Hydration Orientation


by John Stanton

Now that summer has finally arrived, you’ll need to start paying closer attention to your hydration needs, especially in hot weather conditions.

Water is essential in all seasons for regulating your body temperature, transporting glucose and other nutrients to your cells, and removing waste products. All these processes suffer when water intake is inadequate, and dehydration can occur. Left unchecked, dehydration will hinder your physical performance and can be dangerous to your overall health. Allow me to clear up a few questions about fluid intake, to save you from any hydration frustration.

How much should I be drinking?
Runners often mistakenly believe that you only need to drink when you are thirsty. This is not true. In fact, by the time you become thirsty, you may already be partially dehydrated. Here are some basic guidelines:

Which fluids are best?
Water is the top choice, but all decaffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages contribute to your daily fluid intake. This includes water,sparkling water, caffeine-free tea and coffee, sport drinks, juices and milk.

If you’re going to be exercising intensely in hot weather, it is wise to minimize your consumption of drinks that promote dehydration within the body. This includes alcoholic beverages and anything containing caffeine—for example, regular coffee or tea, energy drinks and soft drinks.

What about sports drinks?
These popular beverages help to top up blood glucose levels with the goal of preserving your glycogen stores and promoting endurance. They also replace minerals like potassium and sodium that are lost through sweat during exercise. Research indicates that these products may improve performance during prolonged workouts lasting more than one hour.

If you’re a recreational runner covering 5 to 10K, plain water is all you need to keep your fluid levels up. By choosing water, you’ll also avoid the added sugar and artificial colouring found in many commercial sports drinks.

If you’re running a half or full marathon and wish to use sports drinks, be sure to experiment with them during training to assess their impact on your individual performance. Never try a sports drink on race day if you have not tested it during training. In addition, long-distance runners should take in small amounts at regular intervals, as quickly consuming large volumes of a sports drink may promote bloating and abdominal cramping.

How do I know if I’m getting enough fluids?
Well-hydrated people urinate frequently and produce urine in relatively large amounts. Experienced runners are likely familiar with the practice of peeking into the toilet to check the colour of their urine, as it can be a useful indicator of hydration levels. If you are taking in enough fluid, your urine will be pale yellow, similar to diluted lemonade.

While it’s best to be proactive with your hydration efforts, you should also know how to recognize the warning signs of dehydration. Dehydration symptoms can be quite subtle at first, but will progress in intensity as more and more water leaves the body.  Common signs of dehydration include thirst, headache, fatigue, irritability, chills and nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms during a run, you  need to stop and rehydrate immediately.


John Stanton is the President and Founder of the Running Room. He is the author of 10 books about running, walking and family fitness.

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