Your body always needs water – for a runner, though, staying hydrated is crucial. Your choice of the hydration method to use is up to you, of course, but this choice depends on three criteria:
1. Length of your running session
2. Scientific facts behind hydration
3. Your personal preference
Some people think energy drinks are always the way to go no matter what the running situation may be. That choice is simply wrong.
Electrolyte and carbohydrate drinks like Gatorade do work well for runners, but only for longer runs — if you try to hydrate with an energy drink for a quick twenty minute run, you’ll only make yourself sick. Your body simply cannot absorb the sugars, salts and carbs in an electrolyte sports drink on any run that’s less than a half-hour long. Sports drinks are intended for use over longer periods of time to replace the salts you lose when you sweat.
Water is still the best way to hydrate your body, especially for short runs. On any run less than thirty minutes, you do not need the extra supplement of energy you get from sports drinks — your body is quite capable of burning the chemical energy already stored internally.
Water also does not upset your stomach in the way some sports drinks do for some people. Your body’s gastro-intestinal system can become sensitive when under a strain such as running — drinking a potent mix of nutrients could be enough to upset your gut.
Here’s the breakdown:
• Any run under thirty minutes will require only water. Fill a water bottle from the tap. Be especially aware of your hydration needs on hot days, even for short runs.
• For runs between thirty minutes and two hours, don one of those insulated hydration backpacks and carry along one or two bottles of those sports drinks. For the first half-hour or so, rely only on water. Switch to energy drinks after you start to sweat.
• For runs over two hours and for marathons, you’ll have to experiment beforehand to find the right combination and timing of water, sport drinks and energy gels. Though it is vitally important to keep yourself hydrated, it is just as important to maintain your blood sugar. It’s those low levels of blood sugar that cause you to “hit the wall” near the end of the run.
In general, to stay hydrated no matter what the distance or time may be, mix mouthfuls of the sports drinks with sips of water to avoid upsetting your stomach. Above all, don’t wait to hydrate — being dehydrated by as little as 2% can have dire consequences. Rely on water and you can’t go wrong.