As runners, we often face the question of whether to drink water or an electrolyte drink during our runs. While water is a familiar and essential fluid that keeps us alive, electrolytes remain a somewhat cryptic subject, despite being frequently talked about. So, what exactly are electrolytes, and when should we opt for an electrolyte drink instead of plain water?
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that play a crucial role in our bodies. Examples of electrolytes include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium. What makes electrolytes fascinating is that they produce an electric charge. When mixed with water, they generate an electrical current that flows through our bodies, ensuring that our muscles, heart, nerves, and brain function properly. Electrolytes also help transport nutrients into our cells and remove waste from our bodies, making them essential regulators that help balance the fluids in our bodies.
However, it's important to note that everyone's needs are different when it comes to hydration. Factors such as body size, sweat rate, fitness level, and weather conditions vary from person to person. Therefore, it's crucial to listen to your body and make hydration choices based on your individual needs.
Let's explore when it's appropriate to drink water or an electrolyte beverage before, during, and after your runs.
Before a Run
The thing about electrolytes is that we get them from pretty much everywhere. They’re in the foods we eat and the drinks we drink. For example, electrolytes are found naturally in foods such as fruits and veggies, dairy products, meats (fish and chicken), and plenty of other sources. On the liquid side of things, there are electrolytes in milk, juices, coconut water, etc.
Bottom line, they’re easy to come by and easy to find. Just by living our daily lives we tend to get all the electrolytes we need. Therefore, before a run, water will be just fine. There is no need for an electrolyte loaded sports drink before a run.
The verdict: Water only
During a Run
When we run, our body temperature rises, and we start to sweat to cool down. Sweat is primarily composed of water, but it also contains essential electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. As we sweat, we lose both water and electrolytes, and the more we sweat, the more electrolytes and water we lose.
To replenish these lost minerals during longer runs, it's important to have a plan in place. This is where electrolyte drinks, also known as sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, come in handy. There are numerous options available in the market, including powders and tablets that can be added to water. For runs lasting up to an hour, plain water is usually sufficient. However, for longer runs, it's recommended to opt for an electrolyte drink to help replenish the lost minerals and keep going strong.
The verdict: Water only if you’re running up to an hour. Electrolyte drink if you’re going over an hour.
After a Run
Replenishing and recovering after a run is essential to restore the lost electrolytes and water. Besides sweating, our bodies also lose electrolytes and water through urine. For runs lasting over 30 minutes, it's recommended to have one pint glass of an electrolyte beverage to restore balance to our bodies. For runs lasting less than 30 minutes, plain water should suffice.
The verdict: Plain water if you ran less than 30 minutes. 1 pint glass of an electrolyte drink if you ran over 30 minutes.
The decision to drink water or an electrolyte beverage when running depends on various factors such as the duration of the run, sweat rate, and individual needs. Water is usually sufficient before a run, while an electrolyte drink may be necessary during longer runs lasting over an hour. After a run, replenishing with an electrolyte drink is recommended for runs lasting over 30 minutes, while plain water should suffice for shorter runs. As always, it's important to listen to your body and make hydration choices that best suit your individual needs. Stay hydrated, stay healthy, and happy running!