I get asked many questions about running and the one that crops up most frequently is, how much water should you take when out for a run? It is a 'how long is a piece of string?' kind of question. Of course, it depends on how long your session lasts, but there is no doubt that staying properly hydrated will always be critical to your running performance.
If you don't have sufficient water, you become dehydrated and that will make you feel fatigued, leading to decreased co-ordination and muscle cramping. Remember if you are only a little bit dehydrated – even a few per cent – it will affect your ability to perform.
If you don't do so already, you should pay attention to how much you drink before, during and after your exercise. When you run, you sweat and, the more you perspire, the more your blood volume decreases. This means that your heart has to work harder to deliver oxygen to your working muscles.
So, when you are doing a long run or taking part in a race, it's important to make sure you're well hydrated in the days leading up to the event. It's also crucial you abstain from alcohol as it is a major cause of dehydration.
There has been a lot of mixed messages going out about how much you should drink. In the past, athletes were encouraged to take enough on board to prevent a decrease in body weight during exercise. However, now it is claimed that forcing yourself to consume more fluid than your body needs while running can cause stomach distress.
It is worth remembering that drinking merely to offset sweating offers no advantage to performance or body temperature regulation compared with drinking due to thirst. The new exercise hydration advice is to just drink as often and as much as your body dictates by the level of thirst you feel.
Dehydration really only affects performance if you are running for more than one hour. There is no need to hydrate if you are running for less, as long as you ensure you are hydrated before you start out.
Water is more than adequate but sports drinks offer a couple of advantages. A number of them replace some of the sodium and other minerals that your body loses in sweat. Sports drinks provide energy for your working muscles in the form of carbohydrates and also enhance performance more than water in long runs and races.
The problem with a lot of sports drinks, though, is that athletes feel sick from ingesting a lot of sugar at once. You need to experiment to find a drink you know is not going to cause you any grief during your run.
Maintaining access to fluids during long runs can be challenging. You will need to plan in advance and run a circuit where you can put a bottle at a convenient place and grab it for a quick drink as you pass by. Don't carry a water bottle as it can cause an imbalance in your body and inhibits your arm swing.
A lot of studies have been done recently about chocolate milk as a recovery drink. It contains the perfect ratio of carbohydrates to protein to aid recovery after intense exercise; helps replace fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise; and is rich in key nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D.
Chocolate milk is much less expensive than most sports drinks on the market. When I am out running I look forward to having a lovely glass of chocolate milk when I get home.
So, a good habit, even for non-runners, is to drink water regularly during the day, even in cold weather. The body needs that hydration, regardless of endurance or weather.