According to a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the world’s top marathon runners sweat at a rate which exceeds the intestinal absorption capability of the gut. In other words, they shed water faster than it’s physically possible to replace it. Of course, even if you’re struggling to complete 10k in two and a half hours, rather than 26 miles, staying well-watered is vitally important for both your health and performance. Use MH’s definitive long-distance running hydration guide to guarantee a watertight race.
If you’re doing a long run or race (more than 8 to 10 miles), it’s important to make sure you’re well-hydrated during the few days leading up to your long run. You know you’re well-hydrated if you void large volumes of pale urine at least six times a day. In the days leading up to your long run (or race), drink plenty of water and nonalcoholic fluids. Not only does alcohol dehydrate you, but it can also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not a good idea to run with a hangover because you’ll most likely be dehydrated when you start running.
An hour before you start your run, try to drink about 16 ounces of water or other non-caffeinated fluid. Stop drinking at that point, so that you can void extra fluids and prevent having to stop to go to the bathroom during your run. To make sure you’re hydrated before you start running, you can drink another 4 to 8 ounces right before you start.
Drinking on the Run
The current advice about running and hydration is very simple — try to drink to thirst. Scientific evidence says that drinking when you’re thirsty can help prevent underhydrating (which can lead to dehydration) and overhydrating, which can lead to hyponatremia (low blood salt level due to abnormal fluid retention).
If you’re looking for a general rule of thumb for fluid consumption during your runs: You should take in 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. Runners running faster than 8-minute miles should drink 6 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes. During longer workouts (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intake should include a sports drink to replace lost sodium and other minerals (electrolytes). The carbohydrates and electrolytes in the sports drink also help you absorb the fluids faster.
After the Run
Replacing lost fluid and electrolytes immediately post-run is crucial for lessening debilitating stiffness and muscle pain – and it’ll also reduce the risk of your weakened body being struck down by illness. “To replace your electrolytes, combine water and fruit juice in equal measures, adding a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar,” advises Rees. “To help muscle atrophy, you need protein in a huge way so you’re not walking like John Wayne for the next seven days. The best ratio is three parts carbohydrates to one part protein.
Research from the University of Bangor found downing a good recovery drink immediately after exercise maintains your immune function at its pre-exercise levels. Waiting an hour or downing a carbs-only beverage, on the other hand, can leave it severely compromised.
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