Hydration and Running – What to Drink Before, During, and After Your Run

If you’re relatively new to running like I am, knowing what exactly you need to do to stay hydrated before, during, and after your run can be a bit of a mystery. Let me tell you from personal experience that being well-hydrated can be the difference between crushing your workout goals and hitching a ride on the suffer bus.

We’ll demystify the best procedures for making sure that you are hydrated while running so that you can be best prepared for your runs. But before we do that, we’re going to look at why it matters first.

The Importance of Hydration

Chances are that you’re like most people and water isn’t your go-to beverage of choice. So it might take some convincing and time to develop the habit of drinking water. If you know how beneficial it can be for your running, you might be more likely to adopt the habit.

If you’re dehydrated when you run, your performance will be hindered in a variety of ways . When dehydrated, your body doesn’t cool itself as efficiently, and the increased temperature of your core will cause you to experience fatigue at a faster rate.

Additionally, you’ll have a decreased rate of blood pumping into your muscles, also meaning that you won’t sweat as much. This will perpetuate your dehydrated state.

In other words, hydration is essential if you want to perform well, as dehydration can impact your running time by minutes! If you are hunting PRs, it pays to make sure you’re well-hydrated.

runner drinking water

Before a Run

What to Drink Leading Up to a Run

While they sound really weird, tart cherry juice and beet juice can be great options before your run. Cherry juice will help with recovery, while beet juice can help muscles perform more efficiently. You can drink cherry or beet juice once or twice a day when you’re training hard.

Whether you go the beet/cherry route or not, you’ll want to drink 16 ounces of water two to three hours before a run so that you start well-hydrated. Then, drink several fluid ounces right before the start. But be careful and make sure you don’t drink too much water, which will dilute the amount of electrolytes in your body.

I always drink about 8 ounces of an amino energy powder mixed with water 30 minutes before I run or workout. The amino energy helps not only with performance but also with recovery.

You might even consider tossing ice in your water or drinking a glass of cool water before you run, as a 2010 study found that runners who drank colder water ran better.

Colder water helps lower the body temperature and the perceived effort that a runner has to exert, meaning that you can run longer.

The length of your run or race also can impact how you should hydrate not only the day of, but also the days leading up to it. If you’re planning to run more than 10 miles, you should make sure that you have been properly hydrated the week prior to your run.

What and How Much to Drink Throughout the Week

In the final days leading up to a longer distance, you might want to consider drinking an additional cup or two of fluid a day to make sure that you have the optimum amount of hydration—you don’t want to be over-hydrated or under-hydrated.

A good way to tell if you’re getting the fluid that you need is the color of your urine. It should not be dark in color, but you also don’t want it too clear. Completely colorless urine means you could be flushing out necessary electrolytes. Instead, urine that is straw colored is likely where you want to be.

What Drinks to Avoid

While staying hydrated is essential for good health and good performance, you want to make sure that you’re drinking the right liquids. You should avoid drinks that are extremely sugary, milk-based, carbonated, and alcoholic. Save the booze for when you celebrate after your run!

During a Run

What to Drink Based on Distance

Depending on the makeup of your body and how far you’re running, you may not need to worry about hydrating during your run. As a good rule of thumb, experts suggest about 8 ounces of water or a sports drink every two miles.

Short run — 5 miles or fewer

While sports drinks are especially great for longer runs, you can also try swishing a sports drink in your mouth and spitting it out for a shorter run. You may find that you have enhanced your performance without adding any unneeded calories.

The reality, though, is that water is totally fine for runs less than an hour, and, in fact, many sports drink may contain too much sugar for the everyday runner, as they are designed for athletes who need to replenish their electrolyte and carbohydrate stores.

You may not even need to hydrate at all during your run if it is a shorter distance. If the weather isn’t too hot and you’re already hydrated, you might not need a drink during a short run.

Mid-distance run — 5 to 12 miles

With a mid-distance run, your hydration needs will fall between those of a shorter run and a long run. You might be just fine without a sports drink if the weather isn’t too hot. But you probably will need to drink water at least once during your mid-distance run.

Long run — 12+ miles

If you’re running for longer distances and you feel like you need an extra boost, you should make sure that you hydrate with a sports drink.

Because they contain both electrolytes and carbs, they will help your body keep fluid, facilitate water absorption, and help prevent fatigue. Sports drinks are especially good for runs longer than one hour.

It should be noted, however, that not all performance drinks provide calories. Check your prefered brand and make sure it is giving you what you want. If you (and your stomach) prefer a zero-calorie drink, you might want to consider adding gels to your long run routine to provide some extra fuel.

runner drinking water

How to Adjust Fluid Amount Depending on Weather and Temperature

Depending on the temperature and weather, you will need to adjust how much you’re hydrating. In short, if it’s hot outside—i.e., above 70 degrees—you will need to hydrate more, particularly during your run. This is especially true if it is a humid climate.

If you’re running for more than 45 minutes when it’s hot outside, you’ll need to hydrate during your run even if you find it somewhat bothersome to figure out how to carry hydration during your run.

A simple way to check your hydration levels is to pinch the skin on the back of your hand. If it quickly goes back to normal, you are hydrated. If it doesn’t, you might be suffering from dehydration.

It sounds obvious, but we’ll still say it: do you feel feel thirsty? If you do, there’s a good chance you are dehydrated. Making sure that you replenish, especially with a sports drink on hot days, is essential.

Strategies for Hydrating During a Run

One of the great struggles is figuring out how to hydrate during a run. Unlike race day, where volunteers are handing out water at regular stops, you are unlikely to find strangers waiting for you with a cup of cold water on the days that you run!

You can do a variety of things to ensure that you are hydrated during your run. Bring your hydration with you, using a waist pack or a handheld bottle. Or, if you don’t want to carry a bottle, hide one somewhere along your route so it will be ready for you.

Find the best hydration waist packs here

Find the best handheld water bottles here

Another option is to plan your route based on public water stops such as water fountains or convenience stores where you could buy water. Finally, you can always run loops around your house or car to facilitate quick pit stops for fluids.

I personally try to design routes so that I can drink some water halfway through my longer run, as long as the day isn’t too hot. For me, this often involves basing my route on where my car is parked so that I can reach it at the halfway point.

Post-Run

For optimal recovery, drink some sort of protein within 30 minutes of completing your run. That’ll help your muscles recover. This can be as simple as a glass of milk or a recovery shake.

Another option is coconut water, which is a good option pre-run as well. We all know that coconut water is pretty trendy right now, but what you might not know is that it is a great option for refueling after a run.

You’ll want to make sure that you replenish the electrolytes and carbohydrates your body used up during your run, as well as the fluids.

A good rule of thumb is to drink 16-24 ounces of water for every pound that you lost while running, as this will assist in your recovery.

The Wired Runner