Ultrarunning: Hydration Fluid Choices for Ultramarathons

January 3, 2012

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Hydration Fluid Choices for Ultramarathons”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Providing variety to your drinks is one smart way of encouraging proper hydration during ultramarathons. After all, you’re already subjecting yourself to insanely difficult physical and environmental conditions so you might as well reward yourself with pleasant-tasting drinks, right? Here’s a list of the different kinds of fluids and what each offers in terms of hydration during a particularly tough ultra.

Water

Water, of course, comes first in the list. It’s the fluid of choice of those who are not so keen with the taste of flavored drinks. Water, as a universal solvent, contains minerals which are vital for the body’s healthy functioning. But while this is the case, water doesn’t measure up to the sodium levels that are recommended for long distance runners. Only about 50 milligrams of sodium are present per liter, while the recommended amount of sodium under hot conditions is between 400 milligrams and 800 milligrams per hour. So if water is your fluid of choice, ensure that you supplement its lack of sodium by including salty foods in your diet. And ingest the recommended amount of salt per hour during the race of course.

Commercial sports drinks

Sports drinks are perhaps the second most popular next to water. These specially concocted and flavored beverages come in prepared or powder solutions and typically contain electrolytes in the amounts recommended for physically active individuals. Bear in mind though that electrolyte contents vary per brand so choose one which best corresponds to your particular hydration requirements and taste.

Personally formulated beverages

There are a handful of reasons for opting to concoct one’s own endurance drink. Familiarity is typically the foremost reason. Some runners anticipate that their fluid of choice won’t be offered in the aid stations so they bring their own supply for the race. Some consider budgetary constraints on the other hand. Since sports drinks don’t necessarily come cheap, runners on a budget will typically just concoct their own special drinks typically containing table salt and sugar mixed in water. Meanwhile, there are others who mix in maltodextrine as it contains the type of glucose that’s easier to absorb.

Coffee

Runners who drink coffee do so primarily for its caffeine content. The boost given by caffeine is particularly helpful in combating sleepiness during night runs. Coffee is a powerful diuretic though so taking it during marathons should be done in moderation to minimize the risk of losing one’s supply of water in the body.

Carbonated soda

Carbonated sodas are typically offered in aid stations. Runners who drink sodas during the race are probably not just after the taste but the jolt these drinks provide. However, veteran ultrarunners and medical professionals alike discourage drinking soda in large amounts during the race. For one, most soda drinks contain fructose, a type of simple sugar which typically causes diarrhea. Secondly, most sodas contain caffeine so it instigates flushing out of water which isn’t in keeping with the need for hydration.

Beer

Beer is of course a classic fluid of choice, especially of veteran ultrarunners. Beer contains carbohydrates and protein, nutrients which are both crucial for particularly active long distance runners. But beer should be taken in moderation as it has diuretic properties too.

Summary

Do you have questions about hydration fluid choices, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.


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