Runner's Guide to Drinking

by Benita Zahn

I read an article the other day on a health website about running in the heat and staying hydrated. I immediately smirked and thought, REALLY?!  The advice was so basic, so rudimentary, I couldn't believe someone thought it worth the time to pen. Well, shut my mouth because the next day I was chatting with a co-worker who's new to the sport. He's training for the Hudson-Mohawk Marathon and don't you know, he's not hydrating during his runs.  He says he ends up drinking a gallon or two the rest of the day to rehydrate.

Hey, I can recall when I started logging long miles I didn't know how to or the importance of staying hydrated. But it became clear to me one morning when I was out on an 8 miler with friends. We had about 2 miles to go and I was dragging. One of the women had parked her car along the route and had Gatorade for us. That liquid was like a magic elixir. I perked up, felt refreshed and “brought it in.” I was a convert. No longer would I head out without taking water with me. Granted, it took a while to find the right equipment to carry that water. If anyone's looking for some waist packs, call me! I now run with a handheld flask.

Don't believe me about the importance of hydration?  Check out the Brigham Health Hub - the digital website from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston:

Water regulates our body temperatureremoves wastehelps brings energy to our cells, and cushions our joints. Adequate hydration can improve recoveryminimize injury and cramping, and maximize performance.

So, if you don't like carrying water, make a game plan as to where you'll be able to pick it up.  A few years ago, my running pal Bonnie and I were training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. She'd get out early and drop off water at the halfway point in our run. Stashed in a snowbank, that water was hidden and icy cold.

If that's not practical, run loops past your home to grab water. (If I did that I'd be sidetracked by my dog!) Perhaps there's a friend or family member who'll meet you along the way with refreshment.  Bonnie's daughter is our new race support person, carrying water on her bike pack for us.  And remember, hydration is important on cold days as well. As soon as we start running, we begin to sweat.

Choose your beverage well.

You want to ensure that your sodium and electrolyte levels stay balanced. Excessive sweating can trigger hypernatremia - an elevated sodium level. 

Too much fluid without replacement sodium or electrolytes and you've got the opposite problem, hyponatremia.

Yes, there are 'replacement' drinks. Gatorade and Powerade probably the most popular. But you can get too much sugar from them. For a long run (over an hour) I'm a fan of coconut water but take care not to purchase a product with added sugar. Some folks swear by Pedialyte,  diluted fruit juice or Nuun tablets.   I'm not recommending any particular product, rather an increased awareness about the need to be vigilant when it comes to hydration, year-round and based on length of exertion.  And again, the experts say that any endurance exercise an hour or longer needs attention to sodium and electrolyte levels.

How much to drink post-run? Get on the scale. Weigh yourself before an hour long run and then after. For every pound you lose it's recommended you consume 20-24 ounces of water.

Check the color of your urine. Dark color means you need to “top off.” Ideally, urine should be clear to light yellow. Some even say it should be lemonade colored.

Prepare. 15 minutes before heading out for a run it is recommended you drink 6-8 ounces of water.

While running, sip as you go. And remember to drink throughout the day, not just when you feel thirsty.

Now, if all this sounds rudimentary to you - great! But a little “refresher” course is good for us all and it reminds us to encourage the folks new to this sport that being an accomplished runner means being a healthy runner and that starts with caring for oneself.


The Healthy Runner Archive

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Sweet Sleep

Benita Zahn, DPS Bioethics

Anchor/Health Reporter
WNYT-TV, WNYA-TV, WNYT Digital
Health Beat Host
“Everything Theater” Podcast with Ellen Cribbs
“Live Smart” column Times Union


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