Hello Sisterhood readers. It’s time for the Mailbag Monday segment with your running questions. This week we’ll look briefly at two questions from Sisterhood members and see if we can clarify some things.
Our first question comes from Karena and goes like this:
“I’m power walking the Disney half marathon in January, and am looking for advice about fueling/hydrating before/during/after the race. Most advice I find is geared toward runners. I’m not sure how to translate that to my needs. My exertion is less, but over an extended period of time. I’ve read about walkers and hyponatremia — I think that’s probably a rare occurence, but don’t want to be a statistic!”
So let me first re-cap for anyone that doesn’t know what Karena is talking about. When we exercise we sweat. Sweating is the body’s way to cool itself. Water is pushed out through the pores onto the skin, air flows over it, providing a cooling of the skin. Blood flowing under the skin is then cooled as it is moving back toward the core of the body, which helps keep body temperature under control.
There are three important things to realize about this process. First, water is a large part of our blood volume As we sweat our blood volume decreases and this impacts our performance, the way we feel, and our internal workings. So while we need to sweat to stay cool, we need to replace fluids in order to avoid problems associated with dehydration. Second, when we perspire, we are losing more than just water, but also minerals called electrolytes. These minerals — sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium — are important for functions within the muscles, so as we lose them we start having other problems, most notably cramps. Third, consuming too much plain water can cause problems all of its own. A condition called hyponatremia — while rare — can develop by drinking so much plain water that blood sodium levels get diluted, leading to swelling and other problems.
Now with all of that in mind, the question comes down to the difference between runners and walkers and their hydration needs. This is actually a simple question for once. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re running or walking, you need to manage your hydration based on your own individual needs.
Sweat rates are highly individualized. A person can run very intensely and not sweat much at all. Another person can be walking and by so sweaty that they look like they have been in a shower (and have a pretzel-like coating of salt on their brow). The bottom-line is that we all need to drink an appropriate amount of fluid for our own sweat rate.
The best way to measure our sweat rate is to do a sweat test: start by weighing yourself naked, put your clothes on, then run or walk for 60 minutes. Now take off your clothes and re-weigh yourself. The difference in your weight is the amount of fluid that you lost to sweat during that one hour period. If you’ve consumed fluids during the test, make sure to account for that in your weigh-in. If during an hour you lost say 2 pounds that would equate to 32 ounces. So 32 ounces of fluids is what you should be drinking under those same temperature and humidity conditions to maintain your fluids. As the temperature and humidity climbs, so too will your sweat rate.
I will add here that walkers do have one or two unique quirks. First, I’ve noticed that many walkers dress more heavily than runners. This can mean that they sweat more on cold days than other participants. Second, many walkers are heavy and so they may be working considerably harder than a skinny runner would be. Taken together, walkers often sweat up a storm and need to drink plenty.
The last thing that I’ll add is that both runners and walkers can almost completely ignore the fear of hyponatremia by simply drinking a fluid that contains plenty of sodium. Electrolyte-rich drinks like Nuun Active Hydration contain enough sodium that even if you were to over-drink (meaning drinking far more than you are sweating), you would be unlikely to develop hyponatremia. You can also supplement the amount of sodium by carrying one or two packs of salt and dropping them in a container of water during the race.
Bottom line here is that you should drink to your needs (which you much measure on your own) and avoid drinking too much plain water. Drink the fluid replacement drink offered by the race or a drink like Nuun in your workouts and you’ll feel much better.
With regard to nutrition, the same rules apply for runners and walkers. Both need to be replacing at least 250 calories per hour. But the main difference is that walkers have the ability to consumer more solid foods than runners, because their digestive tract is more amenable to solid food than someone who is running. Walkers can add in the variety of sandwiches, fruit and other foods that wouldn’t work for runners. I would add here that walkers often sell themselves short by trying to survive for 5-8 hours on nothing but energy gels and pretzels. Put on a waist-pack and bring some real food along. You’ll feel so much better than “skipping” those meals that you’d miss during that many hours out on the course.
Question 2 today is a short one: can you touch on doing races and training while pregnant?
Just like our last topic, pregnancy is highly individualized. Not all pregnancies are created equally and so the answer is going to vary from woman to woman. But with that said, here are some things that we can say. First, the more fit the mother, the longer into her pregnancy she’ll be able to continue training and racing. I have had friends that have raced late into their pregnancies and I’ve known women that have trained nearly up to their due date. What this often comes down to is how fit the woman already is when she starts her pregnancy and how well she keeps up her workouts early in the pregnancy if and when she’s fighting through fatigue and morning sickness.
Without a doubt, exercise helps expectant moms stay fit, energized and positive. Exercise also helps with the recovery from the pregnancy itself and the fatigue and work-load of the mom with a brand-new baby at home.
But there are risks associated with exercising while pregnant and even the most fit mother-to-be may have complications or conditions that would prevent her from training and racing. So as with all pregnancy related matters, talk with your doctor and determine how long and how hard you can continue training and racing.
Good luck Sisters!
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon USA
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