Hydration for Runners – How Much Water Should a Runner Drink

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David Dack

Ever felt like your engine’s running a tad low during a sprint? Maybe it’s that cramp in your side during a marathon or simply feeling zapped after a short jog around the block.

Could be a mystery, but let’s talk about a likely suspect – hydration (or lack thereof!).

It’s not just the summer sun that can leave you parched; those deceptive winter chills can also leave you surprisingly thirsty. The truth? No matter the season, if you’re putting one foot in front of the other, your hydration game needs to be on point!

You see, when we’re in motion, hydration isn’t just about quenching thirst—it’s the secret elixir for peak performance and dodging those pesky injuries.

Here’s the good news.

Navigating the waters (pun intended!) of hydration doesn’t require a PhD. Good news, right? You don’t need to be a scientist to sip smartly.

In this blog post, we’re diving deep into the ocean of hydration knowledge. We’ll explore the “whys” and the “hows” of water intake for runners. Ready? Tighten those laces, fill up that water bottle, and let’s make a splash!

The Importance Of Proper Hydration For Runners

Ever thought about going on a food cleanse? You could actually survive without food for about a month. Shocking, right? But try living without water for just a few days, and your body would raise the white flag. But why is water such a big deal?

The answer is clear (just like the best kind of water!). Our bodies are swimming pools, with about 60-70% of us made up of H2O.

Here’s the exact breakdown:

  • Brain Boost: Think you’re sharp? Thank your brain, which is a whopping 95% water.
  • Breathe Easy: Our lungs, which help us catch our breath after a run, are nearly 90% water.
  • Blood Flow: Our blood, the highway for nutrients and oxygen in our body, is cruising at 82% water.

The Roles of Water

Water performs many functions in the body, including:

  • Life’s Highway: Water zips through our bloodstream, delivering goodies like nutrients and oxygen to our cells and sweeping out the not-so-great stuff (a.k.a. waste).
  • Ever taken a jump or made a sudden move? Thank water for cushioning your soft tissues and keeping those joints smooth as butter.
  • Enjoying your energy bars? Water ensures you digest them right, so you get all the energy you need.
  • Want that runner’s glow? Hydration helps your skin get rid of toxins, keeping it fresh.
  • Feeling hot or cold? Water balances your body temperature through sweating and respiration, so you’re just right.

Dehydration – Why Do you Need to Avoid it?

The human body is like a sponge, and dehydration is when that sponge is dried up. Without enough fluids, everything starts to malfunction. Cells don’t get the water they need, organs don’t function optimally, and, frankly, things can get pretty dire. Ever felt dizzy during a workout or cramped up halfway through a run? Yep, it’s likely dehydration is the culprit.

Here’s How Dehydration Plays Out Inside You:

  • Sweat It Out: Running means sweating. And sweating means losing water. Your body is just trying to cool down, but it’s also draining itself in the process.
  • Blood Drama: Remember, our blood is about 82% water. So, as you dehydrate, your blood gets “thicker,” reducing the volume. That means your heart is pumping less blood with each beat.
  • Less Oxygen & Nutrients: With lower blood volume, your muscles aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they desperately need during a run. So, they cry out for help, which we feel as fatigue and slowing down.
  • Heart Works Overtime: Studies have shown that a mere 2% loss in body weight from sweating (which is easy to do on a long run) makes your heart work way harder. It’s like running with a backpack. Nobody wants that!
  • Nasty Symptoms Alert: Lower blood volume? Check. Overworked heart? Check. Add fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, and nausea to the mix. In severe cases, this can escalate to heat-related illnesses and even become life-threatening.

Additional Resource – What’s the best temperature for running?

Mild VS Severe Dehydration

Dehydration levels can range from mild to serious, even life-threatening cases.

Mild dehydration can typically be treated at home, whereas severe cases of the condition require immediate medical attention in a hospital or emergency care setting.

The most common symptoms of dehydration include:

Mild Dehydration

Severe Dehydration

  • Extreme thirst
  • Sunken eyes
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dark urine, or no urine at all
  • Fever
  • Loss of consciousness (in serious cases).

A Dehydration Epidemic?

It sounds strange, but despite water being readily available, many of us are walking around in a state of chronic dehydration. Experts suggest a large percentage of us don’t drink the recommended 60-70 ounces of water daily. And that’s just the average recommendation – if you’re active or running regularly, your hydration needs shoot up even further!

How Much Water Should a Runner Drink

As much as we’d love a neat, one-size-fits-all answer, hydration is personal. Why? Because we’re all unique individuals with varying needs based on several factors.

What Influences Your Hydration Needs?

  • Training Intensity: A casual jog around the block isn’t the same as training for a marathon.
  • Fitness Level: Newbie runners might sweat differently than seasoned marathoners.
  • Wardrobe Choices: Running in a t-shirt and shorts in the cool morning is different than donning layers in colder weather.
  • Personal Physiology: Some of us just sweat more than others – it’s just how we’re wired.
  • Environmental Factors: Running in humid Miami is a vastly different experience from a breezy San Francisco morning.

A Simple Guideline

While there’s no universal rule, a popular guideline suggests drinking half your body weight in ounces. So, if you tip the scales at 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces of water throughout the day. But remember, this is a general guideline. Depending on your activity level and the factors listed above, you might need more (or sometimes less).

Listen to Your Body

Remember the good ol’ thirst mechanism? Don’t ignore it. If you’re thirsty, drink up. It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to stay on top of your hydration.

Additional resource – Your guide to Charleys Horse in runners

runner eating

How to Stay Well Hydrated While Running

Here are a few ways that can help reach your daily quota of the life-granting liquid:

Drink The Whole Day

Consistency is key. And when it comes to hydration, it’s no different. Drinking water consistently throughout the day is like ensuring your car’s gas tank is always full. You never know when you’ll need that extra mileage!

Morning Ritual

Start your day on the right foot (or sip!). Before you dive into that morning coffee or tea, grab a glass of water. It’s a refreshing wake-up call and kickstarts your hydration game.

Desk-side Buddy

Whether you’re working from home or back in the office, keep a filled water bottle at your desk. It’s not just decorative; it’s a visual nudge to sip frequently. Before you know it, you’ll be refilling it multiple times throughout the day!

On-the-Go Hydration

Heading out? Don’t forget your trusty water bottle. Whether you’re running errands or going for a quick walk, having water on hand ensures you won’t be caught dehydrated.

Bedtime Routine

Just as you begin your day with hydration, end it on the same note. A glass before bed can help maintain hydration levels as you sleep. But pro-tip: don’t overdo it unless you fancy midnight bathroom trips!

The Hydration Mantra

Having water accessible and in sight is the trick. The more you see it, the more likely you are to drink it. Make it a personal challenge – how many times can you refill that bottle in a day?

Additional Resource – Running in polluted areas

Start Your Runs Well Hydrated

Let’s set the scene: You’ve got your running shoes laced up, your favorite playlist ready to go, and the open road ahead of you. But have you checked your hydration levels? Before you set off on that run, let’s talk about pre-hydrating the right way.

The Rule of Thumb (or Glass!)

Aim to sip about 500 to 900 ml of water in the two to three hours leading up to your run. Imagine having two to four glasses of water as your pre-run ritual. And remember, if your body is already sending you thirsty signals, you might be starting on the back foot.

The Fine Balance

But here’s the catch: Just like in Goldilocks, you want the amount to be just right! Chugging too much water right before your run can give your kidneys an overtime shift, and you may find yourself hunting for restrooms more than focusing on your pace  (more on this later).

Additional resource – Sodium for runners

Hydration During Long Runs

For those extensive runs, remember the golden rule: sip about 150 to 250 ml (that’s roughly a cup) every 15 to 20 minutes. Picture it as your own little pit stop. A momentary pause not just to catch your breath but to quench your thirst.

Upgrade Your Drink!

And hey, if you’re out there for more than an hour, especially in that sweltering sun, swap out that water bottle for a sports drink. Why, you ask? These drinks pack both carbs and electrolytes, giving you that much-needed energy boost and keeping those muscle cramps at bay.

No Water Stops? No Problem!

We’ve all been there: those trails that don’t have a water fountain in sight. But guess what? There’s no excuse for not having water on hand. Enter the foldable tumbler. It’s your trusty hydration sidekick. Run with it, sip from it, and when you’re done, fold it up and tuck it away. Or better yet, find a water source and get a refill.

After Your Runs

Okay, you’ve done the hard work, aced that run, and now you’re back, a bit sweaty and super proud. But hang on, before you kick off those shoes and sink into the couch, I’ve got some important hydration homework for you.

The Post-Run Cool Down

Did you know that in just an hour of running, you might have lost up to half a liter of fluid? Yep, it’s not just sweat making your tee cling to your back! And if you decided to run during that midday sun? Oof! Those numbers can soar.

Here’s your simple rehydration blueprint:

Right after you finish, guzzle down two to three glasses of water within the first 10 to 20 minutes. Think of it as a mini-celebration for crossing that finish line!

A Quick Recap on the Hydration Timeline:

  • Prep Time: Guzzle down two glasses (that’s 500ml) about two hours before your run.
  • The Warm-Up Drink: Sip on one to two cups (250 to 500 ml) just 10 to 15 minutes before you hit the road.
  • Mid-Run Refills: Every 15 to 20 minutes into your run, have about a third of a cup (roughly 75 to 250 ml).
  • The Finisher: Once you’re done, down two to three glasses (500 to 750 ml) within 30 minutes.

The Pee Test

The color of your urine can be an insightful indicator of your hydration levels, offering a quick and straightforward check. Here’s how to use this method effectively:

  • Light Yellow – Lemonade: This is the ideal shade, indicating you’re properly hydrated. If your urine is consistently this color, you’re likely drinking the right amount of water.
  • Clear: Transparent urine might mean you’re overhydrating. While it’s essential to ensure you drink enough, excessively clear urine can dilute essential salts and minerals in your body.
  • Dark Yellow – Apple Juice: Darker urine is a sign that you’re dehydrated and need to increase your fluid intake. The darker the shade, the more you need to hydrate.
  • Smell: If your urine has a particularly strong odor, it might also be a sign of dehydration. A more concentrated urine can result in a stronger smell.
  • Portable Guide: If you find it difficult to remember these guidelines, printing out a urine color chart might be handy. Keeping it in your running bag can serve as a quick reference when you’re out and about.

Weigh Yourself

By weighing yourself both before and after your runs, you can get a clear picture of your sweat rate, which is essentially the amount of fluid you’re losing.

Here’s how you can make this method work for you:

  • Pre-Run Weigh-In: Before you hit the pavement or the trails, take a trip to the bathroom to empty your bladder, then step on the scale. Make a note of your weight (ideally without clothes to get the most accurate reading).
  • Post-Run Weigh-In: As soon as you complete your run, towel off any excess sweat and weigh yourself again (under the same conditions as your pre-run weigh-in).
  • Calculate Fluid Loss: Subtract your post-run weight from your pre-run weight. The difference gives you an estimate of the amount of fluid you’ve lost. For example, if you’re 1 pound lighter post-run, you’ve lost about 16 ounces (or 500 ml) of fluid.
  • Replace What You’ve Lost: For every pound you’ve lost during your run, aim to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water over the next few hours to properly rehydrate.
  • Factor in the Conditions: Remember, your sweat rate can change depending on various factors. Hotter temperatures or increased humidity can lead to a higher sweat rate. Likewise, if you’re pushing yourself harder or running at a faster pace, you might find yourself sweating more.

Do not Overdrink

Simply put, hyponatremia occurs when the sodium levels in your blood are abnormally low. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps regulate the balance of water in and around your cells. Drinking excessive amounts of water can dilute this essential electrolyte in the bloodstream.

Early signs of hyponatremia include nausea, headache, and bloating. If unchecked, it can escalate to more severe symptoms like confusion, seizures, vomiting, and in dire cases, coma or even death.

Runners, especially those participating in long endurance events, might feel the urge to drink large volumes of water to stave off dehydration. But without a corresponding intake of electrolytes, they can unknowingly dilute their sodium levels, putting them at risk of hyponatremia.

The best way to prevent overhydration is by drinking to thirst rather than sticking to a rigid schedule. Listen to your body’s signals. Consuming sports drinks with electrolytes during long runs can also help maintain a balance.

The survey from the 89KM Marathon in South Africa is a stark reminder of how prevalent and dangerous overhydration can be. Overhydration not only hampers performance but also poses significant health risks.

To Err On The Side Of Caution…

Everyone’s hydration needs vary. Factors such as climate, personal sweat rate, intensity of the exercise, and individual physiology play a significant role.

Both dehydration and overhydration present symptoms that can help in early detection. Learn to read your body’s signals.

Consuming sports drinks or electrolyte solutions can help maintain a balance, especially during prolonged activities. These can help replenish lost salts and reduce the risk of hyponatremia.

If you’re unsure about your hydration needs or suspect an imbalance in your electrolyte levels, seeking medical advice is a prudent decision. Regular checks, especially if you’re a long-distance runner or engage in intense training, can help prevent complications.

With time and practice, you’ll better understand your body’s hydration needs. Remember, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

How Much Water Should a Runner Drink – Conclusion

I think that’s pretty much it.

Today’s post covers all you need to know about staying well-hydrated when running and exercising.

Now, it’s up to you to put it into practice.

The rest is just detail.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

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