Staying hydrated is important for overall health and it’s extra important if you’re an endurance athlete. So here’s a guide to help you figure out how much water you should be drinking, how to stay hydrated while running and how to find the best hydration gear and supplements for your body.
As with most things health related – every body is different. Your needs, goals, health and preferences should be taken into consideration as you make your hydration plan. Use a running log and meal planner to help track all relevant factors like – your activity, the weather, thirst, performance, bathroom needs, etc.
This hydration guide includes…
- Hydration Basics to get started
- How to figure out how much water you should drink
- Tips for staying hydrated for long runs
- How to create your hydration plan
- Links to Hydration Gear options
First, get to know your body and what factors into how much water you need. Even if you’re not training for a race or running long distances it’s a good idea to get to know how much water and fuel your body needs to feel your best. From there you can use that knowledge to help fuel your athletic goals.
- Your Body’s Ideal. You need to know how much water YOUR body needs as a baseline (when you’re not running or sweating) to feel your best. Have a reusable water bottle nearby to it’s easy to drink as needed. You can count a lot of drinks towards your total consumption (tea, juice, soda, etc.).
- Factor in Activity and Climate. Once you know how much you need to drink everyday – add in enough water (or sports drinks) to make up for any fluid lost while running. Things that will impact how much you need include: if you sweat a lot, it’s a long workout, it’s very humid or very dry, etc.
- Take notes and adjust as needed. Check in with yourself after a run – were you thirsty, did you feel dehydrated or fatigue that may have been caused by dehydration? What color is your urine (before & after running)? Things like seasons changing and your training ramping up = will impact how much you need to drink. So check in with yourself more often when anything changes.
Most runners just want to know – How much water do I need to drink? But – Every Body Is Different. So, running coaches and sports dieticians hesitate to say, ‘You need to drink exactly XX ounces during a 5 mile run’. That varies depending on the runner, the day, what food and drinks they already consumed, etc.
So while an exact formula would be the easiest way to calculate your water needs, that’s not realistic given all the factors. But there is one rule for hydrating that most experts seem to agree with… Drink to your thirst.
Unless you’re in extreme circumstances related to your health, the distance you’re running or the weather – it’s probably best to listen to your body and drink when you’re thirsty.
Factors that impact your hydration needs include:
- Your activity (length and difficulty)
- Your fitness level
- How much you sweat
- Whether you’re acclimatized to the environment
- Your diet and hydration levels going into the run
- Other health or medical situations
Keep in mind… a lot of these things change fairly often – so you need to be aware of these factors and ready to adjust as needed.
For example: If you’re training for a half marathon using a 16 week program – starting in May. The weather may get hotter and more humid into the summer months AND your runs will increase in distance. But your body will also be adjusting to the distance as your endurance improves. All of this impacts your hydration needs.
Create a Hydration Plan that helps you perform your best. You have to figure this out while training for your race. And it’s important to adjust as needed.
Hydration Tips for Training to Run a Half or Full Marathon
- Start your long runs well hydrated. (I go into race weekends thinking – Hydration is my job the day before the race.)
- Hydrate during the run by carrying a hydration pack or water bottle OR have your hydration placed throughout the run where you can stop and drink as needed. Either way – have a plan and practice during training.
- Use sports drink supplements with electrolytes to help you balance your hydration and fueling needs. Practice this during training so you know the ideal combo for race day.
- Drink to thirst after your run.
- Keep an eye on your urine color to help assess how your hydration plan is working. Use this information in combination with how you feel and your performance to decide what (if anything) needs more work.
According to a study in the Journal of Athletic Training – urine color can be a helpful way to determine hydration status. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4741257/] But, you need to pay attention to this on a regular basis and during training to use it as a tool to create your hydration plan.
If you want to use this method, it’s important to know your body’s urine color on well hydrated days, before a run, after a run and any variations on extreme weather days.
Check out this chart from the Georgia Urologist site that labels the different colors of urine and what they may mean. *This is NOT a replacement for medical or health advice. Always check with your doctor before trying any new exercise or diet and if you suspect you have a health issue.*
If you want to get specific on how much you’re sweating and how much you’re drinking you can calculate your sweat rate using the formula below. This is a little complicated so make sure you’ve already mastered all of the basics before doing this exercise.
Also – this calculation gives you an idea of how much you’re sweating versus drinking while running, but unless you’re doing it as part of a scientific study under controlled conditions… it’s still not completely exact. And these numbers will change based on factors like weather, elevation, workout, etc.
Body Weight Pre Run – Body Weight Post Run + Fluid Intake – Urine Volume / Exercise Time in hours
See this guide from USA Track and Field for the complete directions.
Using sports drinks or supplements with electrolytes can be a good idea for some runners. Because this post is already getting pretty long – I’ll follow up with a post all about the best electrolytes for runners soon!
For a sneak peek… My favorite electrolytes right now are:
- Start every run well hydrated. This requires you to know your ‘normal’ needs and be intentional about getting enough water on a regular basis.
- If you’re running long or in extreme temperatures – use a hydration belt or vest to have water available during your run.
- Rehydrate after your run according to thirst. (Don’t overdo it – it’s dangerous to drink too much.)
- Use your urine color as an indicator of your hydration levels (along with how you feel, the weather, sweat rate, etc).
- Log all relevant information and use that to create your personalized hydration plan.
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