TGIF one and all! For me, I have 8 hours standing between me and vacation. Actually…I guess that’s not quite true. I have to get through today’s work day and then I have my 2 jewelry sales this weekend [side note: if you're in the DC/MD/VA area and need to do some early holiday shopping come to the sales! You can email me for details....one's in Silver Spring and one is in McLean]. So come Sunday night I will be home free and ready for Thanksgivukkah!
So, I’ve done my Race Recap from the Marine Corps Marathon, but I wanted to right a reflection post and try and review what I think went wrong. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled with my race results, but I didn’t feel great during the race and I want to pinpoint why so that when I try out my next marathon, I’m prepared to kick ass. As I explained in my recap, I got tired way too early in the race. I wouldn’t say I hit a wall, but I felt fatigued and super thirsty starting around mile 11. It was rough. For someone who was able to knock out 20 miles and feel pretty good, crashing early was mentally damaging. So naturally, I wanted to figure out what was going on. Enter: Coach Holly. I found her blog after reading a comment about Singapore and freaked out after finding out that Holly lives in Singapore! So obvious, instant connection.
Anyways, Holly jumped into the conversation and helped me figure out why I was probably feeling thirsty non-stop during the race. It all came down to my pre-race hydration. Since I am so unfamiliar with hydration, and the technical terminology, I’m going to let Coach Holly take it away and break it all down for you.
Yes this post is long, but trust me, if you are a runner and, like me, clueless about hydration, read through it all. Holly does an incredible job explaining hydration in “laymen” terms and I promise you won’t be disappointed for sticking with it.
Spoiler alert: Turns out I had no idea what I was doing when it came to hydration…. Without further ado… here’s Coach Holly!
As a coach, I love reading long, detailed race reports. The more details a client puts into a report, the more thoroughly we can debrief about the race. I will admit, though, that sometimes I forget to turn off my “Coach Voice” when I switch over to my blog reading – especially when reading my blogger friends’ awesome race reports.
And that’s exactly what happened when I read Sophie’s MCM race report and her description of the struggles she faced in the latter portions of the race. My coach-radar honed in on one sentence from early on in her post: “…I tried to drink a little water at each stop to help with hydration, but I was alays SO thirsty.” So instead of being a happy little blog-commenting cheerleader, my coach side (no, I am not her coach) asked her about her hydration strategy. The result was a hydration discussion so lengthy that we were eventually forced out of the Comments section and over to email. At the end, we certainly didn’t solve the mystery of the marathon – but we did (I think) get to the bottom of the thirst issue (more on this in a bit). And Sophie asked me if I’d be willing to write a bit about hydration for her MCM-reflections post.
Now, hydration is a really broad topic: How much? / How often? / What kind? / Too much? Too little? Just right? – I could write a blog post on each one of these. But as this “Sub-Post” is designed to be just a small part of Sophie’s larger post, I’m going to focus on one aspect of hydration – one that’s relevant to Sophie’s story: Balance. In doing so, I’ll also highlight one common misconception propagated by “healthy living” bloggers. But first, let me share with you two hydration rules:
1. What goes out must (eventually) be replaced.
2. Your body will try to guide you – so listen!
Sounds simply enough, right? There are plenty of ways to make this more complex – but lots of people struggle with hydration issues, so I’m trying to pare things down here.
Let’s start with Rule #1: What do you do to replace what you sweat?
[Hint: If you said “Drink water,” then you are only 50% correct.]
Sweat is water plus salts (sodium and potassium, mostly). Of course you know that – you’ve certainly had sweat drip into your eyes or sneak into a cut. So we know that sweat is salty – but we often forget that we must replace both the water and the salt.
Your body maintains a small “buffer zone” of both water and salt, so sweating just a little bit doesn’t completely destroy you. For shorter workouts (Rule of thumb: Short is <45-60 minutes in moderate to hot temperatures and <75-90 minutes in cool to cold temperatures.), rehydrating with water and eating normally afterward should be fine. Salt lurks in most foods, so taking in enough salt to replace what you lose from a short workout is usually as simple as eating your next meal (provided you aren’t on a super low-salt diet).
However, for longer workouts, you’ll have to make a careful effort to replace both water and electrolytes. There are lots of ways to do this: Your gel/chews have electrolytes, your sports drink has electrolytes, salt tabs have electrolytes, and pretzels have electrolytes. Obviously, you’ll also need to take in fluids (water and possibly a sports drink).
The exact amount of salt depends on just how much you sweat during your activity. Getting the correct balance is tricky in the beginning: Taking in too much salt puts additional stress on your kidneys, but insufficient salt replacement can lead to cramping, digestive issues, post-run headaches, and general “cruddy” feelings.
How do you find the right balance? Well, that’s where Rule #2 comes in: You experiment, and you listen to your body. Many of you will build toward, then enter, the “needs electrolytes” phase gradually: You will increase from short to medium to long runs, and/or you live in a temperate climate, where the weather warms through spring into the summer. Take advantage of these transitional times – If you think you need some extra electrolytes, start adding them in, slowly, using one vehicle at a time (chews/drink/salt tabs). When you aren’t experiencing any dehydration symptoms, you’re probably in just the right spot (try reducing and see what happens). Alternatively, you can start at a point where you are experiencing symptoms – cramps during long runs, post-run headaches, etc. – and slowly increase your electrolyte consumption on runs, until your symptoms disappear.
As you experiment, a training log will be your best friend. Record the weather conditions, the fuel and electrolytes you consume, and how you feel. Then, look for patterns. And let me clarify – I don’t just mean to write down, “1 can 100Plus & 1 pack Honey Stingers”. That’s fine – but I actually want you to check the packages and labels, and record how much salt is in each product:
100Plus: 156 mg sodium / 46 mg potassium
Honey Stinger Chews: 80 mg sodium / 40 mg potassium
This kind of record keeping is tedious at first – but ultimately, it will force you to understand what you are consuming on each run, and allow you to compare your electrolyte consumption across many runs (and potentially, many different products). For example, although I have a habit of fueling very consistently with Honey Stingers and salt tabs, sometimes I add an electrolyte replacement beverage – but the type and timing varies. And “type” matters – quite a bit.
This brings me to my public service announcement: Nuun Active Hydration is designed to be an electrolyte replacement drink, NOT an “every day” drink.
1 tablet = ~360 mg sodium / 100 mg potassium (may vary slightly by flavor)
Check out those numbers, and compare them to the 100Plus and Honey Stinger numbers. Those Nuun tablets have a lot of salt, folks. So let’s be very clear: Nuun Active Hydration is designed to be an electrolyte replacement drink.
I feel like this fact is often lost in the healthy living blogger community – where folks are blabbering about Nuun left and right, and talking about carrying it in their purse, drinking it with breakfast, and/or putting it in every glass of water they drink during the day. Please know: If you are doing this with Nuun Active Hydration, then you are taking in a LOT of excess salt. There are other options (U Natural Hydration and Nuun All Day) that are more appropriate for flavoring your water without the heavy hit of electrolytes.
And here we return to Sophie’s issue: She likes Nuun. She’s read about Nuun, and heard other bloggers sing its praises. And so, thinking that she is doing the right thing by staying hydrated and topping up her electrolytes, she drinks 2 glasses of Nuun Active Hydration the morning of her race. Now, scroll up for a second and look at how much salt is contained in TWO Nuun tablets. That’s a LOT of salt – it’s also the explanation for why she was thirsty for the whole race.
Because remember: You have to replace whatever you lose – but in the right balance. By way of explanation, and to better understand Sophie’s unquenchable thirst, take a look at this Salt Math:
If you drink gallons of water, then you dilute your electrolyte —-> You need salt [Feel a craving for salty foods]
If you take in extra salt, then your electrolyte concentration gets too high —> You need water [Feel thirsty]
If you sweat a lot, thereby losing water and electrolytes —> You need both
I think that this quite clearly solves the riddle of Sophie’s thirst. It may also help you understand why you retain water and feel extra thirsty the morning after a very salty dinner, or why you’re craving salty snacks after your intense workout.
Now, I’ve taken up waaaaay too many words here, so I’m going to shut up and let Sophie tell you the rest. But feel free to throw out any questions you may have, or requests for additional info/reference materials. And remember, keep hydration simple: What goes out must be replaced. Listen to your body. And please-please-please, get familiar with the labels on your fuel supplies!
Safety note: Ultimately, every person, and his/her needs, is different – and these needs will change on, quite literally, a daily basis. So be careful, listen to your body, and seek medical attention if you think you may be suffering from acute under/over hydration.
How much more informed do you feel? It is all SO logical, but my little over thinking marathon brain just kept thinking: must drink tons of electrolytes. It really is a fine balance! But my marathon still went great and being armed with this arsenal of information means I’m prepared for the next one! Bring on the agua…and beer of course [which BTW people are arguing is a good post-run recovery drink...what are your thoughts on that Holly? ]
I’m so thankful that Holly stepped in and gave me so much guidance. You guys need to seriously check out her blog: Run with Holly. She has really insightful, interesting posts with so many really helpful running posts. That’s all for now! I’m off to a busy, busy, weekend and then jetting off to glorious Ohio for Thanksgiving.
Did you learn something new about hydration?
What’s your go-to electrolyte drink?