Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but it’s particularly important for runners. While individual needs vary, a simple equation to estimate initial fluid needs is dividing your body weight in half. That represents the number of ounces of fluid you need per day (from veggies, fruit, water and other beverages) – and running increases those demands. Dehydration may not only bring unpleasant symptoms such as headache, rapid heartbeat, and fatigue, it will also slow you down during your run and can even lead to dangerous situations. Here are a few tips to help keep dehydration from derailing your progress:
How to tell if you’re not getting enough fluids
Beyond the obvious signs of thirst or dry mouth, consider your urine and body weight. Decreased urine output that is darker than straw yellow indicates you‘re dehydrated. A way to check if you’re getting enough fluids when running is to weigh yourself before and after. Make sure you have minimal clothing on when weighing and wipe the sweat off your body before your “after” measurement. If you’ve lost over 2-3% of your weight during the run, you’re likely dehydrated.
When and how much to drink
Getting enough fluids during your run is just one part of the equation-you’ll have a much easier time staying hydrated if you make it a part of your fueling plan.
On a daily basis:
- Have a glass of water when you wake up, before you go to bed, and with each snack or meal
- Keep a water bottle with you during the day and take sips frequently
During your run:
- Have about 16 ounces of water about 1-2 hours beforehand
- Take four to six gulps of water every 15 to 20 minutes of running
- Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluids afterwards-a smoothie or recovery shake counts!
What to drink
Cool or cold water is always a good option. Sports drinks contain about 125 calories per twenty ounce bottle, but you only need them if your run is long (more than 60-90 minutes), unusually intense, or in extreme conditions, such as high temperatures or altitude.
If plain water bores you, try adding some berries, sage, or cucumber slices to a pitcher of water and letting them soak overnight, and you’ll have flavor infused water for your sports bottle in the morning! During the day, coffee or unsweetened iced tea is a good option if you feel like you need some caffeine; though keep it to only a few cups per day. If you want to avoid caffeine altogether, consider seltzer or herbal teas.
For a quick reference, take a look at this Fluid Facts infographic with data I pulled together for the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery:
Jason Machowsky is a sports dietitian, registered clinical exercise physiologist, and certified strength and conditioning specialist at the Tisch Performance Center. He has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree from Columbia University, and has authored a book on nutrition and wellness.