Practical Hydration

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1 Introduction

This is the first to two entries for hydration - this is the short story, and Hydration 101 is the details. Hydration is a more complex topic than you might expect, is it is about water and electrolytes, mainly salt.

2 Fellrnr's Hydration Guidelines

  • When you are thirsty, drink. If you are not thirsty, don't drink.
  • If salty things (potato chips, etc) appeal, eat salty things or drink with electrolytes. If salty things (or the thought of salty things) are nauseating, drink water.
  • Don't drink to make the suffering of a race less - if you're not thirsty, drinking won't help your misery.
  • Don't drink a fixed amount; let your thirst guide you.
  • If you're thirsty, don't skip drinking to make up time; unless you are very close to the finish, you'll end up slower.
  • Don't start your run thirsty - it is better to hydrate before you start than to try to 'catch up' on the run. However, drinking lots of water before a run without plenty of electrolytes is a bad thing. This practice can flush out electrolytes, creating a problem ahead of time.
  • Try a little extra salt in your drink. A 1/4 teaspoon of table salt per quart of sports drink can make a lot of difference and is easy to try in training.

3 Symptoms and Possible Meanings

These are suggestions and guidelines rather than firm rules, so apply with caution and common sense.

  • Thirst and Urination. If you are thirsty, but everything you drink creates urine without quenching your thirst, you may be low on electrolytes.
  • Swollen Hands. The most likely cause is lack of electrolytes, but can also be triggered by re-hydration following prolonged dehydration. (There are other possible causes outside of hydration.)
  • Skin Turgor. When you pinch the skin on the back of your hand and release, it should spring back into shape. If it moves back slowly, you may be dehydrated. If it 'tents', then you may be badly dehydrated.

4 Weight Drop from Dehydration

If you weigh yourself before and after you run the difference between the two numbers will be the change in body water. However, on a longer run (~16+ miles), you will lose about 4 pounds due to burning off carbohydrate (glycogen). So if your weight has dropped 0-4 Lb, you're probably hydrating okay. If your weight has dropped much more than 4lb, you may need more fluids and possibly electrolytes. If your weight has gone up, you probably need more electrolytes.

5 What to drink?

Drinking water without consuming salt is not a good idea. For shorter runs (marathon or less), salty snacks after the run may be sufficient, depending on how much you sweat and how long the race takes you. For longer runs, you need to consume salt during the run. I drink water with 1/4 tsp of salt per quart as a cheap solution. Many people use a sports drink or Electrolyte Capsules on longer runs. I dislike electrolyte capsules, partly because I struggle to swallow them, but also because they bypass the sense of taste. Our taste for salty things reflects our sodium balance.

Electrolytes other than salt (sodium) are important, but generally not critical in the short term. I often add a pinch of 'no salt' (potassium chloride) to my drink to give me a bit of potassium. Eating a nutritious diet is important to get a variety of micronutrients. (Bananas have a lot of potassium, but potatoes have more.) Magnesium is vital for mental functioning, reducing migraine and maintaining performance.

6 The Fellrnr Drinks

Pre-run - 24-32 oz of fluid with 1/4 tsp salt about an hour before the run. This gives my body a chance to keep or flush out the fluids and electrolytes. (I also take a pinch of potassium salt ('No Salt') and a magnesium supplement before the run.) For training runs where I don't need extra calories, I drink add 1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch of 'no salt' to each quart of water. This tastes a little odd, like very soft water. For races, or training runs where I want extra calories, I use Gatorade with the same extra 1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch of 'no salt' to each quart. This makes the Gatorade taste very strong - try it before you run with it.

Reminder - As always, I suggest you do your own research and make your own decisions, taking what I write as one source of input.