Getting Enough Water While You Workout

Training hard? Keeping consistent? Nutrition on point? None of that can happen if you’re not getting the hydration you need while you work out. Almost nothing else is as important and believe it or not it can make you go farther, faster and even like working out more! You might think okay bring water what else is there right? Well getting enough water while you workout get’s tricky out in the wild and as you go for endurance type distances. It’s so important and tricky I think you should have a plan, a back up plan and if disaster strikes you might just have to call it quits for the day if you run out. The summer heat hit us hard this week, heat warnings and all and today I was racing in the 31 c (90 f) heat and it was a mud and obstacle run so I couldn’t bring water with me. Honey strongly suggested I hang out for a bit and drink water before I drive myself the two hours home. I did AND I brought a cooler! Water can be the difference in weather like this of being able to train and having to sit the day out. So here’s a quick overview of why it’s so important and tips, tricks and ideas to getting enough no matter where your workout takes you!

Salt water is NEVER an option!

Why you NEED water

We obsess about nutrition (even on the go), training plans and injuries but getting severely dehydrated should be a major concern too. Most of us do get into that mild level of dehydration when we do long training sessions in the heat but it’s a fine line between mild and moderate dehydration. 

Mild 3-4% loss No ill effects

Moderate 5-8% Fatigue and dizziness

Severe 10% Rapid onset of physical and mental deterioration 

Death 15-25%

60% of the human body is water so for me I reach those milestones when I loose 2 lbs (900 ml), 3.5 lbs (1600 ml), 7 lbs (3200 ml) and 11 lbs (5000 ml) of water respectively. Over all the bigger you are the more water you can lose but the more likely you are to lose via sweating so we’re all pretty much in the same boat.

I really don’t think there are too many of us actually at risk of dying on our run on bike ride but it is easier than you would think to get into that moderate zone. In fact if you don’t bring water with you it’s probably a given, plus it just makes the whole thing so much more pleasant. Ideally we would drink enough water to replace what we are losing as we go along but that can be a struggle so for long workouts you might have to just manage your level of dehydration until you arrive home. In practice this training program I’ll probably be arriving home from long runs just as I reach about 5% water loss, then it’s right into the tub with my bottle of fake pink champagne.

How much to drink

While you won’t be endangering your health losing 2% of your water levels while working out can decrease your performance by as much as 25%. So how much should you drink to stay hydrated then? Well like many other things in life the answer is “well it’s complicated.” First of all you have to be honest about what level of sweaty you are. If you are a heavy sweater then go slightly above these recommendations if like me you’re not a big sweater you might be able to get away with a little less. Ditto for winter vs hot humid summer days. Remember that high humidity makes you lose more water than a dry heat.

You’re probably are underestimating your water loss during exercise too. One study found that distance runners underestimated their water loss on average by 46% during their runs. So the message there might be whatever you think you need, double it! One good recommendation comes from the Melton formula which states:

  • One to two hours before your workout, drink 450 to 600 ml of water
  • 15 minutes before you begin, drink between 240 and 300 ml of water
  • During your workout, drink another 240 ml every 15 minutes

According to this I need  2700 ml of water for my longest of long runs.

Another option is to do the weigh method. Basically weigh yourself naked before and after your next workout and for every pound lost drink 550 ml of fluid for that kind of exercise in those conditions. If you still lose weight after that drink a bit more next time.

Carrying options

Hydration while working out is so important it’s worth spending a bit more if necessary to find something that works perfectly for you. Every method might drive at least some athletes nuts so there is no one solution for all. Even your activity might change how you want to carry your water. While I’m running it’s all about the waist belt but on my bike I favor a camelback. You might even purchase a few not perfect options before you find the perfect one and that’s okay. But if you only go for short bursts or have lots of fill up options a small hand held bottle might be more than enough and free! Solutions with plastic bladders can (but not always) give the water a plastic taste, it won’t hurt you and when your really going for it the water is still very refreshing!

The top belt is brand name, expensive and I hate it! Those little bottles are almost pointless! The bottom one is cheap and kinda ugly however it’s nearing 2000 km of use!

Bottles either in a waist belt or handheld (200 – 1200 ml). For most of us this is going to be our choice and it is for me when I’m running. I carry two refilled gatorade bottles in my waist belt which gets me to 1200 ml.

Hydration vests (1000 – 5500 ml ). These vests are controversial among people who like to create controversies for no good reason. Some ‘dig in your heels’ types say you can’t wear them for anything less than 10k. Ignore those people and move on with your life. These can either hold bottles or have an internal bladder and their proponents love the hands-free bulk-free nature of a hydration vest.  One nice thing about the bladder type is that all you have to fuss with is a straw making it virtually hands free. The very large models can blur the line between vest and backpack. They can be very expensive so if you can try before you buy!

Camelbacks (2000 – 8000 ml ). I use a small camelback when I’m cycling in the woods. The design of the bladder allows for wide opening so I can fill it with ice and water. These differ from vests as they are longer and really only have straps on your front. The main feature here is capacity but the drawback is the fact that your whole back is covered and that tends to make it very sweaty under there. For the very large capacity packs you are filling multiple bladders which means you have to switch them into the active position as you go. You could just buy a bladder and add it to a backpack you already own but the straw management design in a ‘real’ one is totally worth it. If your bladder gets icky (or even moldy) fill it with a bleach solution and rinse well before the next use. These are best stored empty and dry but they can be disinfected.

I found my 2l MEC pack used online and I can put all my other bike stuff in there too. With frame bottles and the backpack I can easily carry 4+ liters for long bike rides.

Tricks for getting enough

Half marathon training starts again Monday. Last year I did it in the early spring and carrying enough water with me wasn’t a problem. In previous years during the heat I did have enough in my waist belt but just barely. If I decide to do a full next year it’s going to be a big issue for me in this rural area so I’ve been thinking about it a lot already.

  • Modesty be damned, sweating is the major source of water loss and minimizing water loss through sweat goes a long way to preventing dehydration. Male endurance athletes lose about 2 liters per hour during slow, steady state exercise. Wearing less clothes maximizes evaporative cooling making you sweat less and keep more water on board for longer.
  • Plan to buy cold water along the way.
  • In my small town there isn’t a whole lot of places to buy water, should I ever run into an issue and forget my change I have a good enough relationship with those people to pay next time in an emergency. So from time to time frequent a store on your route to build this sort of relationship with the workers there!
  • Stash a (possibly frozen) water bottle on your route with your car before you go. Leave a note so it doesn’t get thrown out.
  • Take note of where you can drop that ‘extra’ bottle off for recycling along the way.
  • Call a friend for a fill up along the way.
  • Ask a friend along the way to leave their hose on for you.
  • Plan routes to pass public water fountains if you can. PS I wish we had more of these in the world in general!
  • Fill up at a public rest room.
  • Plan to pass your house of car along the way. Run one way, then back, fill up and then keep going.
  • Have a wonderful friend or family member drive cold water out to you while you’re out there working out.
  • I don’t know that much about it but if appropriate keep treatment tablets with you for emergencies. I’m thinking woodsy ultra training here.
  • Drive somewhere to workout where water is more available.
  • Camel backs are the ultimate in water carrying capacity, like it or not.
Even though I take it off for running pictures on every single trip out I’m wearing my hydration belt!

Keeping it cold

No one says it has to be cold or even cool, when you’re out in the heat working on your fitness even warm water is pretty refreshing. Sometimes even when I buy ice cold water it’s ambient temperature less than ten minuets later. You can employ one or more of these ideas. In the summer I usually freeze one bottle solid and semi-freeze or use mostly cubed ice in the other in an attempt to get it to keep my water at least cool on long runs. If you had a water bottle holder in a light color it would attract less heat keeping it cooler. Carrying it on your shady side and away from your body heat if possible would help too. Short of freezing it though your water very well might not be cold by the time you finish it.

That’s what I’ve learned about schlepping water with me over the years an you know, science. What is your favorite way to carry water with you or keep it cold?

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