Now that the warmer weather is here to stay, one of the things I talk to my athletes about is summer hydration aka how much water you should drink when training in the summer!
From tips for staying cool in the heat to how to stay hydrated in hot weather, these are things I’m always discussing with my runners, whether you’re looking for first time marathon tips or are a seasoned veteran.
While hydration is important any time you run and exercise, it’s EXTRA important in the summer months. Here’s a great guide on hydration for runners in general.
You see, our bodies want to seek equilibrium and will do everything possible to do so.
When talking about hydration for runners, it’s firstly important to understand what water balance is. 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 on performance including:
Did you know it can take up to 24 hours for the body to regain fluid balance after dehydration?!
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.
Comparing hydration for a master’s athlete and hydration in teenage athletes is a little different.
Generally speaking, 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.
Oftentimes, these homemade electrolyte drinks can help, plus they taste fresh and delicious. Hydration doesn’t have to be JUST water alone.
I alternate between the cran-raspberry flavor and orange flavor depending on my mood. With 21 grams of carbs and 170 mg of sodium per scoop, it’s easy to mix with water for an easily-digestible pre workout carbohydrate and hydration tool. Or, I’ll take it in my water bottle during a run. I recommend this to ALL of my clients, especially those with sensitive stomachs.
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.
After exercise, drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost. Staying hydrated isn’t just about water though – remember those electrolytes!
I love Drink Simple Maple Water for just this reason – it’s tasty and hydrating – it can also benefit endurance runners!
And if you’re breastfeeding after running, liquids are even more important to keep your supply up!
Dairy products (looking at you, 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.
Bananas, potatoes and avocados are great sources of potassium. Electrolytes for exercise make a big difference.
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.
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 a lemonade color.
While I’m normally not much of a fan of weighing yourself to measure health, when talking about hydration status, it can be helpful for some people who struggle with staying hydrated, depending on the situation. I also wouldn’t recommend this to anyone with an eating disorder or disordered eating history.
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.”
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).
To calculate your body weight loss percentage, take your 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.
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 cinnamon peanut butter on dates!
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.
Summer hydration tips revolve around preparation, and drinking enough water on rest days, too. And remember, summer hydration smoothies can be a great way to prevent taste fatigue and add in other nutrients and calories, too.
If you’re struggling with running and hydration, here are some other tips:
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.
Other race day posts