Debunking 3 Running Dehydration Myths

dehydration and running performance

Myth One: If you don’t have clear wee you are dehydrated.

The fact of the matter is, if your wee is clear, you are likely over hydrating, or you may have kidney problems, diabetes, or other health issues.

Your body is very clever. It can defend itself against dehydration by changing the amount of water it retains. If it is retaining water, then your urine will be darker in colour. And if your urine is darker in colour because your body is retaining water, that can be a good thing. It means your body is working well to remain hydrated. Conversely, if you have more fluids than your body needs, it will rid itself of the extra water in your urine, making it less concentrated. The more we drink, over and above what our needs are, the more we wee, and the clearer our wee will be. Studies that have looked at blood markers of hydration have found the colour of your wee does not necessarily correlate with dehydration (that is, a blood sodium level of over 145 mmol/L.

As far as wee colour goes, something not clear, and not dark as tea, is where you want to be (as long as you have no medical conditions which will effect your hydration status). If you do have persistently dark wee, or persistently clear wee which can’t be explained by the amount you drink, you should see a doctor.

Myth Two: If you don’t drink water during a race, your performance will suffer

Used to be, people would say if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, it’s too late-you’re already dehydrated and your performance has already been impaired. It seems that the body can cope much better with temporary dehydration than was previously thought. Taking water on board based on how you feel is more important than replacing every drop of fluid you use.

A couple of recent studies highlight this well.

One study had 23 female recreational runners do two 15km time trials, in mild, but humid conditions (68 degrees F/ 20 degrees C,  87% humidity). In one of the trials, they drank 12 oz of water during the run (about 350mls), and in the other they simply rinsed their mouths with water and spat it out, every 3kms.

The results were interesting. The time trial results of the two groups were pretty much the same – the drinking group averaged 79.8 mins and the mouth wash group averaged 79.7 minutes for the 15k. The drinking group sweated more, and the mouthwash group felt thirstier after the run. The study also looked at a group of responses called “affective responses”, which looked at things like pleasure, arousal, energy, calmness and tension. Again, the responses were fairly similar on most measures, but the mouth wash group did report more tension.

So, under these conditions the runners didn’t need to consume water to maintain performance. Note that the temperature was fairly mild. It’s not at all unusual in Australia to be running in much hotter temperatures. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t drink if you feel like you need to. I am suggesting that we don’t need to drink as much as we think we do, and if your gut feels like it can’t handle any more water, you could just try rinsing and spitting instead. You might actually be better off pouring the water over your head to cool you off!

A 2010 study (sponsored by gatorade) compared runners over a series of four trail runs. One group drank 200mls of water in the 22 hours prior to the runs, and no water during the runs, and the other group went into the runs well hydrated, and drank during each run. The results showed impaired performance for the non drinkers. Note that these runners with impaired performance started the run already dehydrated, as compared to the other studies which were done with runners who had normal hydration levels prior to the experiment.

Myth Three: Loss of body weight during a run means you are dehydrated and your performance suffers

Changes in body weight when you are exercising hard are not only caused by fluid loss. You burn fuel when you run, and when that fuel is used up, then you weigh less. As your race or training run progresses and you use up stored carbohydrate and fat your weight will drop. Not only that, as you burn calories during your run, you’ll also be liberating some water, which becomes available to you body. Another fact to consider is that as you lose body weight during a run due to fuel burning and fluid loss, your lighter weight will enable you to run faster – up to a certain point of course.  You don’t want to deliberately dehydrate yourself in a bid to lose body weight to help you run faster!  I’m just saying that all these little things add up to going some way to explaining why reduced body weight is not the best predictor of performance. The purpose of drinking during exercise is to keep your blood plasma levels stable, not to keep your body weight stable.

A 2016 study had well trained athletes run a 20k time trial in the heat. One group drank as much as they wanted to during the run, the other drank a set amount of fluids based on pre-determined individual needs, designed to replace as much of their sweat loss as possible.

The “drink when you want” group lost 2.6% of their body weight, whilst the well hydrated group lost only 1.3% of their body weight during the time trial. As you’d expect, the group who were drinking deliberately lost less body weight than the “drink when you want” group. Nothing to see there. But here’s what’s interesting. The performance of the groups was very similar. The hydrated runners averaged 1:44:39, and the “drink when you want” runners averaged 1:44:09. There was no difference in core temperature between the two groups at any point.

Haile Gebreselassie, one time marathon world record holder and all out running legend lost 9.8% of his body weight when he won the Dubai marathon in 2009. One study looked at the fluid intake of 9 major city marathon winners, and 1 second place getter.  It showed a body weight loss of between 6.6% and 11.7%, including including Gebreselassie’s 9.8% loss in 2009. Seems you can get some pretty good results, even if you lose quite a bit of weight during a race!

A Few Tips on Hydration

  1. Drink water when you are thirsty, all of the time, not just when you are running. That way you’ll go into a run well hydrated.
  2. For runs of 60 minutes or less, it seems you probably don’t need to drink much, if at all, unless the conditions are hot and humid. What feels “hot and humid” to you will depend on the weather conditions you are used to running in, your age, and your body size and composition.
  3. Experience will help you find the ideal hydration strategy for you. Around 500mls of water each hour once your runs are longer than 60 mins is a good starting point.
  4. Drink when you are thirsty during your run – water availability permitting. You might find you have to be a bit flexible on this if you are not carrying water with you.
  5. Choose a route where you know there will be water available to you, or do a loop course and stash a water bottle somewhere, or leave it in your car.
  6. If you plan to carry fluid with you in a race, it’s a good idea to train with what you are going to carry to get used to how it feels.

DISCLAIMER: Any information contained in this document is obtained from current and reliable sources and is solely for the purpose of interest and information.  Individuals receiving this information must exercise their independent judgment in determining its appropriateness for their particular needs. The information and training advice is general in nature and may not be suited to the recipient’s individual needs. Medical advice should always be sought when starting an exercise program. As the ordinary or otherwise use(s) of this information is outside the control of the author, no representation or warranty, expressed or implied, is made as to the effect(s) of such use(s), (including damage or injury), or the results obtained. The author expressly disclaims responsibility as to the interpretation of the views contained in this article, ordinary or otherwise. Furthermore, the author shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. The author shall not be responsible for any damages resulting from use of or reliance upon this information. Readers of this document are solely responsible for compliance with all laws and regulations applying to the use of the information, including intellectual property rights of third parties.

Run Faster: Make sure you have enough calcium

We all know we need calcium for strong teeth and bones, but did you know that calcium is also needed for the life preserving functions of muscle contraction, (including the heart) blood clotting, nerve function and the release of certain hormones and enzymes?

Because calcium is necessary for the maintenance of life, it is leached from the bones if the amount in the blood in insufficient for these life preserving functions. You can still live without brittle bones, but you can’t live without a heart beat, so the body very cleverly prioritises the function that calcium is directed to. If there’s insufficient calcium circulating in the blood, the body takes it from it’s storage cells, the bones and teeth.

Calcium and Cola Drinks

As an aside, a highly acidic diet can  cause calcium to be leached from the bones. Your body will  act to maintain a blood pH of 7.4. If you have a highly acid diet, your body will draw down on stored mineral salts, including calcium, which act as a buffer to the acid and work to restore blood to a pH of 7.4. Lots of things can cause a drop in blood pH (ie a rise in acidity) including cola drinks. Therefore chronic use of cola (and to a lesser extent other soft drinks) can lead to brittle bones. And that includes the diet varieties as well! You can flush the acid away with water, but for every can of cola you drink, you’d need to take in 15-25 times that amount in water. (Then spend an awful lot of time in the loo).

Calcium and Muscle Function

Here’s the interesting bit for we exercise types. You should be sure to have enough calcium in your diet, and good gut health, to be able to contract your muscles.Below is a very abridged and simplified version of how calcium acts in skeletal muscle contraction.

  • The brain sends an electrical impulse to the muscle. A lot of biomechanical reactions need to take place for the message to get to the muscle safely, but, amazingly, in most cases it does.
  •  After receiving the message, the muscle shortens. This action is explained by what is know as the sliding filament theory.
  • Within a muscle fibre, there are two different types of filaments, actin and myosin. These filaments are layered one on top of the other, as in the picture below.
  •  When the right biochemical reactions take place, cross bridges form between the actin and myosin filamines, and the actin gets pulled by the myosin, so the two filaments are pulled closer together and the muscle shortens.

For all of this to happen, calcium is needed to “unlock” the active sites on the actin filament which the myosin attaches to. The myosin heads continue to reattach further and further along the actin, causing a more forceful contraction of the muscle.


actin and mysin


The muscle stops contracting when the release of calcium ions stop. You need adequate magnesium for this, but that’s a biochemistry lesson for another day.

Suffice is to say, if you want to run fast, make sure you have enough calcium in your diet.


How Much Calcium?

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Check out some calcium rich foods here






Burn Fat For Fuel During Marathon Training

woman joggingOne of the most important, yet often neglected, part of marathon training, is teaching your body to burn fat for fuel.

Teaching your body to burn fat for fuel during marathon training means you are able to spare glycogen, and will be less likely to ‘hit the wall” or “bonk” during the latter half of the race.

Here are a few marathon training tips to rev up your fat burning engine:


  • Long, slow runs. These will help to burn fat for fuel during marathon training as your body relies more heavily on fat for energy during long duration, low intensity exercise.
  • Run in a fasting state. By that I don’t mean starve yourself for days and then run, but a pre-breakfast run should be part of your training at least once a week. Your glycogen stores are slightly depleted when you wake in the morning, so if you run pre breakfast, your body will turn to fat for fuel. Try having a light evening meal the day before a pre-breakfast run for greater effect. If you’re not used to doing this, you may struggle at first, so start with some shorter runs, and build up to longer runs in a fasted state. I find low to medium intensity training is fine pre-breakfast, but I personally struggle too much with higher intensity workouts. I don’t feel the quality is there if I’m not fueled.
  • Burn fat by eating fat. Your body is actually more likely to burn fat for fuel during marathon training if you have a small amount of fatty acids in your bloodstream, so eating a small amount of fat before your workout will help to initiate fat burning. Perhaps just a few nuts and seeds, or some avocado, about an hour before you set off on your run.


I’d love to hear how you go with pre-breakfast runs. They can take a bit of getting used to.

How Alcohol Impacts Your Training and Your Weight

How alcohol impacts your training

Don’t you just love this time of year? Here in Sydney, we are lucky enough to have summer and Christmas fall at the same time. That means warm sunny days, more time to fit in your exercise in daylight, lots of partying, and not much clothing to hide behind! (I could be thinking about my misspent youth here, but let’s run with it).

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How alcohol impacts your training


Yes, it’s the silly season, when most of us let go, sometimes just a little too much. Ever wonder how someone’s weight (perhaps yours) manages to creep up on them in a slow ambush until “BANG” one day they are 5-10 kgs heavier than they were a few years ago?

Could be, they over indulge around this time of year, put on an extra kg or two, then don’t take it off again. For most of us, it’s easy to hide a kg somewhere on your body. The jeans just fit a bit more snugly, your belt probably won’t even need to go out a notch – not this year anyway.

The holiday season can also have a profound impact on your training. You may feel you have less time for exercising,  (which actually just means you’re giving something else priority), or you may have had one too many champagnes at the office Christmas party, so it’s just that little bit harder to get out of bed. And if you do get out of bed to go for your early morning run, you might be feeling a little shabby.

So that we’ve all  got it straight in our heads how alcohol impacts your training and your weight, here are a few facts, because  having an  unbalanced approach to partying could be what gets in the way of all your hard work paying off.


  1. Alcohol dehydrates you, as it is a diuretic. It makes the kidneys produce more urine. Exercising soon after drinking can make the dehydration worse, especially in hot weather, as you’ll be sweating. For optimum circulation of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, you need to be well hydrated. Your training and performance will be sub maximal if you are dehydrated. Alternating alcoholic drinks with mineral water will not only mean you consume less alcohol, it will help you to stay hydrated.
  2. When your system is breaking down alcohol, the liver can’t produce as much glucose, which means you have low blood sugar levels. This can account for cravings of sweetened soft drinks such as Coke after a big night out. Blood sugars give you energy when you are exercising, so if your body is busy metabolising alcohol, you’ll have less energy for exercise, and your performance will drop. Your co-ordination and concentration can be affected as well.
  3. Not only does your body need to break down the alcohol, it also needs to clear itself of the by-products of alcohol metabolism, so you won’t be able to clear out the lactic acid produced in exercise as efficiently as you normally do.
  4. As alcohol is a toxin, the body prioritises getting it out of your system over burning fats or carbohydrates. So, not only do you get a whopping 7 cals per gram of alcohol (compared to 4 cals per gram of  proteins and carbs), you won’t be burning the extra carbs you eat at the office Christmas party, or burn much stored fat, till all the alcohol is out of your system.
  5. Alcohol breaks down amino acids (stored in muscles) and stores them as fat. This is more pronounced around the thighs and bum. Long term alcohol use reduces protein synthesis, resulting in a decrease in muscle growth.
  6. Over the top drinking also increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which also encourages fat storage, particularly around the belly.
  7. Alcohol negatively affects your sleep patterns. This can result in you being tired the day after a couple of drinks and may cause you to go for instant energy hits of sugar, piling on more calories. The lack of sleep will also inhibit the production of Human Growth Hormone, (HGH) which plays an important role in the building and repairing of muscles-very important for recovering after a hard speed session or gym workout. Alcohol can inhibit HGH secretion by as much as 70%.
  8. Alcohol limits your body’s ability to absorb key micronutrients from your food, particularly Vit B1 (Thiamine), B12, Folic Acid and Zinc. B1 is important for protein and fat metabolism, as well as for  forming haemoglobin (necessary for oxygen transport in your  blood). It also plays a role in metabolising carbohydrates. B12 helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is important in the formation of new cells, and a deficiency can result in a lower oxygen carrying capacity, affecting your endurance. Zinc is important for energy production, and a deficiency will impair your endurance.


So, in a nutshell, alcohol will impair your reaction time, wreck your sleep and recovery, give you a whopping 7 cals per gram, help you stack on weight around your mid section whilst depleting muscle mass around the thighs and gluteal muscles, and quite possibly make you eat more than you otherwise normally would have.


What’s the solution? Don’t over indulge. Make sure you know what the safe levels of drinking are, and plan your quality training sessions to be at least 24 hours after alcohol. Eat well (and a little less) when you are not partying, so the effect of any excesses is counteracted by your general good eating habits.

If you do overindulge -don’t stress about it. Get quickly back on the straight and narrow and put it down to experience!

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How Many Calories Do You Drink?

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Hooked on Running

Foods to make you run faster

foods to run faster

foods to run fasterSounds a bit too good to be true doesn’t. Foods which will actually make you run faster. When you think about it though, there are of heaps foods which will help you to do just that.

I want to concentrate on just a couple of foods here, olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Both these foods have been shown to aid in weight loss, and if you have less excess fat to carry around the track, you’ll run faster. I’m not suggesting that if you pop into the kitchen and swig on the salad dressing like there’s no tomorrow, you’ll wake up a couple of kilos lighter in the morning, but research has shown both these foods may aid weight loss.

So, how can olive oil help you run faster?

Research published in the American Journal of Nutrition has suggested that simply smelling olive oil may help you lose weight. Eleven men were given low fat yoghurt to eat over two days, and half of them had a fat free olive oil extract mixed into the yoghurt.

Their brain activity was measured after the snack, and the group who ate the olive oil extract enriched yoghurt, had increased activity in areas of the brain associated with fat consumption. Remember the olive oil extract was fat-free, so both groups had the same low fat snack as far as calories go. Researches believe it is the scent of the olive oil which might help you to feel full. It might be possible to simulate fat-triggered sensations in the brain by the scent of ingredients the body implicitly associates with fat.

Other research carried out over a period of three months supports this theory. Subjects ate no-fat yoghurt, with either butterfat, rapseed oil or olive oil added to it. The olive oil consumers reported feeling fuller on a day to day basis, and also had higher levels of serotonin than the other groups. Serotonin is a hormone associated with feelings of satiety. The aromatic compounds in olive oil slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, making as feel fuller for longer.

To enjoy the benefits of olive oil, you should consume in moderation at room temperature, accompanying other food. Whilst olive oil is relatively stable, overheating it can change the molecular structure and the aromatic volatiles can evaporate during heating.

Apple cider vinegar

The Journal of Functional Foods recently published a study showing that subjects who consumed a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with water before eating had lower blood glucose levels than the control group. The acetic acid may hamper the body’s ability to digest starch, the researchers say. Less starch is being broken down into calories in the blood stream, which over time might show an effect on body weight. There are other studies to back up the theory, including Japanese research published in 2009, which showed acetic acid to be associated with lower BMI, waist circumference and blood triglycerides.

You don’t need to use apple cider vinegar for the effect. Any vinegar with 5% acidity will do, but don’t drink it straight. Mix a tablespoon with a big glass of water, or drizzle the same amount on a salad.

Neither of these methods will see you losing 5kgs to get you running faster in that race you have next weekend. You should be looking more at the long term over 3 or 4 months. AND most importantly, the results won’t be so dramatic that you can go crazy and eat your head off in the meantime. Increasing your use of olive oil and vinegar will not counteract your over eating, but may be the difference between losing that extra half to one kilo or not.

To some, it may not seem worth it, but I know I’d like to be a kilo lighter come the next time I run a race I’ve been training for.


Image courtesy of Idea go/

Recovery Booster: Blueberry and Flax Seed Pancakes

Recovery Boost: Blueberry pancakes

Recovery Boost: Blueberry pancakes

This delicious recovery meal is perfect for a leisurely breakfast after those long Sunday runs. The recipe delivers just the right ratio of carbohydrate and protein. Unlike recovery drinks, it offers up a good amount of fibre too.

For best results, eat within 30 minutes of completing your run. 





  • 1/2 cup flax seed meal
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of carb soda
  • 1 tablespoon of raw sugar


Cooking instructions

  1. Set a nonstick frypan over medium heat.
  2. Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and milk together.
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, and stir just until moistened.
  5. Spoon 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the hot frying pan.
  6. Sprinkle with blueberries.
  7. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, then flip and cook until browned on the other side.


Nutrition Breakdown

Servings: 4

Calories: 355

Fat: 10.3g

Carbohydrate: 53.4g

 Protein: 13.6g

Fun Run Nutrition: Raisins vs Chews and Gels



Raisins are a cheap natural source of carbohydrates which have been found to be as effective as carbohydrate chews in producing a workout boost.



Researchers from California-Davis University have found raisins to be as effective as sports chews when athletes’ performances were tested in a 5km time trial which was conducted 2 days after a 2 hour run during which they consumed either raisins or sports chews. When just water was consumed during the 2 hour run, the athletes did not perform as well in the time trial 2 days later. The trial included only 11 athletes so it was a fairly small sample, but it’s certainly food for thought (pardon the pun).


This table shows you the nutritional breakdown of a couple of gels and chews, and raisins. Note the raisins do have some dietary fibre so could cause some GIT upset, but then gels and chews can have the same effect with some people.

GU ROCTANE GEL (one serve=1 sachet) GU ENERGY GEL(one serve= on sachet) GU CHOMPS (one serve = 4 pieces -1/2 a sachet) RAISINS (one serve = 35 gms-about what you can hold in the palm of your hand)
Weight 32gms 32 gms 30 gms 35 gms
Calories 100 100 90 100
Total Carbohydrate 25gms 20 gms 23gms 25 gms
Fat 0 2gms 0 0.3 gms
Sugars 5gms 6gms 11gms 24 gms
Sodium 125gms 40 gms 50 gms 20 gms
Potasium 55gms 40 gms 40 gms 364 gms
Vit E amt not stated amt not stated amt not stated
Calcium amt not stated amt not stated amt not stated 14 gms
Amino Acid Blend 1220 mg no protein no protein 800 mgs
Caffeine 35 mg nil nil nil
Dietary Fibre 1.7 gms


What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.  The only way you’ll know if raisins work for you is to trial them in training, NOT in a race. And best to trial it first in the off season. Don’t muck around with your race and training nutrition when a mistake might really make a difference to your race results. Personally, I like a gel with a touch of caffeine, but each to their own. I’m struggling with the concept of trying to get all those loose raisins under control whilst I’m running too. You can read the full article in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition.


Share your experiences with race and training nutrition below.