Marathons are sort of like Happy Hour: It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
It is marathon season virtually year-round, with many major cities having their 26.2-mile runs at virtually all times of the year depending on the weather. And during all times of the year, those who run in these marathons are training five to six days a week, running 80 to 100 miles (or more) every week in order to get ready for the next big race.
One of the questions that have floated around on the internet for years is the great debate for a marathoner: Should a runner drink water or Gatorade during a long run?
Water has its benefits, especially as our bodies are anywhere from two-thirds to 80 percent water. Gatorade, however, supplies sodium and carbohydrates that get lost when we burn energy and sweat during marathons.
Is there a definitive answer?
There is value in using both during a marathon. You are not restricted to one or the other, but keep a couple things in mind.
First of all, when you sweat, you don’t just lose water; your sweat is concentrated salt water, so you are losing sodium, and if you let your sodium levels drop too low, you get nauseous, dizzy and perhaps have seizures or even death consistent with hyponatremia, or what is called overhydration – where you drink so much water that the sodium in your body gets diluted and sweat out and is not properly replenished.
On the other hand, water has no sugar or calories, while Gatorade or other sports drinks have calories and sugar (one 8-ounce cup has 63 calories and 13 grams, respectively), not to mention electrolytes and carbs. A couple of these are valuable during a run, but others (like the sugar and calories) defeat the purpose of the run in the first place.
What has been recommended when it comes to using both fluids is to mix and match. One runner’s forum gives suggestions to alternate between first-aid stations, drinking water at first then switching to Gatorade and back, in order to keep a good electrolyte balance in your body so you don’t let your sodium level get too low, while you take in enough water to keep you hydrated.
The key issue here is to try out both during your training runs and see how you feel afterward because we don’t want you to become injured. The heavy sugar and carbs in a sports drink can upset some stomachs while running, so it’s good to make sure you are plenty hydrated before you run. Tank up on water before you run, and maybe bring a small bottle of Gatorade or other sports beverage while you run, then drink more water after you run to balance out the sodium intake. In general, water is suggested to be sufficient for runs that last 60 minutes or less, but incorporating Gatorade or another sports beverage into your long runs will prove valuable. Perhaps using that 60-minute yardstick as a guide you can find the right balance for your body.
Every body is different, and knowing your body well in terms of what it uses during a run will help you find the right combination that will keep you focused and energetic to finish that marathon, no matter where and what time of year. Be willing to experiment during your training runs and then try to simulate that combination during your marathon and you should be well-equipped to achieve that personal-best every time.