to drink (when you’re thirsty? At regular intervals regardless of bodily demand?), but I counsel a common-sense approach. If you are thirsty, drink. Likewise, if you know you need to replace 24 ounces of water, drink 12 ounces in the first half of the run and the rest in the back half. Drink more when the humidity is higher. Don’t make it too complicated.
After: Rehydrate after you have finished running. Aim for consuming 16 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight that you have lost. Replace electrolytes and replenish your carbohydrate stores. (You will also want to have some protein to start repairing your muscles, but that is an entirely different blog.)
Some runners enjoy hitting the salty snacks after a run. There is one easy rule when eating pretzels or potato chips therapeutically: if the saltiness tastes great, continue eating. If the snacks begin to taste metallic, you have had enough sodium.
What to drink
For shorter runs, you can probably stick with plain cool tap water. There. I said it.
On longer runs, you’ll need to replace electrolytes, as well as water. Try dropping a NUUN tablet, for example, into 12-16 ounces of water. The electrolytes will help speed water absorption and delay fatigue. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium also will allow you to better hold onto liquids.
Finally, if you are running longer than 90 minutes, you should ingest some carbohydrates to replace the glucose you have burned. Try an energy drink such as Tailwind Endurance Fuel, which contains carbohydrates as well as electrolytes.
Carrying your fluids
Obviously, you are probably going to have to carry your water or electrolyte solution with you. Luckily, companies such as Nathan and Amphipod make a host of convenient solutions.
- For short runs, try a 12-ounce hand-held. Most hand-helds now have a grip-free holder that will not fatigue your arm, as well as a small pocket for keys, etc.
- For longer runs (or for hands-free convenience), try a hydration belt. Belts will let you carry 24 ounces of water in two separate bottles –– perfect for a bottle of water plus a bottle of carbohydrate-enriched fuel. The belts also generally have a large pocket to hold a phone. These re-engineered products now feature elastic in the webbing, making for a comfortable, versatile fit.
- For trail runs, try a hydration vest. The hydration vests are now like engineered garments that allow you to carry 7-12 liters of fluid. The main container is a bladder that is designed to fit around your body so that you are not carrying the full weight of the water on your shoulders. Extra water can be carried in the vest’s front pockets.
There are a lot of ways to comfortably carry water while on the run, so there are really no excuses not to.
Although hydration is a critical concern year-round, it is especially important during the summer months when the temperature and humidity rise. Here are the takeaways:
Have a plan –– don’t “wing it” or you might wind up crashing!
Every pound lost during a run equals sixteen ounces of liquid –– replace it.
Don’t over-drink: satisfy your thirst and know your sweat rate.
If you are a salty sweater, replenish your sodium levels
Carry your water: handhelds, belts, or vests –– there go your excuses.As with most things running, planning ahead will allow you to go faster longer and have more fun. Stay cool…and drink up!