Yes, it’s officially summer. That means it’s an appropriate time to discuss hydration’s importance, and some common runner hydration mistakes to avoid. If you want to keep your runs on track, feel better during, and after your runs, read on!
1. LACK of hydration (including when NOT running)
Downing a large glass of water a few minutes or an hour before a run does not mean you’re properly hydrated! Hydration is a matter of what you do throughout the week, not just the few hours surrounding a run. (Plus, chugging water shortly before a run means a likely pit stop while en route.)
A rule of thumb is to drink EACH DAY a minimum of HALF your body weight (lbs) in ounces! If you weigh 150 lbs, then that equals 75 oz of water a day, assuming little to no activity.
On the Run Guidance
A Runner’s World article states to drink .4-.8L of water per hour (~2-4 cups). If you are running an hour+ in hot & humid weather, include a sports drink/electrolyte beverage on the run.
A sweat test is a great option as well to better understand your sweat rate. Weigh yourself without clothing pre and post run; run should be for about an hour. If you’ve lost 1-2% body weight, you’re hydrating sufficiently. If you’ve lost 2-3% of body weight, you need to hydrate more.
Essentially, if you’ve lost one pound running for one hour, that means you need to drink ~16 ounces of fluid an hour, or ~four ounces every 15 minutes. (Note, according to studies, five sips equals about two ounces.)
2. Thinking that SALT is the enemy
Yes, too much salt/sodium has negative health consequences (ie high blood pressure). But, sodium (among other electrolytes) is critical in maintaining fluid balance, blood pressure, muscle function and other vital functions. With high temperatures, and humidity, you sweat more, thus, lose sodium, and other electrolytes.
The rate of sodium loss varies (some people are heavy or salty sweaters!), but a rough average is 700 mg of sodium per liter (approx four cups) of sweat per hour.
In short, it’s okay, and actually a good idea, to include a salty snack (ie: peanuts, popcorn, pretzels) in your diet, and/or to sprinkle some salt on your food to taste! By doing so, you are better prepared for your runs.
More Common Runner Hydration Mistakes
3. No sports drink/electrolytes on your long and/or hot runs
I’ve spoken with some runners about their hydration/nutrition, and they mention they only use a GU type/gel item while running. These items are great to replenish carbs, and help prevent the well known “bonk.” But, the vast majority have a limited amount of electrolytes.
According to Nancy Clark, RD, during a hard two hour run, you can lose as much as 1-2K mg of sodium. After two hours, your goal is to replace ~500 mg sodium per hour. She also recommends eating salty foods before extended exercise in hot weather to stay better hydrated.
For shorter and cooler workouts, it’s okay to pass on sports drinks/electrolytes. Yet, for longer runs or races (training & sweating 2-3 plus hours, especially in the heat), adding an electrolyte mix to your water or ingesting a salt tablet/chew is a good idea. Of course, test it out in training to make sure it agrees with you come race day.
You may be curious to know the different items’ electrolyte content are. Below is a breakdown on two sports drinks, electrolyte tablets, and some common food items.
|Cytomax 8 ounces||90 mg|
|Gatorade 8 ounces||110 mg|
|GU Energy Gel||55 mg|
|Science in Sport Gel||10 mg|
|Nuun tablet||300 mg|
|Salt packet||230 mg|
|Salt Stick Fast Chews||50 mg (caps have 215 mg)|
|Chocolate milk, 8 oz||150 mg|
|Dill pickle spear||350 mg|
|Slice of bread||100 mg|
|Beef jerky 1 oz||600 mg|
|V8 Juice 8 oz||64o mg|
|Chipotle Burrito Bowl||2,000 mg|
The above table only focuses on sodium, one of the four major electrolytes (others are magnesium, potassium and calcium). Most items will include all electrolytes, but best to check the label to be sure.
I’m sure you have heard of hyponatremia, which is a result of excess fluid intake with insufficient electrolyte intake. Hyponatremia (low blood sodium) can be dangerous and lead to brain swelling, coma, and even death. It is also MORE common than hypernatremia. If anything, you’re more likely to ingest too much fluid without sufficient electrolytes while running.
4. Ignoring the WARNING signs
When dehydration hits, there are signs, if we pay attention. The earliest signs are a slight headache or dark colored urine (should typically be lemonade shade). When dehydration progresses, you may experience muscle cramps, irritability, fatigue, extreme thirst, and even a lower heart rate.
Pressing on and ignoring these signs in order to hit a goal is not only unwise, it could actually be life threatening if it leads to heat illness or heat stroke. Therefore, if you notice any of these symptoms, end the run. Ingest a sports drink, but slowly with small sips (roughly .5-1.0 liters, or 2 to 4 cups per hour).
This is truly a critical, but common runner hydration mistake to avoid!!
< Related Topic: Hydration Vests! >
5. Solely focusing on SODIUM intake
While sodium is the most well known electrolyte/mineral, potassium and magnesium are stars in their own right. They are critical for muscle function and maintaining a proper fluid balance. If deficient, dehydration symptoms can worsen, and cause runners to have extreme muscle cramping.
Unfortunately, most American diets fall short of the daily intake requirements (400 mg Magnesium and 4,700 mg Potassium). A supplement is not necessary with a well balanced diet that includes veggies, fruit, legumes and grains.
Hints for some foods that are high in these minerals are below.
Potassium: bananas, oranges, tomatoes, pomegranate juice, sweet potatoes
Magnesium: almonds, leafy greens, lentils, broccoli, flaxseed
I hope this article helps you to avoid some of the more common runner hydration mistakes! Always welcome to your feedback, of course.