The importance of proper Hydration and Running

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Erin Oley regarding the importance of hydration and how it impacts your running performance. Erin has been generous to guest blog about running and hydration.

Running and racing…only as fun as you are hydrated!

Author: Erin Oley, MS Exercise Physiology & DNP, FNP-BC

“Why oh why do I keep signing up for these races?!”

I have asked myself this question after the last couple running races due to bonking about an hour after completing the last couple. I mean… nauseated, stomach and leg cramping, headaches, and vomiting, only then to end up in a fetal position for a nap for about 3 hours until I can stomach some light yet salty snack, a carbonated bubbly drink to buffer the nauseaousness, and some caffeine to alleviate any bit of the headache.

Why was this happening to me?

After analyzing my failed attempts at hydration, I have realized I have truly not been paying close enough to my hydration needs. Even though I thought I was hydrating well by stopping at the water stations and alternating water at one with an electrolyte swig at the next, I have been going into my races hypo-hydrated. Starting out my races “behind” even though I enter at the front of the pack, has been limiting some of my performance. Hypo-hydration has been long been shown to adversely affect athletic performance.

Sometimes hydration gets away from us due to prolonged training, heat, work, family events, and everyday life. Why have I thought I am invincible enough to not have to follow basic rules of hydrating science? I know better! So, being the competitive and analytical person I am, I went back to my Exercise Physiology literature and read up on the latest recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Suggestions for proper hydration

According to the Position of Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine, “athletes may achieve EU hydration prior to exercise by consuming a fluid volume equivalent to 5-10 ml/kg of body weight in the 2 to 4 hours before exercise to achieve urine that is pale yellow in color while allowing for sufficient time for excess fluid to be voided.

Sodium consumed in pre-exercise fluids and foods may help with fluid retention.” One of the hardest things for me is having too many “nerves” to feel like eating or drinking well on race day. I also do not want to go out and run with sloshing fluids in my stomach.

Other Resources: Homemade Electrolyte Drink – KÜHL’s Guide to DIY Beverage. Save money and make your own electrolyte drinks today. Check out the guide to learn more!

What can you do to hydrate properly?

After reflecting on some successful races, I have a couple tidbits to share. The most recent success was the Bighorn Trail 30 K run. I was a bit nervous as the weather was going to be 30-40 degrees warmer than the last time I did it in 2013. This year it was predicted to be and was 100 degrees at the finish. I train in a small mountain town with an altitude of about 6000 feet of elevation so I was not as worried about that aspect of the race. (At this altitude, fluids should be approximately 3-4L /day.) I was more concerned with the temperature since that certainly is not what I had been preparing for recently.

The day before the race I drank my usual daily drinks – I am a seltzer water fan and get a couple caffeinated drinks in as well. Then that afternoon I added Nuun hydration tabs to my water bottle and drank until my urine was clear. A friend recently turned me on to Succeed S. capsules that have 341 mg of sodium and 21 mg of potassium. I took one in the morning before the race and 1-2 more during the race.

Please note: one alternative to Succeed S. caps are SaltStick caps.

Hydration Tablets and Energy Beans

Other hydration items to consider

Another factor that needs to be considered when racing is your sweat rate. “Sweat rates vary during exercise from 0.3 to 2.4 L/h dependent on exercise intensity, duration, fitness, heat acclimatization, altitude, and other environmental conditions (heat, humidity, etc.) A loss of 1 kg body weight represents approximately 1 L sweat loss. The fluid plan that suits most athletes and athletic events will typically achieve an intake of 0.4 to 0.8 L/h.” Sweat is not a huge issue for me typically; however, due to the extreme temperature at the Bighorn Trail Run this year, I was a bit worried.

Which hydration packs work best?

I decided to try a hydration pack this time instead of a waist pack. The last attempt at that race, the Camelback waist pack was decent, but I had to cinch the straps often as it shimmied from my hips due to the inclines and descents. This year I used the Nathan TrailMix Running Vest. I have to say, I was skeptical and wasn’t excited about wearing it, but I am so glad I did. It was perfect for keeping me hydrated progressively without having to adjust the pack much at all. The water bladder fit nicely in the sleeve without feeling as if it was jumping around on my back. Small pockets in the front held my Chapstick, my Sport Beans (energy beans) and gummies, as well as my phone. It fit comfortably and vented well. There is plenty of room for extras if one needed. I was pleased with it and happy I had it on that race day! Hydration Packs

Is it possible to drink too much?

One interesting note to consider with hydration is that some recreational athletes tend to over hydrate and drink at rates that exceed their sweat loss. Over-drinking fluids is the primary cause of hyponatremia, which is a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. The symptoms of hyponatremia mimic what I mentioned above (nausea, vomiting, headache to mention a few) but the cause is actually dilution of sodium in the body. That is just as important as under-hydration thus a balance needs to be well thought out.

Hydration and Recovery

Recovery – how to do it so you do not end up in a ball for the remainder of the afternoon? Most athletes end up with a fluid deficit after a prolonged race (> 1 hour). Rehydration strategies should include consuming water and sodium so as not to create more of a diuresis. It is not advised to restrict sodium after prolonged training or racing. “Since sweat losses and obligatory urine losses continue during the post-exercise phase, effective rehydration requires the intake of a greater volume of fluid (e.g., 125% to 150%) than the final fluid deficit (e.g., 1.25-1.5 L fluid for every 1 kg of body weight lost).”

One of my favorite changes in the guidelines allows for moderate consumption of caffeine post recovery (<180 mg). Many races offer a beer – more power to those who can stomach it. Just watch the dehydrating effects of too much alcohol after a longer race.

My latest recovery drinks includes plenty of water with my Nuun tabs and a diet caffeinated soda. Not perfect, but it has worked and I have been upright and enjoyed the success of the run and the race.

Cheers to better hydration! Best wishes to your next competitive, fun, and hydrated next race.

About the author:

Erin Oley is not only a talented runner, but a mother of 3, Doctorate as a Nurse Practitioner, and well versed in pretty much anything fitness related. She has a masters in Exercise Physiology and a resource to discuss things I can do better to improve my running and cycling performance.

She has completed a number of half-marathons, including the Grand Teton half, Montana half, and the Jackson Hole half. She has a personal best in the 1:30’s and an inspiration to many. Below is a picture of her leading at a 10k in the mountains of Montana.

If you are an Instagram user, make sure to check out her Instagram profile.

Erin Oley Mountain 10k

Image courtesy of Merv Coleman

Some of the information in this post was provided by the Nutrition and Athletic Performance Position of Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine February 2016 Copyright © 2016 by Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine.


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