Running Hydration 101

Running = Sweating in Virginia Summer Heat

It’s summer, and the HHH (hazy, hot, humid) days are upon us here in Virginia.  Unless you’re a most unusual person, you’re sweating more now even if you run early in the morning or late in the evening (two classic approaches to beating the heat).  With all that sweating, it’s important to know how much to hydrate and when.

Two Tests For Proper Hydration While Running

There are two reasonably accurate methods of determining whether or not you’re consuming enough fluid.  The first is the classic “pee color test.”  Check the color of your urine upon arising in the morning.  If it’s a pale yellow, like lemonade, its likely you’re properly hydrated.  Totally clear urine is often a sign of being over hydrated (yes, it’s possible), while darker urine, think apple juice, generally means you’re under hydrated.

A second, slightly more scientific (although the color test has been around forever) method is to weigh yourself before and after exercise.  Generally you’ll weigh less – some more so than others.  (If you weigh more after exercise, you’re probably drinking too much!)  For our purposes, a pint of water weighs approximately one pound.  Therefore, if you lost three pounds during your exercise session, you should theoretically have drunk about three pints to keep up (assuming you didn’t drink – make sure you subtract out the weight of the water you did consume!).

By doing this for several exercise periods, you can determine what your average sweat rate is, and plan accordingly.  Remember though that sweat rates fluctuate depending on conditions – you’ll generally sweat more during hotter and/or more humid weather – so it’s good to take your samples during a variety of conditions.

Don’t Neglect Hydration During A Run

Hydration during exercise, particularly long walks or runs, can present logistical issues.  Compounding the problem is that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another – we’re all an experiment of one, so learning how to drink while exercising may be an iterative process.  Try to exercise where there’s water available, or carry your own – we carry a variety of hydration belts and handheld bottles which make it convenient for you to do so.  Remember, too, that you do sweat during swimming – something many of us forget!

Begin though by drinking 2-3 cups of water or sports drink (see below) an hour or so before exercise.  Then, while exercising, it’s often gentler on the system to drink smaller amounts more frequently than a larger amount less frequently.  Some of us can drink on the run, others can’t – there’s no right or wrong way.  The only thing that matters is getting the fluids you need (and keeping them down!).  After exercise, drink a pint and a half of fluid for every pound lost.

Proper Hydration = More Than Just H2O

When you sweat, you lose more than water – you lose electrolytes.  In addition, while exercising, your body consumes calories, so that at some point, for longer workouts, you may want to consider using a sports drink that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates with water.  Use either a pre-mixed solution, or mix your own, but if you mix your own, pay very close attention to the directions – all sports drinks are designed to provide the optimum ratios of water, electrolytes, and carbohydrates.  An additional benefit of sports drinks is you can often find one you really like the taste of – which will encourage you to drink.  We carry several sports drinks, including Clif, PowerBar, and GU.

For decades, conventional wisdom said to drink before you got thirsty and to drink continually during exercise.  Current research has shown that drinking when you’re thirsty may be the best approach.  There have been numerous incidents of hyponatremia in recent years, which, simply, is being over hydrated to the point where your sodium level drops, sometimes to dangerous levels.  By drinking when your body tells you to, watching your urine color, and determining how much fluid you should be taking in on average, you’ll run much more comfortably and safer.  Drinking a properly mixed sports drink can also eliminate the possibility of hyponatremia.

Sports Drink Surprise

One of the best things we learned in this month’s Sports Nutrition clinic by speaker Rebecca Mohning, is that CHOCOLATE MILK is one of the best recovery drinks when you are out for a long workout, regardless of whether its running, walking, or biking.  Compared to plain milk, water, or most sports drinks, it has double the carbohydrate and protein content, perfect for replenishing tired muscles. Its high water content replaces fluids lost as sweat, preventing dehydration. Plus it packs a nutritional bonus of calcium, and includes just a little sodium and sugar — additives that help recovering athletes retain water and regain energy.  According to Rebecca, you get the same benefits using soy milk instead of cows milk.

Race Day Hydration

Finally, a brief word on race day hydration.  This applies to all events such as races, charity events sch as the breast cancer walks, or other similar activities.  One of the “Golden Rules” of racing is to do nothing new on race day – so if the event you’re doing is serving a sports drink, and if you plan on using the provided sports drink, TRAIN WITH THAT SPORTS DRINK!  You don’t want to find out after drinking a cup of CrocAid that your stomach simply doesn’t tolerate CrocAid!  Event porta-potties, especially in the summer, are no fun!

While we could include a long list of references and citations, we’ll just say that the above information is based on our own staff’s direct, personal experiences and is not intended to be a medical or legal recommendation, but rather just a common sense approach to Hydration.

For more information on hydration and sports nutrition, we suggest making an appointment to see Rebecca Mohning MS, RD, LD (571-437-5249), or simply searching the web for reputable sites including eMedicine, and the American College of Sports Medicine.

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