How To Hydrate Properly And Improve Running Performance

How To Hydrate Properly And Improve Running Performance

woman drinking water
It should go without saying that if you run, you should stay hydrated. However, hydration is one of the most overlooked areas in improving running performance. Runners know they should drink water before, during, and after a race. The problem is, many runners don’t know how much to drink; when and what.

Failure to hydrate properly will lead to dehydration. Dehydration will not only affect your running performance.

Wine4Runners founder and avid runner, Peter Gower cited better hydration as the main reason why his performances in marathons improved. Gower has competed in over 40 marathons.

However, dehydration has serious implications that go beyond improving your running times. It can affect your health and well-being.

10 Symptoms of Dehydration

Runners believe they should only drink when thirsty. While thirst is a symptom of dehydration, you shouldn’t have to wait for thirst to hit you before you reach out for that water bottle.

Here are 10 other symptoms of dehydration that you may experience during a run:

  • Cramps
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Increase in Heart Rate
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Dry Mouth
  • Sweating Comes to a Halt

For runners, the biggest risk of being dehydrated is to succumb to heatstroke.

Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat-induced illness and is life-threatening. In fact, in the United States, 1 person out of 2 million people has died of a heat stroke every year in the last 30 years.

5 Factors That Can Increase The Risk Of Dehydration

Runners are prone to dehydration because they lose massive amounts of water through sweat and exposure to the sun.

That is why in any running event, you will always see medical tents set up after the finish line to treat runners who are suffering from dehydration.

The best race organizers will not stop there. They have a mobile team of first responders ready to attend to runners who are showing symptoms of dehydration.

In addition to sweat volume and the heat of the sun, here are 5 other factors you may not be aware of that could increase the risk of dehydration:

  • Humidity –Higher levels of humidity will make it harder for sweat on skin to evaporate which prevents the body’s natural cooling process to take place.
  • Ambient Temperature – Higher temperatures will induce greater production of sweat.
  • Gender – Men sweat more than women because they carry more muscle mass.
  • Conditioning – Better conditioned runners will start sweating faster than less conditioned runners.
  • Wind Speed –Higher wind speeds have the tendency to slow down the production of sweat and consequently, affect the cooling process.

You only need to lose 2% of your bodyweight in water to feel the effects of dehydration on your run. Runners who run long distances such as a half-marathon and a full marathon are at greatest risk.

How To Hydrate Properly Before, During, And After A Race

woman hydrating
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber Grimm)

When you are dehydrated, you will experience fatigue faster because there is less blood flow to your muscles.

As you well know, blood contains oxygen, water, and macronutrients. Glycogen stores will get depleted faster. Without enough glycogen, it will become more difficult to finish your run.

Drinking when you are thirsty will not be enough to stave off the onset of dehydration.

Therefore, proper hydration means knowing how much to drink before, during, and after a race.

Proper hydration should not start on the day of the race. It should start days – weeks, actually – before the race. This is because everybody’s hydration requirements are different. You should find out how much water you need to support your training runs.

The amount of water that you need to drink before a run will depend on the amount of water you lose after the run.

The best way to find out how much water you should drink before a run is to determine your sweat rate which is the amount of fluid you lose through sweat during exercise.

To find out your sweat rate, simply weigh yourself before and after a run. One pound of weight loss is equal to 1 pint or 16-ounces of water.

For example, if you lost 1 pound after a one hour run, it means you lost 1 pint or 16-ounces of water.

Does this mean you should drink 32-ounces of water before every run? No. If you drink 32-ounces of water before a run, you might find yourself heading to the bushes for quick relief which will affect your final time.

The rule of thumb is to drink 16-ounces of water before a run. If you lose 32-ounces after a run, make sure you have at least 16-ounces of water on your hydration pack.

This way, you can be assured that the amount of water you sip throughout your run will be enough to lower the risk of getting dehydrated.

As we discussed earlier, race conditions such as humidity, ambient temperature, and wind speed can increase the risk of dehydration.

You have to be aware of these factors. It is possible that you will end up drinking more water during and after a race.

Going back to our example, if you lost 16-ounces of fluids after a race and assuming you drank 12-ounces of water during the run, the rate of fluid replacement should be 28-ounces per hour. This comes out to 7- ounces of water every 15 minutes.

What Are The Best Beverages For Runners?

When it comes to hydration, water is easily the most popular choice of beverage among runners.

First, the body is composed of 65% water; naturally, our bodies are more adaptable to water than any other liquid substance.

Second, water is accessible and affordable. Bottled water is cheap. You can also fill up your bottles with tap water if it has been certified safe to drink.

As wonderful as water is, your choices of fluids should not be limited to just water. There are other beverages that you can consider to consume before, during, and after a race.

1. Coconut Water

Like water, coconut water is a natural source of hydration. Unlike water, coconut water contains nutrients that are beneficial to runners. These nutrients include:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Magnesium
  • Sodium
  • Calcium

Several studies have proven coconut water to be more effective in post-exercise hydration than water or electrolyte drinks.

2. Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are promoted to help replenish electrolytes that are lost during and after exercise. These popular drinks contain electrolytes such as salt and potassium which you lose when you sweat.

Electrolyte imbalances can lead to cramping and painful muscle spasms. These imbalances occur usually after 90 minutes of exercise.

In addition, these sports drinks contain sugar is can easily be converted to glycogen for immediate muscle energy. Thus, if you want to have a sports drink, it would be best to have it after the run.

3. Coffee

Runners love to drink coffee. The caffeine in coffee can give you a quick “perk me up” before a morning run.

However, coffee can have a diuretic effect and make you urinate more often. It will not significantly lead to dehydration, but it would be a good idea to limit your intake of coffee to just one 8-ounce cup before the race.

4. Chocolate Milk

A 2006 study revealed that drinking chocolate milk after exercise helped the body to recover better than a sports drink.

And it should be no surprise as chocolate milk contains a number of ingredients that are beneficial to your health:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Potassium
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates

Should you drink chocolate milk right after a run?

A better idea would be to hydrate with water, coconut water, or a sports drink after a run before consuming chocolate milk.

Chocolate milk also contains fat which can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates which are needed for recovery.


We all know that regular training, nutrition, and sleep are the cornerstones of an effective running program.

Let’s add hydration as the fourth cornerstone to have a really solid foundation for running.

And let’s not forget another liquid that has many health benefits and can help you commemorate your fine performance – wine!

Wine is rich in healthy antioxidants that can fight off free radical damage which occurs during high intensity or long-duration exercise such as a half-marathon. It is also a great way to relax and celebrate a successful run with your friends and family.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your community. Also, check out our selection of fine California wines. You may want to gift a friend – or yourself – after the next race!

Leave a Reply