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The Importance of Staying Hydrated When Running

Staying hydrated is important for any runner, whether you regularly compete in virtual marathon races or you’re working up to finishing your first virtual 5k.

As well as regulating your body temperature, consuming water helps to eliminate waste, nourish cells, carry food through the body, cushion your joints and maintain your blood volume and pressure. Staying hydrated when running will also accelerate your recovery, minimise the risk of injury and improve your performance.

If you’re interested in the importance of staying hydrated when running, then here’s everything you need to know about adequate hydration, the dangers of dehydration, and how to maintain hydration before, after and during your run.

Why is it important to stay hydrated?

Amazingly, water makes up 60% of your total body weight and is vital for your body to function properly. When we run or exercise, we lose fluid through sweating and can begin to feel dehydrated. Our bodies sweat to cool down, and these fluids then need to be replaced, or you run the risk of reducing your heart’s efficiency, increasing your heart rate and body temperature and thickening your blood.

Staying hydrated is especially important during the summer months, but there is always the risk of dehydration in dry and humid conditions. In humid weather, it can be more difficult for our sweat to evaporate due to the moisture in the air. This can result in you feeling too hot and sweaty, and needing to slow down or stop your run.

In dry conditions, sweat can evaporate more quickly and sometimes at the rate you produce it. This can result in dehydration and put your heart under strain due to a decrease in blood volume, which can then cause your heart rate to increase.

What are the dangers of dehydration?

In any conditions, it can be normal to slow down your running pace as your temperature increases, even if you’re properly hydrated. Modest dehydration is only temporary and unlikely to result in any serious medical conditions. However, running in the heat can still cause some common symptoms of dehydration such as fatigue, headaches, and a lack of co-ordination. If you begin to experience any of these common signs of dehydration, you need to replace your body’s fluids.

Some other dangers of dehydration include muscle cramps which can occur from a loss of electrolytes caused by sweating. Staying hydrated can help to reduce the risks of muscle cramps. Take a look at our guide to ACE Races guide to muscle cramps and how you can avoid them.

Heat exhaustion is also common in runners who are not well-adapted to the heat. Usually defined by dehydration, headaches, a feeling of nausea and a high temperature of up to 40°C, heat exhaustion can also cause dizziness, a sense of confusion, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, fast breathing and pale, clammy skin. If you fall victim to heat exhaustion when running, lie down in a cool place and lift your feet slightly, drink plenty of fluids and cool your skin with a wet cloth or cold pack.

The most severe consequence of dehydration is heatstroke. A heatstroke can occur when your core body temperature is higher than 41°C. Symptoms of heatstroke can include poor balance, confusion and disorientation, a lack of sweat and poor coordination. If you begin to experience any symptoms of heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately.

How to stay hydrated before, after and during a run

Water, diluted juice, and sports drinks are all suitable fluid replacers. However, it’s just as important to start a run hydrated as it is to replace the lost fluids afterwards. To stay hydrated, drink 500ml of fluid around two hours before a run and then another 150ml just before.

Excessive consumption of water and over-drinking can also be a danger. If you are running for more than four hours, you should judge the amount of fluid you consume by how thirsty you are rather than drinking too much water.

How much water you require to stay hydrated during a run can depend on factors such as your weight and the intensity of your run. In general, it is recommended you drink about 120ml to 240ml ounces of water every fifteen minutes during exercise.

If you’re regularly running for longer than an hour, you may consider consuming sports drinks as plain water can often pass through the body too quickly and not provide the sugars your body requires to aid recovery. Isotonic sports drinks offer a similar concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates to the human body and can help you to rehydrate and re-energise. Hypotonic sports drinks offer a lower concentration of carbohydrates than blood and a high level of electrolytes making them ideal for rehydration after excess sweating whereas hypertonic sports drinks are more concentrated for energy and are ideal for your body’s recovery after an intense run.

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