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Running Hydration: An Ultimate Guide for Long Distance Runners

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No doubt, you are passionate about running … so much so that you keep on kicking your steps for a long time and forget to have the occasional sips of water for every hundred meters. But, at the same time, you need to keep in mind about your hydration needs or else will end up dehydrated and thoroughly fatigued. Running and hydration go hand in hand and if you are running under the sun, then it’s best to keep the fluid level up. A major tough aspect of long distance running, more so during the hot and humid climatic conditions, is maintaining your water intake. Thus, it's essential to know and understand the basics of running hydration. Your body cannot perform to its level best regardless of your fitness levels and speed if it is not well-hydrated. Be it a marathon or long run, hydration is highly important for your body else you might be prone to muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness and much more.

Table of Content

  • Hydration as Lifestyle
  • The Three Phases of Hydration
  • How Much Fluid should You Drink on the Run
  • Long Run Hydration Best Practices
  • Ultimate Guide to Running Hydration
  • Hydration Systems to Carry Water
  • Imbalance in Water Consumption
  • Summing Up

Hydration as Lifestyle

Remaining well-hydrated only before a workout or a run is a no-brainer if you spend the rest of the day gorging on junk foods and drinking little water.

Proper hydration for runners should be a part of their daily lives and it should be a norm than an exception. If you are running more than 90 minutes in duration for five-six days a week, you have nearly 12 hours (excluding your sleep time) to prepare for your next run at any given point in time. You need to hydrate to recover from the recent run as well as prepare for the next run.

Here are some ways that will enable you to remain well-hydrated on a daily basis:

1. Try and drink at least 10 to 12 glasses of fluids (mainly water) daily.

2. Cut down sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol.

3. Focus on drinking a glass of water before/with each meal. Avoid drinking water right after a meal!

4. Monitor the color of your urine and aim for light yellow color every time during the day. 

hydration
Staying hydrated

The Three Phases of Hydration

It is useful to divide your hydration activities into different stages from an athletic perspective. This will ease your focus on a particular task rather than only attempting to attain general hydration.

Stage 1: Prior to Workout

Your objective is to remain well-hydrated for the next run at a time that is similar to the duration of the run. So if you have a 30-minute run, then you should start hydrating at t-minus 30 minutes. In case you are planning to run for one hour, you should start hydrating at t-minus one hour. 

Your objective prior to an intense workout should be to ensure that you are well-fed and well-hydrated. Make sure to eat the right food that will enhance you to up your performance and can get easily assimilated before you start the workout. Steer clear of junk or heavy foods, which will only make you lethargic and make you feel dizzy.

With 15 minutes remaining before the run, you may want to have a gel with 6-8 ounces of water or sports drink. Many ubiquitous solutions such as Ironman Perform or Gatorade have both sodium and carbohydrates that will give you a shot of energy. You may also want to keep energy bars that can give you an instant surge of energy.

Stage 2: During the Workout

While working out, you should aim to consume about four ounces of fluids for every mile, provided the day is a moderately hot one with temperatures between 75 to 85 degrees. Many Fuel Belt bottles have a storage capacity of eight ounces fluids, so a full two-bottle belt would propel you through four miles.

The next step is to choose the fluids that are suitable for you in terms of content and flavour. You got to choose the fluids according to your preference and ensure that you’ll actually drink it. You will also need to determine what the fluid taste like when it is warm and cold, at the beginning of your workout and at the end, and at the time when you require them the most.

Choose a brand that has high sodium concentration because salt assists the fluids to move effectively through your system and it is a great electrolyte for your body during the hot days.
 
Only choosing planning and preparing your fluids are not enough, you need to consume them during the workout. You can take the help of a watch with lap function and consume your fluids when it beeps each time.

Stage 3: Following the Workout

After you complete your run, you will need to get recovery fluids into your body within the next 15 minutes. You need to balance the fluid with the ratio of carbohydrates to protein in the 4:1 range.

In case you don’t want to buy a recovery drink mix, you can get your dose of energy from a delicious mixture of skim milk and chocolate powder. 

fluids for your body
Fluids for recovery

How much Fluid should You Drink on the Run?

Do you find yourself worrying about how much fluid should you drink during a run? 400ml/hour? 500ml? 1000ml?

As per the recommendations of several experts, including the International Marathon Medical Directors Association (IMMDA), you should only drink when you are thirsty.

However, some experts, such as American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), recommend that runners need to consume fluids early and at regular intervals so as to restore the water that’s been lost through perspiration. They also recommend that runners can drink the optimal amount of water or fluids that they can tolerate. As per the experts, thirst is not the best gauge of the body’s fluid needs or dehydration.

When it comes to drinking water and running hydration tips, there is no “one size fit for all” approach. Each runner must determine what is suitable for him/her and how long they can run comfortably without getting dehydrated. Marathon winners rarely get time to drink water at a regular interval, they just sip sports drink or water every few kilometres that is good enough for them to get going. To get a better idea of how much water or fluids one should consume prior to and during a run, it is advisable to conduct a sweat test.

fluids for body
Right fuel for the body

Sweat Test

A sweat test determines the number of salt chemicals (chloride and sodium) in sweat. The test is done to enable in the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. People with cystic fibrosis have higher amounts of the salt chemicals in their sweat.

The process of sweat test:

1. Hop on a weighing machine naked prior to a run of a specified time.

2. Abstain from drinking any fluid during the workout.

3. After completing the run, weigh yourself again after wiping off the sweat. Don’t go to the toilet after completing the run.

4. The difference in the weight between each weigh-in is the amount of water loss from your body. Each gram lost is equal to 1ml of water lost. If you ran for 60 minutes, the difference in weight represents your hourly fluid loss.

5. Keep in mind, however, that factors such as humidity, temperature, your running pace will impact fluid loss. So the figure you have obtained can change in future.

Long Run Hydration Best Practices

Long run hydration is one of the most frequently asked topics that runners have. Many runners have queries as to how to stay hydrated while running long distances, how much fluids they should get into their system, at what time intervals they should hydrate and what fluids they need to hydrate themselves with prior to their run.

However, one needs to understand that one thing does not work for everyone and long run hydration varies from person to person. Some people need more sports drink, while some people need more water. Some people need a lot of fluids, whereas some people need less. Thus, every single person needs to take a customized approach to long run hydration. You may have excellent pace and fitness level, however, your body cannot function to its level best if you are not well-hydrated. Therefore, you need to manage your fluid intake and refine and observe your hydration plan.

Ultimate Guide to Running Hydration

Mentioned below running hydration guide will work for half marathon strategy, full marathon and every other race events. Find out all about how much should your water intake be, how to carry water while running and various other information on staying hydrated while running:

When to Drink Water?

You can make some strategies that will enable you to stay hydrated while running long distances:

1. Make sure that you have has a minimum 8 ounces of fluids before 30-45 minutes of the beginning of your run.

2. Carry water on every run and by doing so you will not forget to carry water on long runs.

3. Try drinking a few ounces from the bottle for every mile. If you still feel thirsty, then you may sip from the container every few minutes.

4. You can also take salt tablets before your run and keep the tablets to be taken during the run.

What Kind of Water to Carry During the Run?

You need to determine first what kind of fluid suits suit you the most and stock the right kind of fluids. Still confused about Sports Drinks vs. Water, well, go easy on sports drink as they contain artificial chemicals. You may also need to add electrolytes in the water if you are a heavy sweater. Also, if the workout is more intense and prolonged than usual, if you have been feeling tired and worn out of late, or if you get muscle cramps during or after the workout, electrolytes will come to your rescue.

Hydration Systems to Carry Water

A major worry for several runners is ascertaining the suitable method to carry water. It is advisable for runners to carry their own water for they can sip it whenever they need it. There are many ways to carry water:

1. Hydration pack or Hydration Vest

Marathon hydration packs or hydration vest have a capacity to store 1.5-2 litre fluids with the in-built bladders as well as easy-access pockets to facilitate refuelling on-the-go.

Pros: The packs offer hands-free, bounce-free, ergonomic way of carrying water and fluids during long runs. It is a hassle-free substitute for those who don’t like carrying bottles or wearing belts.

Cons: Carrying about 1.5-2 litre of additional weight can be tedious and leave you exhausted much earlier in the run. With so much space available in the pack, you may end up carrying unnecessary stuff with you and make the run more tiresome and exhausting for yourself. You may also end up consuming a disproportionate amount of fluids as you cannot see the bladder and gauge the amount of fluid that you ought to consume.

hydration pack
Hydration pack for long distance runners

2. Handheld small Nathan Quick Shot

The small handheld Nathan Quick Shot can hold 10 ounces of fluids and is an effective running hydration gear for quick bursts of fluid for short distance run.

Pros: Handheld small Nathan Quick Shot is light to carry and it fit to an average runner’s palm easily. It does not add to the overall weight of the runner and it makes their running experience less tiring and more enjoyable.

Cons: The Quick Shot can store a low volume of fluid and is not effective for long distance run.

Handheld small Nathan Quick Shot
Carry water on your arm 

3. Handheld large Camelbak

The large handheld Camelbak can store up to 20 ounces of fluid, which is double the storage capacity of the small handheld Nathan Quick Shot. This is an ideal running hydration system for pro runners.

Pros: Camelbak offers copious storage space for fluids and keeps water cold for a longer duration of time, which makes it suitable for long distance runs.

Cons: With a weight of 20 ounces, the Camelbak can lead to the muscular pain of the arm as well as alignment issues in the upper torso.

Livingit Tip-
Carrying a single bottle restricts a runner to a single type of fluid during the entire run.

handheld large camelbak
Handheld large Camelbak

4. FuelBelt Holster

Fuel belt holster is designed to carry two FuelBelt bottles.

Pros: Fuel belt holster offers extra storage volume for fluids and is designed in such a way that it makes them easy to carry.

Cons: An ill-fitting fuel belt holster may create problems for some runners and may cause chafing or bouncing issues.

FuelBelt Holster
FuelBelt Holster

5. Beer Hat

The Beer hat is a hat with two holders fitted just above the ears designed to hold beer cans. One of the fun running hydration gears, it enables wearers to drink their beers or other fluids hands-free. Runners can use the hat to store water, fluids, or electrolytes during their run.

Pros: Beer hat does not require runners to hold their fluids with their hands, thereby freeing their hands for correct position and correct swing while running. Runners can sip their fluids at their convenience using the straw present in the fluid cans.

Cons: Can add weight to neck and head and make runners feel dizzier after they cover some few miles.

6. Multiple-bottle Belt

The multiple-bottle belt offers hands-free running, space of a wide range of fluids, room for two to four 8-10 ounce bottles, and separate bottles for water and sports drinks. A perfect running hydration gear for long distance runners.

Pros: The belt provides runners with spaces to store a wide variety of fluids as well as it offers extra pocket to hold keys and other items. It is a great tool for long run hydration.

Cons: The belt can be uncomfortable for some to carry it on their waists as an ill-fitting belt can oscillate and pulled down by the weights of the filled bottles. Filling multiple bottles take more time.

multiple belt bottle
Multiple-bottle Belt (source)

7. DIY Aid Station

Some runners make their own aid station and plan their route around the aid station to smoothen their run. The stock their fluids in a cooler, keys, fuel, sunscreen, medicines for emergencies, fast aid kit, etc in the aid station. 

Pros: The aid station does not require runners to carry anything during their run and it makes their running experience less tiring and more enjoyable. Having their own DIY aid station enable runners to adjust their loop length, break their mileage into smaller pieces and refuel with cold fluids in a regular interval.

Cons: Keeping an aid station may require you to run a relatively short loop or can compel you to quit your run much earlier than you intend to do so.

Imbalance in Water Consumption

As we said running and hydration go hand in hand, thus you will also need to strike a balance in drinking water or fluids before you gear up for a run.

Too little can result in dehydration, which is when your body is drained out of a certain level of water that is required for effective functioning. In this case, your body does not have the minimum amount of water that is ought to be maintained.

Symptoms of Dehydration 

  • Fatigue: Fatigue is most commonly felt as dehydration sets in.
  • Nausea: As the body gets more dehydrated, a person feels like vomiting.
  • Headache: Reducing fluid level in the body brings about a severe bout of headache.  
  • Muscle cramps: Muscle cramps occur as the moisture in the muscles is drained.
  • Disorientation: Too much dehydration can cause disorientation and hallucination.

Hyponatraemia

On the other hand, drinking too much of water can result in hyponatraemia. Hyponatraemia is a condition in which salt levels in the blood are diluted due to too much of fluid/water. It is a potentially fatal condition and is more dangerous than dehydration as there have been several cases of hyponatraemia over the past decades.

fatigue
Dehydration after running

Symptoms of Hyponatraemia

  • Breathing difficulties: When salt levels in the blood are extremely diluted then it causes breathing difficulties.
  • Coma: Excess dilution in the salt levels can cause a person to collapse and can lead to coma. It can be fatal in worse cases.
  • Disorientation: A person with extremely diluted salt levels is afflicted with disorientation.
  • Dizziness: Marginal or heavy dilution of salt levels in one’s body causes dizziness and a feeling of giddiness.
  • Fatigue and headache: Fatigue and headache are one of the most common indicators of hyponatraemia.
  • Muscle weakness: A healthy salt levels help in effective mobility of muscles and a depletion of salt levels can weaken muscles.
  • Nausea/vomiting: Reducing salt levels can cause nauseated feeling and can induce vomiting.
  • Seizures: Hyponatremia can lead to violent seizures and can cause swollen hands and feet

Preventive measures of Hyponatraemia

  • Educate yourself: In case you have a medical condition that raises the chances of hyponatraemia or you take diuretic medications. You need to be aware of the symptoms of low blood salt level.
  • Treat related conditions: Get treated for the conditions, such as adrenal gland insufficiency, that can exacerbate hyponatremia.
  • Know how much water you lose in the form of sweat during high-intensity workout and drink as much fluids as you will lose due to sweating.
  • Replace water with sports beverages during high-intensity workouts as the latter contain electrolytes.
  • Drink water in moderation and instead of guzzling a litre in one go, sip a few millilitres of water every once in 20 minutes.

Summing up

Remaining well-hydrated is the key to have an effective workout and quick recovery. Hydration is a part of healthy living and it is important for runners to take their fluids and hydration regimen seriously. How do you compare the feeling when you complete your run successfully and recover from the exhaustion rather quickly, raring to go for it the very next day? Amazing, isn’t it?

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