What to drink for running long distances: An evidence based approach

Running has become quite popular in India lately and so have become many sports drinks. But are they really effective? Can you make one at home? Do you really even need to drink for finishing your workout? Today we analyze the top nutritional contents required for optimized runs and how much should you take them, if at all:

  • Water: Perhaps the most obvious one but a critical component for effective runs nonetheless. Depending upon hydration levels and body’s tendency to sweat, the point where you can get dehydrated can vary. The best way to find out if your body needs hydration during workout is to measure your weight before and after your run. According to this Review in Journal of Sports Sciences, if the body mass has decreased more than 2-3%, you have to carry a bottle of water with you for better performance. So for a 50 kg female runner, this translates into 1-1.5 Kg weight loss during the run. If you don’t lose that much, you can go hands free on your morning runs.


  • Don’t be this guy

    Electrolytes: Sweating is our body’s natural cooling mechanism and running invokes quite a lot of sweat. Our sweat contains not only water but electrolytes as well. The most important mineral we lose while sweating is sodium. While running very long distances (>2 hours) , either due to just sweating (rare) or even due to excessive water intake (more often), our body can go into Hyponatremia. So, it is better to add salt to your workout drink where the optimum sodium concentration should be 10–30 mmol · L−1 (Link to Research Guidelines for Sports Drinks) which roughly translates into  0.6 to 1.7 grams per liter. Even better is adding pink colored mountain salt (Kaala Namak in Hindi) which contains lots of trace minerals including potassium and iron. Also, make sure you’re meeting your daily potassium intake through your diet.


  •  Carbohydrates: For any endurance activity, carbs are important since they are the primary source for energy. According to this study, there is a dose dependent positive response to ingesting carbs while performing endurance activities. But this is the nutrient people screw up most, either not taking at all or taking too much. First of all, unless you’re running for more than an hour, you don’t need to ingest carbs during your runs as cited in this review. After that, this review article proves that the best dosage for better performance is 60-80 grams per hour of endurance activity. After that, it’s not going to cause much performance gains but may result in gastrointestinal issues.


There you have it. As cleared in this, many of us beginner and intermediate runners don’t need to drink anything to all during our runs. For the long distance runners who do, there may not be a need for a commercialized sports/energy drink. By using evidence based findings, we can make an optimized drink at home by using just salt, water and glucose/sugar.

How many nutritionists/dieticians consider body mass loss while recommending what to drink during workouts? At PSI Fitness, we are changing the Indian fitness industry landscape by focusing on science based exercise nutrition. Support this change. Call us to get a free chat session regarding your nutritional needs.


In Lucem Scientiam


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