Ultrarunning: Hydration Techniques for Optimum Performance

December 27, 2011

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

One’s success in ultras is determined by one’s preparedness for the grueling race. And preparedness doesn’t only mean possessing the strength and the endurance for the extreme marathon conditions. One’s ability to implement proper hydration techniques is also a key predictor of success.

Improper hydration can cause potentially serious consequences.

For many, wrong hydration methods automatically mean dehydration. However, this isn’t the only serious condition it brings about as wrong hydration can easily lead to excessive water in the body as well.

With dehydration, the body is lacking the fluid which facilitates optimal thermoregulation and blood flow. With excessive water or hyponatremia, meanwhile, there’s too much water diluting the body’s sodium supply. When this happens, symptoms such as nausea, confusion, muscle weakness and cramps will occur. Vomiting will also likely ensue as it is the body’s way of dumping the surplus water.

Both conditions, when not quickly attended, can lead to fatal consequences. So always bear in mind that correct hydration means carefully maintaining the balance between fluid intake and fluid loss.

Practice hydration in routine training runs.

Your training runs shouldn’t only focus on building strength and endurance but must also be the phase wherein you’ll teach yourself how to hydrate appropriately. Use this time to experiment to see your body’s response to varying volumes and types of fluids. Doing so eliminates not just mistakes but potential injuries caused by incorrect hydration methods when you’re in the actual race itself.

Understand electrolytes depletion and how it can be mitigated.

The fluids that circulate in the body contain electrolytes. Electrolytes are a mixture of water and minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Presence of these minerals in healthy levels helps facilitate proper functioning of the heart, brain, and muscles.

The sodium in electrolytes is lost in considerable volumes through perspiration. And an abnormally low level of sodium is unsafe as it can inhibit the body’s fluid absorption, which could in turn lead to hyponatremia.

This is the reason why both sports medicine scientists and veteran ultrarunners strongly suggest taking in salt prior to the long run. And to replenishing the body’s sodium supply during the race by ingesting 400 milligrams to 800 milligrams of salt every hour, especially if the ambient temperatures are particularly high, is advised as well.

Hydrate sufficiently an hour before the race commences.

Fully hydrating before a race helps ensure the best possible physical conditions. Runners should drink as much as they can during this period. Over hydration isn’t really much of a problem at this stage as the one hour window time should be sufficient to pass the excess water one has drank.

Drink periodically but in controlled volumes.

Drinking fluids in controlled volumes all through the course of the marathon is the key to ruling out dehydration and hyponatremia. 30 ounces of fluids or more during hot conditions, 20 ounces or more during favorable running temperatures, and 15 ounces or more during cold weather, are the recommended intake per hour. To maximize absorption and reduce uncomfortable conditions such as bloating, it would be best to equally space the fluid intake to four times per hour.

Hydration can easily make or break one’s performance in a marathon. So knowing how to correctly hydrate is imperative not just to guarantee successful completion of the race, but to help make sure that you get to do so in a healthy state.


Do you have questions about hydration techniques, 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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