Today I went out for a run and was thirsty when I started. It was 88 degrees and very hot in the sun. As I ran, I started to feel fatigue. Instead of sweating profusely in the heat, I did not sweat much at all – in fact I started to get a slight chill.
My run as you can imagine, was not very good. In all the years I have been running, I still, on occasion, forget to properly hydrate before my run. That dehydration process began a couple of days ago – as I went through my work week drinking coffee and not enough water.
As runners, we need to be hydrated all the time. This means drinking enough water and other fluids every day and not having days like I do, where I down 3 cups of coffee, a glass or two of water and then possibly, some wine at the end of the day. This will, over a short period of time ,(like a couple of days) dehydrate me to the point where you will need a day or two to “water up.”
While all of us need different amounts of fluid to be properly hydrated, we must all make a concerted effort to drink fluids, not just water, before, during, and after our run. As you will read here, water is not the answer. Too much water actually, could have a very negative impact on our running.
What Should We Drink?
Most articles I read recommend sports drinks like Gatorade, but regular juice can also work – just make sure there is some water thrown in with it. I will often pour half a glass of juice and add half a glass of water to it. This way, I get some sweetness from the drink but I also get water as well. This also prevents me from drinking too much juice (which is highly caloric and full of sugar) while getting more water in my system. Avoid too much coffee – if you are a big coffee or soda drinker, drink as much water as you do caffeine. So if you drink three cups of coffee, drink three cups of water – and then drink water on top of that. Caffeine is a dieuretic, meaning it takes fluid from our bodies – so a large latte before a summer run is not recommended.
Drinking While Running
It took me a long time to learn how to drink while I ran because I usually had to slow down to do it. Once I purchased a fluid belt it became easier because I was carrying four small bottles that were easier to sip out of. Taking in small amounts of water every 15-30 minutes works well to help a runner avoid dehydration – especially on those longer runs. Remember, if you feel even a little thirsty before or during your run – you are are already dehydrated and really must be drinking through your run if you are going to enjoy it and not feel the effects of dehydration. If you leave the house without fluid, you are setting yourself up for an uncomfortable run and if you are running in the summer heat, distances over three or four miles without any fluid, you are setting yourself up to potentially experience heat stroke or massive dehydration. I have a rule – no hospitals! If you feel faint, or your muscles start to cramp, or even if you just feel really tired, please walk, get in the shade, and find some fluid.
Hyponatremia – Drink, but Don’t Overdo It
Those calorie conscious people out there might never want to touch sports drinks but it’s a must when running because we lose so much salt when we run. When we lose too much salt and don’t replace it fast enough runners who may continue to drink water to quench their thirst could cause a dangerous condition called hyponatremia or over hydration without electrolyte replacement. Hyponatremia can also happen when we drink too much water in general as well – babies and adults who ingest too much water during the day are susceptable, not just athletes.
With hyponatremia, when we drink too much water, the cells in our blood stream become severely diluted and the water that surrounds the outside of the cells rushes into the inside of the cells. This process will then severely affect your brain, heart, and muscles. If this happens in the brain, the brain swells, and this swelling might cause death, paralysis, or brain damage. People with hypnotremia may also experience seizures, or fall into a coma. Not that I want to scare anyone. Just know this condition exists, it’s rare, and extremely easy to avoid.
I know we’ve been told that 8-10 glasses of water a day is necessary but that’s not true. Know what you need and drink that much. I find that 4 to 6 glasses of water a day for me is ample, and if you are thirsty all the time – consider getting checked for Diabetes. Constant thirst is a classic symptom.
Here are some rules of thumb when considering your hydration this summer.
Drink enough so that you are going to the bathroom steadily (like every couple of hours) to urinate. If you don’t go all day, you are probably dehydrated without knowing it and need to drink more fluid. If you are running to the John every hour or less, you’ve overdone it so cut back on your intake.
Don’t drink so much that you feel like you are forcing it down. Drinking constantly throughout the day may indeed work for you but you can and should, take a break. Too much water is actually more dangerous than not enough. If you are drinking a lot of water, allow yourself to drink something other than water.
If you are pregnant, know that you are subject to dehydration and hyponatremia as well. Please check with your ob-gyn regarding how much exercise you can endure during pregnancy – and remember, if you are pregnant and are already a runner, nothing should preclude you from running.
To read more on the science of water poisoning, read: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040515/2387.html.