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Hydrate or Die: How To Hydrate for those Hot Long Runs

11 June

Marathon Nation | Ready at the Aid Station

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!

Final Thoughts

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!

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Get more of Coach Patrick’s thoughts on hydration here: Watch Coach P on YouTube!  Rather Listen? Get the Podcast!

photo by: multitrack

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21 Responses to “Hydrate or Die: How To Hydrate for those Hot Long Runs”

  1. Patrick August 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    @Duncan I would love to see that study!!!

  2. Patrick August 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    @Stacey, you definitely need to check what type of coconut water you are using. Zico, for example, has 140mg of sodium for 14 oz…If you are taking 8 oz for a ten mile run, that means you are getting in 100mg of sodium for 10 miles…and if you running 8 minute miles, that’s 100mg for 1 hour and 20 minutes of exercise…which is definitely not close to between 500 and 1000 mg per hour. I don’t know about other products, but please read those labels people!!

  3. stacey May 11, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Coconut water is natural and contains more electrolytes for replenishing your salt stores to avoid dehydration. I prefer to drink coconut water over High sugar containing sports drinks. I also find I only really need about 8 ounces or so of water for a 10 mile run.

  4. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    @Chris, salt intake is there to facilitate fluids leaving your gut and getting to your body. So drinks like Gatorade Endurance or Ironman Perform both have ample sodium to match the other components of those drinks….I’d try using that type of “complete” product first before doing any independent mixing and matching. Here’s a link on info for the Ironman Perform drink, which has 95mg of sodium per 4oz (roughly the size of a cup at an aid station).

  5. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    @Carlos, if it’s truly hot, you’ll want to use a drink with sodium in it beyond what regular gatorade has, such as Gatorade Endurance or Ironman Perform. Try that…and minimal water when running (after is okay) and you should be fine!

  6. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    @Kevin, maybe (?) I wrote that years ago, but I certainly don’t feel that way now. Proper fueling for workouts and race day are critical!

  7. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    @Nicole, while you can’t practice for the heat, you CAN practice hydrating well now. It just means that you’ll have to pee a bit more (so plan ahead) but it’s worth it!

  8. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    @Richard, thanks for that link!

  9. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    @Rich sorry to hear about the challenges for you and your Dad, but I think your action plans are spot on. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    @Jeff, totally a good call on moderating / eliminating / accounting for the pre-race caffeine…it can totally dehydrate you if you are unprepared!

  11. Patrick June 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Mike, no worries. Your “sipping” fluids ends at 30 minutes prior. You do,however, need to eat a gel prior to the run, and you should wash that down with something, whether it’s water or sports drink! Hope that helps…

  12. MikeD June 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Am I missing something or misinterpreting this paragraph? To me, it’s contradicting:
    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………..You can alternate them, and you’ll want to back off the fluids with about 30-minutes before your long run.

    It states to take in fluid 15 minutes prior, yet finishes stating to back off fluid intake 30 minutes prior. Which is it? I know this is a guideline, but still…

  13. Jeff June 13, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Thanks for the great article. I have personally experience all sides of this, and added hydration strategy to my training runs, but the question of “too much” or “too little” was still an unknown until today. One other caution is the avoidance of pre-race caffeine, which (for some, like me), can be a huge diuretic! Even a timely sport drink may not be enough to compensate.

  14. Jeff June 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Thanks for the great article. I have personally experience all sides of this, and added hydration strategy to my training runs, but the question of “too much” or “too little” was still an unknown until today. One other caution is the avoidance of pre-race caffeine, which (for some, like me), can’t be a huge diuretic! Even a timely sport drink may not be enough to compensate.

  15. Rich Holden June 13, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Lack of proper Fluids intake has had me bed ridden
    Days after a Tri event. at age 43.
    this is a very serious topic for all at any age. My 81 year old Dad taking a short walk on a 80 degree day. It put him in the Emergency Dept. Dont forget the little ones on the ball fields.

    Now, i preplan the runs. Placing the 8oz water bottles every two miles. Gave Dad the water bottle with a handle and a five gallon water jug to all fields.

    The Marines say” hydrate or die”

  16. Richard Doede June 13, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    Every long distance runner needs to read the latest book by Tim Noakes, MD, DSc, “Waterlogged – The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports”. Dr. Noakes is also the author of “The Lore of Running”, probably the best running book ever written.
    Much of the “research” we hear about hydration has been funded by the sports beverage industry, a billion dollar business.
    I totally agree with Coach Patrick that the practice runs are where you need to learn about how your body assimilates water. Most bodies can only use 600-800 ml per hour. I suggest always weighing yourself before and after runs. You should lose weight…if you stay the same or gain weight, you are overhydrating and substantially increase your risk of exercise-induced hyponatremia (EAH), which CAN KILL you! AND listen to your thirst. If you are not thirsty, you are not significantly dehydrated.
    Life is an adventure. Enjoy the journey!

  17. Mike June 13, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    I wish I had read this earlier! I had a 5k last friday after work at 6:30 PM, 95-97 degrees with no breeze at all. It was a “fun run” so I thought that with the heat etc. the organizers would surely have ample water stations right, WRONG! I saw so many people really struggling to finish without walking due to the heat and the course. The course had a lot of hills and a few steps with the only water station at the top of a hill with steps. I will definitely take my own water or drink to a run I haven’t done before.

  18. Nicole June 13, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    I wish it was hot enough here in Oregon to practice this. It is cold and rainy till around July 5th and then it gets hot and we are trying to immediately adjust to running in 85 degree weather instead of 55 degree weather. So this will be helpful to ease the pain of the 30 degree swing!

  19. kevin June 13, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    Aren’t you a proponent of ‘training’ the body to use alternative fuel sources on long runs? I thought you suggested “going without” on 2 out of 3 long runs in order to make your body more efficient at going without glycogen & using fat, as fuel, especially when training for a longer race.

  20. Carlos Alexander June 13, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    man. this is timely. i am trying to figure out if i not drinking enough, or if to drink more water than gatorade

  21. chris June 12, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    any additional advice on salt intake ? I’ve realized the importance of this over time, but don’t have it quite figured out yet.

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