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Summer Hydration Questions Asked and Answered

Despite the Great Flood of 2015, summer hydration is still an important fact of our running life in Texas. Certainly, we all have had the wisdom of drinking plenty of fluids in summer drummed into our collective heads. Drink before, during and after hot, steamy summer runs is clearly part of our summer running lifestyle. Our bodies are mostly water so it’s obvious that hydration is key to maintaining a proper balance of fluids that allow us to run despite our brutal summer heat. (Point of fact, summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st but my reckoning it’s already here.)

Here are some FAQ’s (and the answers) that we have about proper summer hydration during training and racing:

Q: Why is it so important to stay hydrated during the summer?

A: It isn’t just the summer when you need to stay hydrated, but during summer heat and humidity, the problem is accentuated and can become life threatening. Staying hydrated is so important because water supplies nutrients to your body, maintains blood circulation and maintains your body temp as you run. Water carries the heat you build up during running away from your organs. If you don’t stay hydrated, the heat build up can lead to serious heat stroke which can be fatal.

The heat you build up during running travels through your bloodstream and eventually goes to your skin. This causes you to sweat which is the body’s way of cooling itself off.

Q: In races and long runs around town, I always see runners dumping cups of water over their heads. Is this a good way to stray hydrated and cool off?

A: Nope, it isn’t. Despite what you might think or have heard, dumping a few cups of water over your head does not cool you off or lower your core temperature. Certainly, wetting the skin by running through a sprinkler or dumping water over your head feels good, but it simply doesn’t lower your body temperature. In fact, some researchers believe that pouring water over yourself during a hot-weather run or race inhibits efficient heat transfer.

Bottom line: Dumping water on yourself won’t keep you cool or hydrated. The only way to stay hydrated is to drink. There is no substitute. The only way to cool off is to stop running and get in a shaded, air conditioned area or jump in a pool or Barton Springs.

Q: Is thirst a good indication of dehydration?

A: Yes and no. If you’re thirsty, you’re also probably dehydrated and have lost about one percent of your body water. (A two percent water loss and you can begin major fatigue.) Clearly, you can become dehydrated long before you feel thirsty.

Q: How much should I drink while running?

A: Impossible to say because every runner has different hydration needs. However, on hot-weather runs, planning to drink 6-8 ounces (or more) every 20 minutes or so is a safe bet. In an hour run, plan on drinking 2-3 times.

Q: How do keep hydrated do that on a long, hot summer run?

A: It’s tough. If you are in a marathon training group in Austin such as Gilbert’s Gazelles, Austin Fit, Luke’s, Rogue, Twenty-Six Two or one of many others, you’re in luck as there will usually be water jugs spread out along the long-run courses. If not, there are three ways to stay hydrated: Bring fluids with you either with a refillable bottle or a hydration belt, cache fluids along the course the night before or carry money with you to buy drinks at convenience stores along your run. And one more: Garden hoses. When desperate, you can sneak a drink from someone’s hose or sprinkler. Or beg a biker for some water from a water bottle. Finally, if you want to always be near drinkable water and don’t want to carry it or buy some along the way, stick to the Butler/Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail where there are water coolers and drinking fountains every few miles on the trail.

Q: Can I drink too much during a long run or marathon?

A: You bet you can. You can overhydrate during a marathon or long run if you are out on the course longer than five hours and drink to excess. The condition is called hyponatremia and it is potentially dangerous. But you have to drink an awful lot of water or sports drink over a long period of time and most people can’t drink that much without feeling bloated. Nevertheless, be aware that it is possible and take proper precautions, particularly during summer ultramarathons or triathlons.

Q: What’s better during a summer race or long run: Water or sports drink?

A: Sports drink is different than water. It has nutrients, electrolytes and some carbohydrates. Water doesn’t have any carbohydrates at all. During a marathon or long summer run, replacing the carbohydrates you deplete during the course of the run is important. Both water and sports drink will keep you properly hydrated (after all, any sports drink is mainly water), but only a sports drink such as Nuun, Gatorade or Powerade has added carbs. Best advice: Drink some sports drink and follow it with water the next time you drink.

Q: Does using a sports drink in shorter races such as a 5-K help?

A: It probably does, but very little. In addition to keeping you hydrated, the carbs from the sports drink will help you maintain your speed in the final mile or two of even shorter runs or races. Drinking sports drink will give your muscles a little bit of extra energy in the closing stages of a race. Best advice: Drink 8-10 ounces before the race and try to grab a cup every 20 minutes or so during the race or run. If you finish faster than 20 minutes, it doesn’t matter much but it doesn’t hurt either.

Q: Is it better to drink cold water or sports drink rather than luke-warm fluids?

A: Probably. Your body absorbs fluids better if it’s cold. In addition, cold fluids simply taste better so you’re likely to drink more fluids and do a better job of staying adequately hydrated. But cooler water or sports drink doesn’t hydrate you any better or cool you off better than like warm.

Q: Are all sports drinks the same?

A: No, they taste differently and have different levels of sugar and other ingredients that effect the taste. The best advice is to find one you like and stick with it.

Q: I don’t like the taste of any sports drinks. I’ve heard some marathoners used to drink Coke during races. Does that make sense?

A: No, it doesn’t. Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers used to drink defizzed Coke during marathons in the ‘70s, but it was for the caffeine (which may extend endurance), not for the hydration benefits. (Beside, they didn’t have the luxury of sports drinks at the time.) If you don’t like sports drinks, try a variety to find one that suits your taste buds. There are plenty of taste options. If you still don’t like any of them, stick with water.

Q: Is coffee OK before a hot long run race?

A: Sure. A cup is fine. The diuretic effect from the caffeine in coffee or tea is pretty slight, but drinking more than a up and you’ll have to urinate often on the run.

Q: How about running with a hangover?

A: Not a good idea. The primary cause of hangovers is being dehydrated from all the alcohol. So starting a run with a hangover means you’re alreaqdy dehydrayed.

Q: I carbo-load before long runs and marathons. Can I also water-load?

A: Not really. You aren’t a camel and can’t store water like one. If you drink too much, you merely flush it out by urinating continually before you run. What you can do is make certain you begin the long run or race completely hydrated. But not overhydrated.

Q: Is there anything else that works to stay hydrated?

A: There is one way that you can improve the body’s ability to retain water during a long run or marathon. That’s by using glycerol in your water. Glycerol is a liquid that when properly diluted in water and ingested before running, lowers your urine output, increases your sweat rate (so the body says cooler) and since it’s cooler, lowers the heart rate. Drinking water properly diluted with glycerol can result in a 20 percent improvement. Two problems with using glycerol: Getting the dilution exactly right and the awful taste it brings to water. But it works.

Q: Which foods are good for rehydration purposes?

A: The best foods are fruits such as strawberries, oranges, pineapples, blackberries, cantaloupe and peaches. But the absolute best fruit to replenish fluids after a run is watermelon which is practically all water anyway. In the summer, you should up your fruit and veggie uptake to about five cups a day.

Q: Is beer a good fluid to rehydrate with after a long run or race?

A: Sorry, no. Beer dehydrates you (because it promotes urination), rather than replenishing fluids. It’s a great way to celebrate a successful race, but reach for 16-20 ounces of cold water or sports drink before you blow the froth off a few beers. If you don’t, you may find yourself further dehydrated.

Start rehydrating immediately after a run or race. You need to replace the fluids you’ve lost in sweat and the sooner you do this the quicker you’ll recover. And then, you can have a beer.