Running and dehydration often go hand in hand as people are only designed to deal with heat or limited water for a certain period of time. Water makes up 60 per cent of your total body weight and performs many crucial functions, including regulating body temperature; cushioning and lubricating joints; and maintaining blood volume and pressure. Also water forms 92 percent of blood plasma which helps transport nutrients to muscles and remove waste products such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide from them.
Proper hydration before, during and after a run is imperative to meeting your goals. When dehydrated, your body won’t effectively transfer heat. When your body fails to transfer heat, your heart rate increases, which negatively affects your performance and your body. This is especially dangerous when running in hot weather. Your running performance deteriorates when you are dehydrated, so it is crucial to drink throughout the day and at regular intervals.
Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids, usually through sweating, exceeds the amount taken in. Once you’ve reached the point of feeling thirsty, dehydration has already begun. If you don’t counteract this by drinking water, the body will continue to provide signs that it is running low on fluids. Early signs of dehydration are feeling thirsty, dry mouth and decrease in energy. More serious symptoms of dehydration include cramps, headaches, nausea and dark urine with less volume (note that vitamins like B12 can cause urine to be bright yellow, which may not indicate dehydration) and decrease in your running performance.
Before a run – It’s good to hydrate at least 30 minutes prior to running, but 60 to 90 minutes in advance is best. Drink 100 to 150 ml if hydrating 30 minutes before your run. However, like I said, try to consume at least 500 ml one hour before your run as this allows time for any excess fluid to be excreted from your body and avoid excess fluid sloshing about in your stomach while you are running. If you are fully hydrated and the weather is not too hot, you may be able to leave your water bottle at home for runs of less than 40-45 minutes. Take three or four small sips from your water bottle every 10-15 minutes or more frequently in hotter weather. Avoid popular bottled sports drinks, as they often contain artificial ingredients or dyes. My best bet is usually a glass of warm water with lemon plus honey.
If you plan to run longer distances—16 kms or more—work on proper hydration a 2/3 days prior to your race, rather than focusing on the day of the race. Your urine should be the color of diluted lemonade for the few days leading up to the race, and you should be urinating often. Eliminate alcohol consumption, as this is counterproductive to your goal of running in a perfectly hydrated body.
During the run – Some experts and even runners believe one should abstain from water during a run, but several studies show that runners fare better when properly hydrated…and I am totally convinced with it especially while running in the hot weather of North India. Dehydration during a run can cause cramping. However, in order to avoid the sloshy stomach effect, limit the amount you drink during your run.
Every 20 to 30 minutes during your run, consuming 100 to 150 ml of water should suffice to prevent dehydration. However, the amount of water you’ll need also depends on the length of your run, the temperature and how much you perspire. If you’re a heavy sweater, increase your consumption to 150 to 200 ml per 20 to 30 minutes. When you sweat, your body loses salt, or electrolytes. Gatorade or some other sports drink, even energy gels, should cater for long runs. On longer runs, carry two or three packets. Also consider using lemon water, which adds natural sugars and carbohydrates that better fuel your run and increase endurance. Lemon water also contains several essential electrolytes, including potassium, which helps balance the body’s fluids and electrolytes. Be sure to choose a lightweight, hand-held water bottle and preferably with a comfortable, breathable grip. That will get you through about 1 hour and 30 minutes of running in mild weather. If you’re running a longer race, simply fill it up at your pre-designated water stations. I usually keep at one central place and plan my run accordingly around it so that I am able to refill my water bottle after 12-14 kms.
After the run – Once your long run is finished, the first order of business is to get a recovery drink into your system. Ideally this happens within 15 minutes of finishing your run. You are looking for something with a ratio of carbs to protein in the 4:1 range. Try drinking some chocolate drinks etc providing that ratio. You can also try drinking cold coconut water, which contains natural sugars and high levels of potassium. Drink slowly and often. If you are taking part in an organised running event, then drink the energy or electrolyte drinks etc being provided by them and also take 1/2 bottles of water and walk around as you cool down. Also, if your urine is dark yellow after your run, you need to keep rehydrating. It should be a light lemonade color.
Over hydration – The flip-side to dehydration is overhydration, or hyponatremia. This is a fairly rare condition that mainly affects endurance athletes such as marathon runners, ultrarunners and triathletes.
In hyponatremia, sodium levels in the blood become so diluted that cell function becomes impaired. In very extreme cases, hyponatremia may cause coma and even death. The symptoms of hyponatremia are similar to dehydration: fatigue, headache and nausea, causing some runners to mistakenly drink more water and exacerbate the issue.
Preventing overhydration: The key to preventing overhydration is to monitor how much you drink.
- Don’t overdrink—Stick to drinking about 250 ml about every 20 minutes and try not to drink more than you sweat. Weight gain during a run is a telltale sign that you’re drinking too much.
- Add salt—Keep your salt levels balanced by occasionally drinking a sports drink with electrolytes instead of plain water and/or eating a salty snack or just plain salt. You can also take salt tablets.
Doublecheck your water intake by weighing yourself before and after running: You should weigh about the same. If you have lost few kgs, then you’re probably not drinking enough water. For every kg lost, drink a little bit more than a litre and plan to increase your fluid intake the next time you run. Know that it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain your body weight during a long, hard run, especially on a hot day, so don’t be surprised if you weigh less.