Everyone knows you are supposed to hydrate when you exercise. But how often? And when? Should you drink electrolytes? What about gels and chews? It can be a lot to think about, especially if you are training for a long-distance race. Let’s break down how you should hydrate when you run.
Before we begin, know that all of this is subject to your specific running environment. Is it hot? Is it humid? Are you a heavy sweater? Are you a salty sweater? (People whose sweat tastes excessively salty lose more electrolytes than regular sweaters. This means they need more electrolyte supplementation than others). All of these elements serve to determine when and how much to drink. For example, a runner in Minnesota might not need any water during a one hour run in June but a runner in Texas would be crazy not to hydrate while running for an hour in the summer.
Lets break it down by the time your run takes to make it easier to see what is best for you:
For Runs that are Less Than 1 Hour
You do not need a sports drink, electrolyte tablet or anything else for this type of run. You probably do not need any water unless you have a particularly difficult workout or the weather is very hot. So, if you are just going on an easy shake out jog, then you can forego the water. But if you are doing an intense track session or hill work, you may want to bring a little something. While you may not need any water, we still recommend bringing some water with you. It is better to be overprepared than underprepared. If you wind up getting lost, twisting an ankle or need to help someone else, then you will be glad.
For Runs that are 1 – 3 Hours
Bring water and nutrients. Pack some tabs, chews, gels, or powder - whatever fuel that is packed with sodium and carbs to get you through a run. You will have to experiment to find what works best for you. Some people cannot stomach the sugar in Gatorade. Others can handle Gatorade but blanch at the thought of a gel. Figure out what works best for you and pack accordingly. You need to drink to thirst, so this will vary from person to person. The general rule of thumb is to drink around 0,5-0,7 litres (18 – 24 ounces) of water per hour of exercise, but research is now showing that you do not need to drink that much.
For Runs that are 3+ Hours
Bring it all and be prepared to stop for more. This is when a quality hydration backpack is almost a must. Make sure you drink when you feel thirsty and pay attention to how you feel. If it starts heating up, drink more. You should also make sure your route takes you by a water fountain, gas station, store, or your house so you can refill your water bottle(s). You can even stash a water bottle or cooler along your route, if you know there is nowhere else to stop.
Bottom line: You know your body best. If you feel fine and perform well with minimal water intake, then you are likely not dehydrating yourself too much. If you feel like your performance is lacking or if you feel weak, dizzy, or crampy after a run, then you need more water and electrolytes.
Overall, it is better to under hydrate than over hydrate, so drink to thirst and always keep your water handy for whenever that happens. It serves you well to have a quality hydration backpack, vest or hydration belt / handheld that you bring when you go out.
I have made a habit of grabbing my hydration backpack even for the shorter runs – then I know I have all I need when I´m out.. But, the most important thing is to just get out there and move. Enjoy!