Knowing when to drink, what to drink, and how much to drink can keep you healthy, comfortable, and performing at your best. Here are a few tips for staying hydrated while running.
When and How Much to Drink
Different runs require different levels of hydration, but you should always hydrate prior to a run, no matter the length. About two hours before you hit the road or trail, drink about 16 oz. (two cups) of water if you plan to run for an hour or less. For runs longer than an hour, drink another four to eight oz. of water.
Stay hydrated during your run by drinking four to six oz. of water every 20 minutes. For a faster run (eight-minute miles or less), drink six to eight oz. of water every 20 minutes.
Drinking after a run helps replenish your fluid levels and aids in muscle recovery. To know how much to drink, rely on your bathroom scale. For every pound of body weight lost during a run, drink 16 to 24 oz. (two to three cups) of water.
Types of Liquids to Drink
For most runs, water is always the best option for staying hydrated. However, if the weather is extra-warm or you're planning an especially demanding run, you may want to consider a sports drink. These drinks help replenish electrolytes (essential minerals like calcium, potassium, and sodium) that you lose through sweat. If you don’t like sports drinks, you can also replenish electrolytes with coconut water or special gel packs.
What to Look for in a Sports Drink
Carbohydrates can cause an upset stomach in some runners. To be on the safe side, look for sports drinks that contain 8 percent carbohydrates or less. You can find the percentage of carbohydrates on the nutrition label on the back of the bottle. You can also buy tablets or powders to mix with water to make your own sports drinks. This comes in handy if you prefer carrying a particular water bottle or hydration pack.
When to Have Protein Drinks
Protein drinks help aid in muscle recovery by easing muscle soreness and shortening recovery time. These should be consumed following grueling runs or workouts in the weight room.
How to Recognize Dehydration
If the amount of fluid you take in while running falls short of the amount of sweat you lose, your body will become dehydrated. Initial warning signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Decrease in energy
- Lackluster performance
If you continue running or exercising without fluid intake, you can experience more serious symptoms like:
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle cramps
To prevent dehydration, follow the recommendations listed for liquid intake. If you do become dehydrated, sip on water or a sports drink every few minutes until you feel replenished. If you try to drink too much too fast, you can become nauseous.
How to Prevent Overhydration
Overhydration (hyponatremia) is a somewhat rare condition that usually occurs in amateur and professional athletes who engage in endurance training and performance. Symptoms of overhydration can include headache, fatigue, nausea, confusion, and vomiting. Because some of these are also symptoms of dehydration, athletes may continue to hydrate and make the problem worse. Overhydration can cause sodium in the blood to drop to very low levels, which can be life-threatening in extreme cases.
To prevent hyponatremia, make sure to monitor how much you drink and how much you weigh following a run. Weight gain is a signal that you're taking in too much fluid. One way to keep your sodium levels balanced on long runs is to snack on salted nuts along the way.
Tips on Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
If you enjoy having coffee in the morning, you're in luck. A few cups of coffee each day actually benefits runners. It helps preserve glycogen stores in the liver, which boosts endurance. More benefits of caffeine include:
- More power
- Less fatigue
- Reduced pain
- Better recovery
Bear in mind that excessive amounts of caffeine can cancel out the benefits. Too much caffeine can:
- Raise blood pressure
- Upset your GI tract
- Cause abnormal heart rhythms
As a good rule of thumb, keep your coffee intake to four cups per day or less if you're sensitive to caffeine.
Unlike caffeine, alcohol offers runners very few health benefits. Although moderate alcohol consumption may lower risks for cardiovascular disease, heavier drinking can cause a variety of health problems, from liver disease to high blood pressure.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as no more than three drinks per day or seven per week for women and no more than four drinks per day or 14 per week for men. However, runners and other athletes may want to scale that down to a more realistic range of two to six drinks per week. As a standard guideline, one drink equals:
- 9 oz. of 7 percent beer
- 12 oz. of 5 percent beer
- 5 oz. of wine
- 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits
If you feel like celebrating a good training session or race time with an adult beverage, you should. Just remember to rehydrate first.