Running During the Summer Months — The Basics and Importance of Proper Hydration
70% of runners experienced one or more incidents in which they believed dehydration caused a major downfall in their performance, according to research published in the Journal of Athletic Training. For those training for a marathon, understanding the full impact of dehydration and how to stay properly hydrated on those particularly sunny days is imperative to both good health and a great run. From the telltale signs of dehydration to the basics of proper hydration — including where electrolytes fit in, here’s how you can make hydration and your health a priority during the summer months.
Hydration and running in the heat
Any temperature that really makes you feel too uncomfortable may be too hot for running, according to one Verywell Fit post, though it’s pointed out that the Road Runners Club of America ‘places the cap’ at 98.6 degrees. It’s also noted that humidity can also play a role in determining how safe it is for a run, thus making it a consideration to keep in mind before heading outside. With that in mind, it’s necessary to realize how the elements affect the body. One U.S. News & World Report explains that heat can raise your body temperature, and sweating is actually the body’s way of lowering the spike — however, excessive sweating can lead to dehydration.
In addition to planning a route with plenty of rest stops, ensuring that plenty of shade is present, and opting to run during the cooler parts of the day, staying hydrated is imperative, especially when avoiding dehydration. Those exposed to high temperatures should increase their water intake in order to avoid dehydration, according to Healthline. “When too much water is lost from the body, its organs, cells, and tissues fail to function as they should, which can lead to dangerous complications,” Healthline notes, going on to explain that if dehydration isn’t corrected immediately, shock could become a very real possibility. While it’s further noted that severe dehydration needs to be treated in a medical setting, mild dehydration can usually be treated at home.
For athletes, knowing the signs of dehydration is imperative in recognizing when you’re not properly hydrated, especially when running in higher temperatures. According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of dehydration in adults may include headache, confusion, fatigue, dry mouth and/or a dry cough, high heart rate (but low blood pressure), muscle cramps, and dark-colored urine — to name just a few. Should you notice any symptoms of dehydration while running, it’s important to stop and address it — however, it’s important to take into account that there is a proper way to go about hydration.
The role that electrolytes play
While water intake is essential to stay hydrated while on the run, electrolytes also play an essential role in proper hydration, which can be achieved via options like electrolyte sports drinks. Electrolytes are defined as “minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine, tissues, and other body fluids,” according to the National Library of Medicine. During a run, the sweat expelled contains electrolytes, thus highlighting the importance of proper hydration — especially when considering that replenishing electrolytes helps in avoiding muscle cramping and fatigue and in regulating heartbeat. The Marathon Handbook article goes on to explain that the electrolytes found in our body are sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, and calcium. For runners, however, it’s noted that sodium, potassium, and magnesium are particularly important.
The value of proper hydration
A post from the Cleveland Clinic notes that when the weather heats up, runners “gush” sweat, explaining that the mass loss of fluid can lead to dehydration “if you don’t take proper steps before and after your workout.” That said, it’s advised to drink 16-20 ounces of water or sports drink a few hours before training or race, according to physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd. Having another 8-12 ounces within 15 minutes of the activity, and drinking fluids during any run lasting longer than an hour is also recommended. “Lawton said a good rule of thumb is to try to consume 3-5 ounces of liquid every 30 minutes of exertion,” explains the Cleveland Clinic article. Afterwards, rehydrating with at least 16 ounces of fluid “for every pound that melted off in sweat during the workout” can further aid in staying properly hydrated.
Bringing along a water bottle (or planning a route with water sources along the way) can help ensure that you’re getting the fluids you need when training. However, it’s important to remember that staying hydrated should be a normal part of your daily routine, too. According to one Hospital for Special Surgery article, getting enough fluids during a run is just ‘one part of the equation.’ “You’ll have a much easier time staying hydrated if you make it a part of your overall fueling plan,” says Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDM, FACSM, sports nutritionist at the women’s Sports Medicine Center at HSS. With that in mind, looking at your diet can be a great place to start when aiming to better incorporate hydration overall.
Supplemental ways to help stay hydrated
Supplementing fluids with the right foods can also contribute to hydration. In fact, there are plenty of foods that can help you stay hydrated, particularly those with high water content. Fruits, for example, are a great choice, with Healthline explaining that there are plenty worth choosing from in addition to obvious options (like watermelon). Strawberries, for instance, have a water content of 91%, and also provide “lots of fiber, disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate and manganese.”
Bringing fruit along for after a run (whether it be freshly cut or in a smoothie) as well as incorporating fresh fruit in your regular diet are both great ideas when striving to stay hydrated. Other fantastic options include cantaloupe and peaches, though hydrating fruits can also be found in tropical choices, too. For example, lychees are mainly composed of water and carbs (which make up 82% and 16.5% of the fruit respectively, according to Healthline). For runners looking to incorporate fruit into a regular diet, other options like dragonfruit and even imported durian fruit make excellent, healthy hydrating choices that can be prepared and served in different ways – keeping hydration and nutrition interesting and flavorsome.
Staying hydrated — particularly during the summer months — is essential to a runner’s health, well-being, and performance. By understanding the effects of heat, the signs of dehydration, and how elements such as electrolytes fit in, staying properly hydrated can become a priority in your routine.