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Hydration Guidelines

Bare Facts About Water

Published July 2, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The return of summer and the accompanying heat and humidity reminded runners of the golden rule of hydration: drink early, drink often. On training runs and in races, seasoned runners drink before, during and after a workout. However, an increase in runner deaths due to excessive hydration led USA Track and Field to announce a major change in its hydration guidelines.

Proper hydration permits running and racing safely, reduces the risk of heat stroke, and enhances recovery. On the other hand, excessive hydration results in a dangerous drop in blood sodium levels, known as exertional hyponatremia. This rare condition is most likely to occur in a runner drinking excessive amounts of low-sodium fluids for a period of several hours, such as a marathon.

In its new hydration guidelines, USATF recommends replacing exactly the fluids lost to sweat and urine during a workout, but not exceeding that mark. To that effect, USATF teamed up with Dr. Douglas Casa of the University of Connecticut to develop a racy procedure that promises to revolutionize our sport.

First, every runner must "establish a hydration strategy that considers the sweat rate, sports dynamics, environmental factors, acclimatization state, exercise duration, exercise intensity and individual preferences." To correctly assess re-hydration needs, a runner must compute an individual sweat rate defined as pre-run body weight minus post-run body weight plus fluid intake minus urine volume divided by exercise time in hours.

Suddenly, running requires a degree in mathematics, a beaker, a bathroom scale and a calculator, but this is only half the fun. The strategy specifies a warm-up run to the point of perspiration, "then weigh yourself naked on an accurate scale." The strategy is not clear on whether the runner must carry the scale along, or hide it in the bushes.

After the first nude weigh-in, Casa advises athletes to run an hour at race pace. This is where it gets tricky, since he states "do not urinate during the run, unless you choose to measure the amount of urine." I fail to see the difference between fluid lost to sweat and fluid lost to urine. Any way, Casa's next step is to "weigh yourself in the buff again on the same scale", and plug the numbers into the formula.

This new re-hydration strategy has practical implications to the modern marathon. Carpets that read timing chips can be upgraded with weigh scales to monitor every runner's weight along the course. Weighing areas can be equipped with E-Z Pass lanes for runners traveling in the buff, and changing rooms for those wearing sweaty clothes.

Besides increasing athlete exposure, the new policy can renew spectator interest. In turn, this will impact television ratings and provide running a much-needed revival. For my part, I will forego nude weighing, and stick to drinking a diluted cup of Z'lektra every mile.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at