Now that summer has officially made its welcoming, one of the things I talk to my athletes about is hydration. So, today we’re talking about how much water you should drink when training in the summer!
Ed and I did a sports nutrition talk last week to some kids at a running camp (I talked about the fueling, he talked about the running gear/shoes).
One thing I really emphasized, since we’re having 95 degree days here in Charlotte, is adequate hydration.
While hydration is important any time you run and exercise, it’s EXTRA important in the summer months.
You see, our bodies do want to seek equilibrium. Our bodies achieve water balance when our intake from fluids (and some foods) is equivalent to the water we lose, which is mainly through urine, sweat and feces.
On the other hand, we become dehydrated when we lose that water balance, and our fluid losses are greater than fluid intake. Therefore, our bodies aren’t able to cool themselves during exercise.
Dehydration can have lasting effects, including slowed delivery of nutrients and oxygen to cells, altered body temperature, increased muscle cramps, decreased cognitive function and concentration and more.
Did you know it take up to 24 hours for the body to regain fluid balance after dehydration?!
How Much Water You Should Drink?
Now that we know how important hydration is, how much should you be drinking for your outdoor activity?
Well, like much of nutrition, it varies and is very personalized. Athletes, and those who are active, generally need more than the general recommendation of 8 cups a day.
Teenage athletes have different nutrition needs than adult athletes.
Half of your body weight, in ounces, is a pretty good estimation but doesn’t account for exercise – especially outdoor exercise in the heat.
Fluid needs vary per person and activity level. Needs are higher in heat and humidity, travel, altitude, illness and during intense training cycles.
If you drink high amounts of caffeine before a race, you want to make sure you’re drinking enough water to achieve thermal regulation and fluid balance.
The best way to manage hydration is to focus on it BEFORE, during and AFTER activity. Once you lose water balance or become dehydrated, it’s nearly impossible to catch up during exercise.
A general recommendation is to consume 8 ounces of fluid 15 to 30 minutes before exercise and upwards of 16 ounces a few hours prior.
During training, you want to drink to prevent thirst. You also want to try to prevent a greater than 2 percent loss of body weight.
While individual needs vary, a good starting point is 0.4 to 0.8 liters per hour.
How Much Water To Drink After Exercise
After exercise, drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost. Staying hydrated isn’t just about water though – remember those electrolytes!
And if you’re breastfeeding after running, liquids are even more important to keep your supply up!
Dairy products (yeaaaa chocolate milk!) are great post-workout options with sufficient carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes. Bread, soup and a couple of scrambled eggs will also give you some sodium. You can read more about pre workout vs post workout nutrition in this post!
Bananas, potatoes and avocados are great sources of potassium. For more on electrolytes, see here.
How to Stay On Top of Your Hydration
The average person sweats between 0.3 and 2.4 liters per hour during exercise.
Obviously, as in hydration needs, there is a large individual variability in terms of sweat loss rates. Sweat loss is influenced by genetics, gender, age, temperature, exercise intensity, fitness level and acclimatization.
Unless you have the ability to perform a sweat rate test, there are some other things you can do to stay on top of your hydration levels.
So, here’s what you can do:
Monitor Your Urine
Urine that is darker in color and low in volume is indicative of dehydration. Aim for a light-colored urine at regular intervals to gauge your hydration status.
I love using this chart with clients. Your pee shouldn’t be clear, or too concentrated (like apple juice). You want it more like lemonade color.
Weigh Yourself Before And After Exercise
While I’m normally not much of a fan for weighing yourself to measure health, when talking about hydration status, it can be helpful for some people depending on the situation.
If you weigh yourself before/after a run, each pound of weight lost is equivalent to about 16 ounces of fluid lost.
You want to replenish that amount of liquid plus 125 to 150 percent more to achieve optimal hydration, since sweat and urine losses continue after exercise.
So, if you lost one pound of weight after a training session, aim for 24 ounces of water to achieve “re-hydration.”
I will also add that this may not be ideal for those recovering from or dealing with disordered eating or an eating disorder, or struggling with body image.
The thought here is not to put numbers up to focus on, but instead, to make sure you are adequately hydrating.
If you fall into the above categories, I would recommend focusing on drinking enough before and during, and replenishing after with a combination of water (or other liquids), electrolytes and an adequate post-exercise meal.
For optimal performance, avoid losing more than 2-3% of your body weight during exercise (about three to four pounds for a 150-pound athlete).
Here’s how to calculate your body weight loss percentage:
(weight before exercise – weight after exercise)/weight before exercise
In short, Fluid needs vary per person and activity level, and are higher in heat and humidity, travel, altitude, illness and during intense training cycles.
Watch Your Sweat (Is it Salty?)
If your sweat is salty, it likely contains a high concentration of sodium and you may be a “salty sweater.”
If this is the case, you’ll want to consume more sodium-containing food and beverages before, during and after prolonged exercise to manage your hydration status.
You can even add salt to pre/post food options, like salted peanut butter on dates. That’s my favorite.
Consume Water And Electrolytes
As I mentioned above, while drinking water is important, it’s not the ONLY answer for hydration.
Drinking water without consuming sufficient electrolytes can lead to serious consequences, such as hyponatremia, or a low concentration of sodium in relation to water.
Increasing sodium levels through electrolyte consumption can help your body retain fluids while helping you feel thirsty.
An adequate sodium intake will also decrease your sweat rate, therefore decreasing the amount of water lost in sweat.
The Bottom Line on Summer Hydration
Water is something that should be considered at all times in summer months, not just around training sessions.
If you’re working on staying hydrated throughout the day, here are some simple tips:
- Try carrying a water bottle at all times, drinking water at meals and incorporating ample fruits and vegetables with a higher water content in your diet. My favorites are cucumbers, watermelon, strawberries and oranges.
- While sports drinks can also provide ample electrolytes, your everyday liquids (like milk and juice) can supplement, as well. I also love using NUUN tabs to hydrate before/after a run, and also huma gels or honey stingers for longer runs to get both carbs + electrolytes.
Like I tell my athletes, you can do all the training and run all the miles. But, if you don’t have your nutrition and hydration plan down, you won’t optimize your performance!
If you want more tips on avoiding dehydration in winter and crafting your winter running plan, check out the post I wrote on that.
Hydration is a very complicated topic and is so individual. We have a whole module that talks more about developing your hydration and electrolyte plan for endurance exercise in our Nail your Nutrition Course.
You May Also Like:
- Race Day Nutrition – The Ultimate Guide to Pre, During and Post Race Nutrition
- How Inadequate Nutrition Affects Training
- How Nutrition Helps with Running and Recovery
- The Best Recovery Foods for Runners
- 5 Nutrition Tips to Help with Runner’s Gut
What’s your favorite fuel when running? When marathon training, I used dried fruit, honey stinger gels and huma gels. And always NUUN in my water!
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