Pittsburgh is coming, pittsburgh is coming! Seriously, time is flying by. The Big Marathon goes off in 6 weeks!
I've had a clean bill of health and excitedly raced the Gate River Run 15k (National Championships) in the humid and hot Jacksonville, Florida last weekend. I watched as runner after runner walked straight into the medical tent due to massive over-heating and dehydration. A good friend and fellow RRCA RunPro camper Olivia Mickle hardly remembers crossing the finish line before passing out into the arms of the helpful finish line staff. I then took a trip to Savannah, Georgia, which included a 22 miler, where is was also incredibly warm, starting out in the mid 60's at 9am for my run and easily hitting 80F by my near 12pm finish. Even and easy run in the heat can leave me light-headed and sweating buckets. Because both of these events were key workouts in my PGH Marathon build up, I figured its only fitting to talk hydration and electrolytes!
This isn't even the worst of the salty sweat!
SWEAT IT UP:
I know I am not the only runner you know who gets sweaty! Even in the cold my body's cooling defense is in action. And not only do I sweat out lots of water, I am also a salty sweater. As you can see in the picture above, from my long run in Georgia earlier this week, I basically have table salt on my skin after cooling down from a run. its chalky, uncomfortable, and leaves me in a major imbalance! without adequate rehydration I get dizzy and light-headed with labored breathing.
Drenched Shirt after a 1 hour spin session this past winter while I was injured
A Briefing on Electrolytes:
These puppies are small minerals that are dissolved in your blood and other body fluids. The essential ones in the human body that are lost most readily in sweat --Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Chloride -- are important for nerve and muscle function, blood pH levels, and general body water re uptake levels. Most importantly, the gradient of the electrolytes in the body fluids is what drives proper function in the cell. So, when you lose water, the concentration of electrolytes in cells goes up, and when your body lacks proper levels of electrolytes, the cells fluids are more dilute. Either way, improper balance is detrimental to function and can effect running performance. When you run, you lose both electrolytes and water, which is double trouble!
What happens when levels get low and out of balance? Drowsiness, confusion, labored breathing (the contraction of the giant diaphragm muscle is controlled by a nerve which functions by ion signaling), loss of appetite, cramping, thirst, dizziness, and fainting just to name a few. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and marathons DO NOT MIX! Any of you returning marathoners know that fluids really can make or break that PR finish and can turn an enjoyable experience into a painful one.
So How do I combat dehydration and Electrolyte imbalances?
I bet you can guess my first answer to this, and that would be WATER. I drink loads of water. Cold water, room temperature water, sparking water, the occasional Zevia soda, flavored water, tea, coffee and so on. I always have a water bottle on me and I recommend you follow suit. My sponsors have provided me with great 20oz bottles which are small enough to pack but large enough to last for an hour or two of errands. You'll notice the difference. Once or twice I've forgot my water bottle in my car during an 8-hour work shift and found myself dull, drowsy, and in a bad mood. The moment I had a chance to chug some water I felt so much better. You don't have to be massively dehydrated to feel the effects.
A delicious Salted Carmel Mocha from Angry Catfish Bike Shop and Coffee House in MPLS
And yes, COFFEE WILL HYDRATE YOU. I do not recommend using this as your own hydration source, but it is 99.5% water. Warm water has been shown to no be quite as effective at replenishing the body, so tea is another one that should not be used solely. A good balance of water sources is best.
As for electrolytes, I tend to get plenty of Sodium and Chloride in the table salt I put on every meal I eat (seriously, every meal. I have a salt problem). But when it comes to choosing an electrolyte supplement during extra sweaty exercise such as runs on warm days, indoors, or especially strenuous workouts, selecting what is right for you can be challenging. Many products combine simple carbohydrates and electrolytes in order to make up a during-the-run fuel source. I use these mostly on long runs and hard workouts. My fuel of choice? Bonk Breaker Chews. I've talked about them before in a previous blog, but briefly they have 120mg electrolytes in 4 chews with 24g of carbs, 15g of which are sugar. On my 22 miler I took two chews at 11.2 miles and 2 more at 15 miles. I will use these during the Pittsburgh Marathon at 4 or 5 different places. The perfect package of quick, delicious energy and essential ions.
For all liquid supplementation on workouts and long run and for electrolytes at all other times, I use the tasty and amazing GenUCan UCAN Hydrate product. It's individually-wrapped drink powder mix that is ONLY electrolytes. 0 calories and 0 sugars. there are 300mg of sodium, 100mg of potassium, also with 10% daily-value of Magnesium, 2% Calcium, and 4% Chloride. The electrolyte profile is awesome, especially when you don't want the extra added sugar. Its lightly sweetened with natural stevia, too! I drank about 4 oz at mile 11.2 and 4 oz at 15 miles on my Georgia 22 miler. I will fill my water bottles on the PGH Marathon course with this stuff at every possible water stop, taking 4-6 oz every 30 minutes.
And how much do I drink? Over hydration is a thing, but is rather difficult to do. Because I sweat a lot, I have one serving of the UCAN hydrate after every run (in 20oz water), and then try to have 4 more 20oz bottles of plain water in the day. I usually also have one or two Zevia sodas a day (https://zevia.com), one cup of coffee, and one cup of tea.
Water bottle, Coffee, and a book; Standard.
I also pee a lot, but that comes with the territory.
So runners of STEEL, I recommend a few things to you:
1. figure out how much water you drink and where you can make adjustments in your daily life and in your training. If you find yourself drowsy, dizzy, or dull during the day, try chugging 8 oz of water.
2. do you get enough electrolytes? try out some different products to see if they make you feel better in recovery and during workouts. every product is different, so choose wisely. Do you need sugars or not?
3. lastly, specialize your hydration. the day before a long or warm weather run calls for a bit more water and electrolytes. During the run make sure to get some as well. And always finish up a workout or run with some water and some sort of electrolyte replacement.
Happy hydration and happy PGH Marathon preparation!