Performance Nutrition: Focus on the drink
By: Cait Chock
There's more to sports nutrition than just food: liquids. Yes, hydration plays a critical role in the body's ability to perform and function as it should. Interestingly enough, many common gastrointestinal ailments notorious for haunting runners can be traced back to a mistake made in liquid timing rather than food choice.
While imperative for distance runners, hydration can at times be an element overlooked or not stressed enough of on its importance. Yes, most runners have had a good laugh over the 'How hydrated are you? Check your urine color' charts, and humor aside, that is one aspect to keep in mind. But, hydration goes beyond simply water.
"Prior to a marathon, I hydrate extremely well, especially two weeks out. That does not mean specifically water though," explains elite Daniel Tapia of the ASICS Mammoth Track Club. "I make sure I consume a mixture of sports drinks like Cytomax sports performance mix and PowerBar Recovery sports drink mix to supplement needed or lost carbohydrates and electrolytes. Drinking plenty of water is great but when we hydrate we also lose a lot of carbs, proteins, and electrolytes through our urine. Thus, it is important to also supplement with sports drinks."
Those electrolytes he speaks of, two of which are sodium and potassium which help regulate heart function and when you hear of people dying of over-hydration it's typically because these two electrolytes were too dilute in the blood stream, due to drinking too much water. It should be noted that these extreme cases of over-hydration are incredibly rare, much more often runners become dehydrated, but it's important to stress the vital role electrolytes play.
Just as with food selection and overall dietary habits, it's often an individual process of finding the perfect hydration regimen for you. Especially for marathoners who must be taking in liquids during their workouts and races, experimentation until they discover the right fit is key. In her transition to the marathon, Nike-sponsored runner, Lisa Uhl, shares, "This fall I've practiced taking fluid almost every long run and long workout...The fueling while running has been the biggest adjustment. Fortunately, when I was training in Oregon with Jerry Schumacher, he had me start practicing this with Shalane and Kara during workouts, so it wasn't completely foreign to me when I started training for Chicago." Uhl relied on a 5k loop to do her long runs on, taking fluids each 5k. Her preference being Gatorade's Glacier Cherry. This choice came after trying a myriad of different kinds and types of both drinks and gels.
It's a matter of discovering what sits best in your stomach and for Hansons-Brooks runner Neely Spence-Gracey, that's Osmo. "Osmo Nutrition Active is one of the first fluids I was able to intake during a long run without having stomach issues. I find many sports drinks to be too sugary and full of crappy ingredients. This, in fact, was the reason why I was so attracted to Osmo in the first place: because of the natural and organic focus, yet scientifically proven to be effective for supporting my body as I train towards my goals."
But before anyone can expect their body to perform for a workout or race it must stay in a consistently hydrated state. You can't try to 'make up' for not drinking anything throughout the day right before a run or during a run. Needless to say, if you're at the starting line dehydrated you're already in a hole and more than likely a lost cause in that regard.
"I use Osmo to pre-load on very hot days and the night before hot workouts," shares Spence-Gracey. "Osmo Active I drink before and during long runs and workouts. Osmo Recovery is a staple and I bake with it, put it in smoothies, add it to oatmeal, and create shaker bottle concoctions with various milks and juices because I need to rebuild my muscles and I never seem to get enough protein without the boost from Osmo."
In regards to digestive nightmares on the run, runners may be surprised that it's the lack of adequate liquids wrecking havoc. If dehydrated, the already sensitive tissues of the stomach become even more damaged and lose their ability to digest anything. You see, during a run your body directs blood flow to the major working muscles in the body rather than the stomach and intestines; at the moment digestion isn't its main priority, the physical exertion is.
Performance nutritionist Krista Austin, Ph.D. explains, ""If you get dehydrated you can't eat because you need blood flow into the stomach to digest." This is where marathoners can get into the predicament of not being able to keep anything down; their body desperately needs the nutrients from fluids and gels but with their stomach and intestines effectually shut down, things are either moved back up the esophagus or down the other direction. Either way the body doesn't receive the necessary energy and performances continue to nose-dive.
A similar situation occurs when runners experience gastrointestinal distress after long runs, it may be a sign they need to reassess their hydration model. In regards to nausea after these runs, Austin cites dehydration is far often the culprit alone. Thus she warrants, "So you need to time your fluids just like you would your nutrients."
Stay hydrated on a consistent basis, with water and electrolyte-infused drinks, to run better and avoid some of those gastrointestinal nightmares.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.