The human body can withstand weeks without food and can be trained to survive almost any physical endeavor and yet we can't survive more than three days without water. Even when resting, our organs will begin to shut down after a couple of days without water. The importance of hydrating the body can't be understated, as every year, marathon race organizers incorporate medical tents with professional volunteers to administer iv drips to those runners who needed help because of poor hydration or heat exhaustion.
As a seasoned runner I should have known better but I experienced the nauseating effects of heat exhaustion due to inadequate hydration back in 2001. I'd recently moved to South Korea and was unprepared for the heat and humidity at 9:00 a.m. I learned the hard way the importance of drinking enough water.
Most medical professionals will advise us to drink eight cups of water on a daily basis or more, depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise. Workouts lasting longer than one hour should also include an energy drink -- otherwise old-fashioned water will do the job and may be the most satisfying thirst-quencher.
So, when do you know as a runner if you are drinking enough H2O? If you're running a marathon and you wait until you are thirsty to drink, it could already be too late. A marathon runner should begin hydrating three days in advance of the race -- and then drink another litre of water before lacing up the racing flats.
I recently interviewed Crystal Higgins, a registered dietitian from Vancouver, B.C.. She shared some tips on the importance of drinking water all year around.
"Dehydration can have a negative impact on both performance and recovery," says Higgins. "More specifically, it can lead to headaches, cramping, fatigue, loss of coordination and in warm weather, heat-stroke. Water and hydration is important for joint lubrication, maintaining body temperature and delivering oxygen and nutrients to your cells."
She continues, "Thirst is often an unreliable indicator for hydration, especially in cold weather. On a daily basis the general rule of thumb is drinking six to eight cups of water daily, but this may not be enough for some long-distance runners or 'heavy sweaters.' Ideally runners and athletes should have at least two cups (16 oz) of water two hours before running and one cup of water within a half hour of running. For long runs, (over 45 minutes) it is important to hydrate every 15-20 minutes with about 1/2 cup of water. If your run is less than 90 minutes, water is the best choice -- sport drinks, gels, recovery drinks etc. are unnecessary for short workouts and can often lead to excess calories in your day."
If you are a runner trying to maintain or lose weight she suggested, "Watch out for those liquid calories and stick to water! For half marathons, or 90-minute-plus runs and workouts, a sport drink or a sport gel with water can be beneficial to balance out electrolyte levels."
In a February 11, 2013 article published in Outside Magazine, proper hydration is discussed. Michael Bergeron, Ph.D., director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute, urges runners to drink up.
"If you're a recreational exerciser, say you're running 30 or 45 minutes at a time, you don't need to be carrying around water and drinking constantly," he says, "unless you start out severely hydrated, or you're wearing so many layers and so much wind protection that you're sweating profusely."
The most important message here is you need to keep hydrated all year round, winter included. Drink water before, during and after your workout for better performance and a more invigorated you.