One of the most challenging aspects of running long, especially in the hotter months of the year, is managing your fluid intake. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, or how smartly you pace yourself — your body simply can’t perform to it’s potential if it’s lacking fluids. Every long run in your training cycling is a chance to practice and refine your hydration plan..don’t just roll the dice on race day!
Hydration As Lifestyle
But it’s more than just making sure you have enough bottles in your Fuelbelt before you leave the house. As an athlete doing runs longer than 90 minutes in duration, hydration needs to be part of how you live your day-to-day life. Odds are you are running five or more times a week.
This means that at any given point in time you are likely less than 12-hours after a run…or 12-hours before your next one. In other words, whether you are recovering from your most recent workout or setting the stage for your next effort, you need to be hydrating.
Here are some easy ways to make staying hydrated part of your day-to-day life:
- Carry a water bottle with you and try to drink 60 oz of water a day.
- Drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee or can of soda you have each day.
- Strive to drink a glass of water with every meal.
- Constantly monitor the color of your urine (easier for guys!!!) to see how you are doing. Light yellow is your goal!
- If you are drinking alcohol, be sure to include some water (or at least when you are done!).
Three Phases of Hydration
From an athletic perspective, it’s helpful to break your hydration activities in to distinct phases. This will make it easier to focus a specific activity instead of just trying to achieve general hydration. Here are three key phases to consider; note that the guidance here is for moderately hot day: 75- to 85 degrees. If your weather situation is more extreme, you will need to experiment with increasing your fluids in your training to fully know what your body can do on race day.
Step 1 — Before Your Workout
Your goal is to start hydrating for your next run at a time that is equal to the duration of your planned run. So if you have an hour run, you are hydration game on at t-minus one hour. If your run is two hours, then you have two hours to focus. Remember that rule!!!
Before a workout, your goal is to make sure that you have both food and fluids in your system. It’s easy to pick the wrong stuff to eat, especially since you have a workout looming. Make sure that you have easy-to-digest, performance-oriented foods in this window. Energy bars are a great option, and you’ll want to have something (even if not a bar!) with about 60 minutes to go before your long run.
Then with about 15 minutes to go, you’ll want to take in a gel with six to eight ounces of sports drink or water. In terms of fluids, you will want to make sure that you are taking in both some sports drink and some water. Most over-the-counter solutions such as Gatorade or Ironman Perform have both carbs and sodium, meaning that you’ll be able to get in some energy while you are drinking. You can alternate them, and you’ll want to back off the fluids with about 30-minutes before your long run.
You’ll know you are ready when you have go pee before you leave…and your urine is light yellow to clear.
Step 2 — During Your Workout
Drinking while working out is a no-brainer; but still so many folks don’t take in enough fluids. For a hot day, your target is approximately 4oz of fluids per mile. As an example, most Fuelbelt bottles hold 8oz of fluid, so a full 4-bottle belt would get you through 8 miles.
In addition to planning for your fluids, you actually need to consume them! If you have a watch with a lap function, you can simply drink every time it beeps. Remember that once you fall behind on your fluids, it’s hard to “catch up” and still continue running. If you do run into this challenge, consider walking for a bit in order to let the fluids get into your system.
If you don’t have a run with places to stop and reload your fluids, such as a water fountain or a convenience store, then you’ll need to make your own loop. It can be from your house, or it can be from your car, but either way you need to have a way to replenish your fluids if you are going to have a successful long run.
The key here is what type of fluids should you be taking in. There are two factors to consider: flavor and content. Everyone has their own individual preference for what flavor or type of beverage they prefer. When you choose your preferred beverage, make sure it’s something you really like so you’ll actually drink it! You’ll need to test what it tastes like when cold and warm, at the start of your runs and at the end…when you need it the most.
In terms of content, I strongly recommend that you go with a performance beverage. Over the counter solutions like Gatorade Endurance and Ironman Perform (by Powerbar) both have higher concentrations of sodium.
This is key, as the salt is effectively there to help move the fluids through your system. Water alone just won’t cut it; hot days require that your replenish electrolytes and ignoring that will lead to a very sub-par run.
Step 3 — After Your Workout
Once your long run is finished, the first order of business is to get a recovery drink into your system. Ideally this happens within fifteen minutes of finishing your run. You are looking for something with a ratio of carbs to protein in the 4:1 range. If you don’t want to purchase a recovery drink mix, you can substitute an 8oz glass of skim milk with 2 tbs of chocolate syrup is a simple, homemade solution.
With your recovery in progress, take a second to review your fluids to see just how well you hydrated. More often than not, people lose focus on the longer runs and don’t drink everything that they had planned. Getting those fluids, or that “missing” amount into your system quickly.
Your post long run window, like the pre-run window, lasts as long as the run itself…or at least until you have to pee. During this time you can alternate water and sport drink, just make sure that they are cold as you’ll be more likely to drink it!
I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Managing your nutrition is a critical part of being able to train to your potential. And quality training begets improved fitness, and improved fitness will set the stage for a great run. And now that you are a hydrating machine, you’ll be ready for race day no matter what the weather brings. Good luck!