2012 Renewal — Be smart with your water, electrolytes, and calories when going long distance

Mark Russell is one of the owners of Metro Run and Walk and is an avid walker and runner.

Mark Russell is one of the owners of Metro Run and Walk and is an avid walker and runner.

Tale of the Tape Through Week Nine

Weight:  January 1 = 189, March 4 = 177.0  9 weeks,  loss of 12.0 lbs.  Ahead of 1 lb per week pace.

Mileage: Week 9 run/walk miles: 41.2.  Average weekly mileage: 37.3.  Above target min of 35 mi/wk.

When training long distance, you must attend to water, electrolytes, and calories

I am in the middle of ramping up my mileage as part of my marathon training plan.  As with most marathon plans, there is a core weekly schedule, and the alternating weekend long run takes you longer and longer so your body can adapt to the demands of being at the edge of your endurance limits. These longer workouts of 16-24 miles can be tough, even in ideal conditions and with good choices made about how you sustain your body.  Challenging environmental conditions (weather, terrain, etc.) can up the ante. 

Sustaining the body means getting it the hydration and fuel it needs to take you to those endurance limits.  And what is different about long distance endurance training, is that getting your water, electrolytes, and calories wrong not only can ruin your long run, it can threaten your health. 

Hydrate your body with enough water — before, during, and after your distance workout

Staying hydrated through out the day is important.  Assuming that is the case, you should boost the water 1-2 hours before you go out long — maybe 16-20 oz total.  Then plan on taking in 20-40 oz per hour for a long run.  Why the wide range?  Each of us sweat at different rates in different conditions, and what you are aiming for is fluid replacement.  One easy check is urine color.  Very pale yellow is good — any darker and you are likely dehydrated (assuming no food or medicine coloring effect).  Too much water intake can be as bad as too little.  Check out the links on of hyponatremia and hypernatremia.

Balance the water with electolytes

Electrolytes are salts and minerals necessary for your cells and other parts of your body to function properly and use the water you take in.  Sodium and potassium are the two biggies.  You can get most of what you need through your daily diet supplemented with a little boost before, during, and after your distance workout.  Some people are salty sweaters, so they need even more to stay balanced.  Most performance drinks (think Gatorade, Nuun, etc) have these mixed in.  There are capsule supplements (Succeed S-Caps, etc.).  Typical gels also have them (Gu, PowerBar Gel, Clif Shot).  You can also help yourself by increasing sodium intake the day before the long workout.

Calories are the fuel in your tank — don’t run low

Depending on your weight and pace, walking might burn up 70-100 calories per mile and running 90-130.  Where does this come from?  Most of the time your body can just access what it has stored.  The easily accessible calories are in stored glycogen.  Your body can also burn fat.  Once you start pushing toward marathon distance — 20+ miles — those calorie stores can be depleted.  Many people believe that it is that calorie depletion that results in the sudden exhaustion termed ‘the wall’ by marathoners around the 18-22 mile mark.  It makes sense — your body can store a max of about 2000-2400 calories.

You can help that distance workout by supplementing your natural stores by eating a preworkout snack, taking in calories along the way, and using a postrun snack to refill your stores for the next time out.  Remember 300 / 20 / 300.  Eat a 300 calorie snack an hour or two before your workout (experiment with what and when — everybody is different), ingest an average of 20 calories per workout mile during your workout (gels and sports drinks are popular for this), then munch out on at least 300 calories soon after your workout (make sure this one has protein).


Mix and match what you ingest to give you the right mix of water (20-40 oz per hour), electrolytes (sodium and potassium), and calories (300 / 20 / 300), and your body will be at its optimum as you push the miles.

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