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Daily Hydration: Why should runners drink water? (Part 1)

If you’re a runner —and especially if you’re a runner that lives in the Utah desert— drinking water is not optional. Besides being critical to blood circulation and body temperature regulation, here are three (perhaps surprising) reasons why staying hydrated should be a part of your running program from now on:

1) Dehydration equals drowsiness. Yes, you should stay hydrated because the alternative, frankly, sucks. You might be thinking, “duh.” But when I say, “dehydration,” I don’t just mean the cowboy lost in the desert shaking an empty canteen for the last couple drops. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. You can start to get water-stressed symptoms after losing a mere 1-2% of your body’s storage. This is a small accomplishment, even on a short run in the middle of winter.

And dehydrated runners don’t just feel terrible, their running suffers too!

In a study on human kinetics, Dr. Asker Jeukendrup reports that minor dehydration impairs running performance by approximately 3% at distances around one mile and 5% at distances of three to six miles. If you’re thinking “big whoop, 5% is nothing,” remember: water is free! All we have to do is gulp —something we’ve literally had mastered since birth— and that 5% loss disappears.

2) Drinking water can help you shed unwanted pounds. 

Here’s how: A) By replacing other liquids in your diet. The culprits include soda, sweetened tea, almost any drink you get from Starbucks, and (I hate to say it) most fruit juice. These liquid-snacks have through-the-roof sugar contents. If you’re a habitual consumer, swap your beverage out for water (which “weighs in” at a whopping zero calories) and watch as running becomes more enjoyable when excess pounds melt away.

B) Your body must work to regulate the temperature of the water you drink. If you prefer drinking cold water—as most of us do—your body burns extra calories when it heats that water up to a toasty 98.6 °F. I won’t lie to you . . . for an 8 oz. glass of ice water you only burn 1-8 calories raising its temperature. With that in mind, if you drink the proverbial “eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day,” it will take you at least two months to burn off the necessary 3,500 calories that equal one pound of fat. But at the end of two months is there an easier, safer way to drop a pound than drinking water? No.

C) Sometimes our brain says “I’m hungry,” when it’s really trying to say “I’m thirsty.” If you don’t stop to ask, “What are you really telling me, brain?” you might not notice the subtle differences between these signals. Next time your stomach shouts, “Snack!” try drinking a glass of water. If in ten minutes it doesn’t shout, “Snack!” again, give yourself a pat on the back —you gave your body what it really wanted and saved yourself some extra calories along the way.

3) Water helps balance nutrient and fluid levels. Most runners have had muscle cramps, stomach aches or joint pain on a run. Some of us (the lucky ones) have had all three at the same time. This can often result from the wrong water-to-carbohydrate ratio. If you’re out on a jog with a stomach ache and don’t know which way the scale is tipped, your options become a simple logic problem: add water or add carbs. If it turns out you needed water but added carbs the pains you felt before will get worse. On the other hand, if it turns out you needed carbs but chose water, the only new danger is that you’ll have to stop and “water the flowers” more often. Water is always the safer option. We need products like Gu to keep us from hitting the wall, but don’t complain if you eat a gel and it gives you a stomach ache, they tell you to take them with water right on the packaging!

Hopefully those are enough reasons to grab yourself a nice cool glass of the good stuff . . . (I’m still talking about water).

In Daily Hydration – Part 2, we’ll take a look at the how of hydration. Questions like: Should I drink water before my run? What’s the best way to carry water? Do I need water if I’m only running a mile or two? Stay tuned!

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