Wes recently asked me about how to hydrate for a half marathon:

Blaine, we have a bunch of folks that are getting ready to get into their longer runs on Team HM Express (teamhmexpress.blogspot.com). Do you have any articles on hydration and nutrition while running over (x) miles?
[…] This is primarily for folks training for a half marathon. Thanks!

My advice on hydration is always the same, because I always hydrate the same whether my goal race is a 5k, a marathon, or I am in my off season and just lifting some weights. I very rarely have more than a week or so off at any given point unless I am sick, and then I drink even more water in an effort to drown whatever has me down. If it is true that thirsty people feel more pain, then you will want to be sure to keep well hydrated any time that you are getting ready for a good workout or race.

My thoughts on drinking water are to always drink as much as you can manage in any given day. You should never rely on thirst as an indicator of how hydrated you are. While hyponatremia is certainly more dangerous than being dehydrated, I eat constantly throughout the day and am not worried in the least about it. A well balanced diet will easily make it so that you never have to worry about it. When I get up in the morning, I usually have a glass or two of water or juice with my first breakfast. I try to always keep a water bottle handy, specifically a 32 ounce nalgene bottle or two.

On days that I do not work out, I will probably drink between one half and three quarters of the water bottle while I am at work. If I am planning on working out after work, I will make sure that I get through the entire water bottle. If I worked out before work (or at lunch time) then I will usually drink at least one and a half bottles worth, sometimes two. When I am lifting weights in the morning, I will usually drink about a full water bottle’s worth, and then will continue drinking a few more throughout the day.

In the evenings, my hydration is not quite as steady. I will have at least a few glasses of some beverage throughout the night before I go to bed. That might be water, tea, beer, milk, or wine. Usually, it is a combination, especially if I am drinking milk or wine. (The milk is always a protein shake, and only when it follows a workout.) I used to keep a glass of water by the bed so that I could sip throughout the night, but that was before I began drinking so much during the day. Now, I just get a glass if I happen to get up during the night. At least a few times during the week I will have to get up to urinate in the evening, but it is a small price to pay. Now I no longer have to worry about the cat knocking the glass over, either.

I always try to drink plenty of water (and eat) in the hours leading up to a workout. I would rather be over-fueled than under-fueled. Whenever possible, try to drink water during the workout as well. This is especially important when your workout’s duration is more than 45 minutes or an hour. No matter how much you drink during the workout, always rehydrate yourself after a workout or race. Your body needs the water in order to repair muscle damage, and that is how you become stronger and faster.

One benefit of drinking this much water is that you will feel full more often, and your body will be able to break down and process the food that you eat more readily. It will be easier to lose weight when you drink a lot of water. If you weigh yourself daily, as I do, then be sure to weigh yourself first thing in the morning and to empty your bladder first. Don’t worry about one day that is way up or way down from the days around it; your weekly average is a much better gauge of how much weight you are gaining or losing. Your weight throughout the day is going to swing by as much as 4 or 5 pounds depending upon how much you eat and drink and how much you sweat.

Be aware, though, that if you try to keep yourself hydrated with soda that you will undoubtedly gain weight that you do not want. If you do convince yourself that you must have a soda or coffee, try to avoid the caffeine. Ignoring my own personal reasons for hating the substance and any nutritional problems it can cause, it will make you urinate more often and can leave you less hydrated than you began with if you drink enough of it. If you follow my advice, you will be visiting the bathroom often enough already. I recommend sticking to water as often as you can. Sugar water such as juice and Gatorade has its place, but as long as you eat well there is no need to drink them on a regular basis throughout the day.

So are you worried about hydration? The best way to sum up my thoughts on how to hydrate is to just carry a water bottle with you throughout the day. If it is still pretty full when you get home every day, then set up a timer and take a sip every so many minutes until you get used to drinking from it constantly. Your health will likely improve, you will not get dehydrated as easily, and you will realize a much great benefit from your workouts.

I do not think that nutrition is as important as proper hydration, but it can also make a big difference. I will share my thoughts on the other half of Wes’s question later in the week.