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As the temperatures continue to rise, focusing on proper hydration is critical to thriving on long runs. But when it comes to smart hydration chugging plain water isn’t going to cut it for most runners. What you eat is just as important as what you drink. Without the right electrolyte balance, our bodies have difficulty absorbing water. Too much water can cause the sodium levels in your blood to drop to below normal, which leads to a very serious condition called hyponatremia. Symptoms include headaches, nauseous, dizziness, and vomiting as the body tries to rid itself of the excess water.
The electrolytes that your body depletes while running, especially on a hot day, include sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These essential minerals exist naturally in a wide-range of amazing whole foods. Check out my chart of electrolyte-rich foods below.
Once you experience dehydration and hyponatremia simultaneously after a hot summer run, you’ll likely never forget to pack a sports drink or an electrolyte-rich snack again. Speaking from personal experience here! Last summer I headed out on a trail run adventure with a group of friends in the Three Sisters Wilderness range. I had intended to do a 12-mile loop, but we got a little off track and the result was 18 hot, dusty miles at altitude. I ran out of my sports drink during the run, so when we got back to the car I was super thirsty. I made a rookie mistake and gulped my water. Within 15 minutes, I was dizzy and nauseous and I had to ask my friend to drive my car. Five minutes later she was pulling over to the side of the road as quickly as possible so I could throw up. Now when I head out on mountain adventures, I make it a priority to hydrate properly before, during and after the run, which means not just water but incorporating electrolyte-rich foods (see my list below).
Before the run and during long hot runs, I like to sip an all-natural sports drink. I prefer sports drinks with real sugar, which I dilute to be less sweet. Sports drinks with artificial sweeteners always make me feel really off so I avoid those. I usually add fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a splash of ginger-juice to my bottle. I like the fresh flavor and this helps calm my digestion for longer runs.
Post-run, I prefer to replace my electrolytes with real food. Real food provides the right balance of electrolytes for hydration plus essential carbs, protein, and fat for recovery. While sports drinks can be beneficial before or during a hard run, post-run they provide too much sugar and not enough real nutrition.
After a run in the heat of summer, you likely won’t feel hungry for a full meal, so instead try my electrolyte smoothie recipe, which I carefully crafted to be high in essential electrolytes. My other favorite mineral-rich post-run snacks include a banana slathered in peanut butter with a pinch of salt or avocado toast with a fried egg and sea salt. Everyone’s post-run needs and cravings are different. It’s important to find foods and drinks that appeal to you, so that you can feel satiated and reenergized after all your hard effort.
Runners always want to know exactly how much they should be drinking daily. I don’t like to give a range in ounces because it varies so much from one person to the next. If you’re eating a whole foods based diet, you’ll be getting a lot more liquids from your food than someone who is eating more processed foods. Also the amount of water you need depends on how much you sweat, your weight, your gender, and other health conditions. When it comes to hydration, listening to your body is best. You’ll want to sip smartly throughout the day, especially with meals and snacks, but you don’t want to overdue it to the point where you’re running to the bathroom every hour on the hour.
Use this list to pinpoint simple grocery staples that are loaded with valuable electrolytes.
- Sodium: table salt, sea salt, olives, pickles
- Chloride: celery, tomatoes, olives, sea salt
- Calcium: dairy, yogurt, cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens like kale
- Magnesium: nuts, seeds, beets, banana, avocado, whole grains, legumes, blackstrap molasses, dark chocolate, greens
- Potassium: banana, orange, watermelon, mango, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, coconut water
Elyse Kopecky is a nutrition coach, chef, and two-time New York Times best-selling author. In her new exclusive “Food Is Fuel” monthly column, the co-author of Run Fast. Eat Slow. and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. will explore everything women want to know about how to fuel—from breakfast to snacks, to recovery, and on-the-go foods. Have a topic you’d like to have Elyse talk about? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.