Are you one of those runners who suffers from mood swings post run, becoming grumpy and irritable with those around you? Do you often fail to take on enough fluid during your exercise? The two could be linked, with dehydration being the root cause of your mood fluctuations…
Graham Bell experienced one of the worst possible outcomes to any runner in any race; he collapsed at mile 26 in the 2007 London Marathon. “Conditions were exceptional in 2007, and I basically didn’t take this into account,” he recalls. “I did hydrate, both before and from the start of the race. It was cool to start with, but the temperature seemed to rise very quickly.
“I probably hadn’t properly realised the effect of running in a city environment when the heat is rising, compared to the sea breeze I experience when running at home. And I certainly didn’t take this into account in my pursuit of the elusive sub three hours. This led to collapse, and for several hours my wife Tracy had no idea where I was, causing her considerable worry. We concluded dehydration was the route cause, as the only treatment I received was an IV saline drip, both in the St John’s ambulance and at hospital. Just as soon as my core temp had reduced I was free to go, and managed to walk to the tube station and get the train home. There were no after affects, apart from the pride issue.”
Graham’s problems didn’t end there; dehydration when running and after is a problem he constantly battles with. “I am not the best at hydrating and really have to force myself to drink fluids. I now have a pre-race day ritual of drinking plenty but it is a struggle. During a race I just can’t seem to find the right technique for taking fluids on board,” he continues. “The effect of all this is that I seem to use up all my reserves, and if I don’t rehydrate properly post-race, or reward myself with a beer or two instead, then I suffer the side effects.
“There are two other elements to this,” he adds. “Firstly, as I get older it takes longer to recover from a race, and this sometimes leaves me tired and irritable. Secondly if the race hasn’t gone to plan that leaves frustration and causes irritability! But the thread that joins them is the dehydration factor. Tired and irritable, with a tight feeling in the head means that it best to keep out of my way! I think this is partly born out of frustration from wanting to go for a run. After a recent 20 mile race I tried a new tactic. Instead of feeling sorry for my poor aching limbs and letting them rest I decided a recovery run would be good. Just by myself so no pressure and no chatting. It kick started the recovery and I drank plenty afterwards. I would say that it worked for me. I got back into running quicker, which was pleasing, and this generally made me happier than I had expected to feel.”
As for impacting those around him, Graham can’t deny that sometimes everyone in the family is affected by his post-race mood. “Living in a house where both parents work full-time, with two sons full of testosterone can be frustrating! When my energy levels are low, and I am aching and tired, the dehydration is just the icing on the cake in the recipe of a frustrated runner.”
“I can certainly say that immediately after a long training run or race Graham can be fairly grumpy,” says his wife Tracy. “I initially put this down to blood sugar levels as there is a family trait of grumpy when hungry. (“We can all relate to this!” Ed) If it is a big race we often have a fews days where he is low, however the impact on the family is less now our two sons are aware of the situation, but we do tease him and pull his leg to lift him out of it.”
In Graham’s case, the link with dehydration, unpleasant mood, and unsatisfactory performance stems from the 2007 marathon. “If he suspects he is de-hydrated, even a hint, unpleasant emotions come flooding in mainly due to the link between not completing the 2007 race,” states Andrew Lane, a Professor of Sport Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton, and an expert in emotion regulation in sport. “Graham probably pushed himself greatly to complete the event below three hours. He would have required fluid after running for that time in the heat, and so it’s not surprising that he received a saline drip. It’s a strong connection that is reinforced by the fact that he struggles to drink during races.”
Prof Lane believes that developing a plan has helped Graham. “I suggest he sets a goal of being able to drink more during races. Most people learn to drink in races and not in training. I would advise learning to drink during training; treadmill running is the easiest way of doing this as your drink is already there. You can gauge how much you need to reduce speed to drink. Like with all goals, you start at one level and then look to improve. In long duration events its worth taking a drink at each feeding station, even just a slurp. Graham admits he finds this a struggle. Most people who miss three hours do so over the last few miles; they can run 6.40 miles easy enough early on, but during the last few miles the pace drops to 7.30, 8.30, or even slower. You only have to look at marathon splits from any race to see the second half is run a great deal slower.
“If hydration is factor, and if you have strong beliefs that hydration is a factor, then if you don’t drink, it will be. Your beliefs have a powerful influence on how you operate. If that describes how you perform, then try strategies to get better at drinking during running. If one week you have to slow to just above walking pace for 60 seconds but the next week you drink the same volume in 40 secs, you have made a 20 second saving.”
How sweaty are you?!
There is also a huge range in sweat losses between individuals. “However, many runners don’t appreciate this and simply drink fluids whilst running without structuring the amount they drink around the weight loss they experience through running and sweating (this can be worked out by weighing yourself before and after a race),” advocates Dr Charles Pedlar, Director of the Centre for Health, Applied Sport and Exercise Science (CHASES) & The St Mary’s Clinic at St Mary’s University College, London.
“For example an elite runner could loose four kilograms an hour due to sweat loss whilst running, while other runners don’t even loose 600 grams in the same time period. On top of this, some people are more salty sweaters with elevated electrolyte loss . If you don’t ensure that you replace sodium, as well as water, you can suffer from hyponatraemia (an electrolyte disturbance that is defined by lowered sodium levels in the blood).”
A sweat check to find out how much electrolytes you are losing may be invaluable to future performances, believes Andy Blow, an ex-GB international tri and duathlete and director of sports science at the Porsche Human Performance Centre at Silverstone. “If you do suffer from high volume losses of sweat your net sodium loss could be massive and learning to supplement this correctly would definitely help any runner to perform better.”
What’s the link?
How much dehydration can affect your mood is not well understood physiologically. “Research provides many different explanations as to how dehydration influences mood,” states Hannah MacLeod, a Lucozade sport scientist. “This may be due to hydration levels in the brain, increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol or changes in the way chemicals are transported to the brain. The human body is made up of around 65-70 per cent water. Any significant loss of body water, such as when you sweat during a race, causes multiple physiological and psychological problems. If you manage to make it to the finish line, but fail to replace any sweat losses incurred, you may experience headaches, confusion, reduced reaction time and changes in mood in the hours post race.”
“Anecdotally the evidence suggests that dehydration can affect mood,” continues Dr Pedlar. “Mood is a very good measurement of fatigue and overtraining, and often pre-empts physiological responses. As a holistic measurement of how you are feeling after running, your mood can often summarise for you how your body feels. If your exercise has gone well there are many positive effects on mood; you experience the release of endorphins.” Don’t forget that endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides, a morphine-like substance that function as neurotransmitters in the body which act on the same receptors in the brain as morphine, producing analgesia and a feeling of well-being. “You also release endocannabinoids,” says Dr Pedlar,” substances produced from within the body that activate cannabinoid receptors, promoting a feeling of euphoria.” We all crave the runner’s high, don’t we?
“It is likely this feeling is linked to hydration,” suggests Dr Pedlar, “so the better hydrated you feel, the better you run, and the better your mood.” Surely it makes sense that greater levels of dehydration will negatively impact on mood?
“If you are performing well and think you will achieve your goals, then its likely you will be in a pleasant mood,” continues Prof Lane. “If things are not going so well, then the reverse might occur and you will be in an unpleasant mood. That sounds obvious I know. Sweating gives an indication of work load; if you are sweating more than usual, this will send a message to your brain saying ‘I need a drink’ – if you do not have a drink then concern over being able to sustain your running speed will build. If you become concerned there will be a physiological response, which could contribute to further sweating. We know we sweat when we are nervous. Hence, your emotional state in response to feeling that you need to drink becomes an additional issue.”
Research also indicates a link with sodium replacement in drinks and improvements in cognitive function (suggesting the opposite could also be true). “We’ve also seen similar results in our own testing which suggest that insufficient sodium replacement in hydration drinks used during exercise can lead to compromised cognitive function,” adds Andy Blow. “Whether this is directly related to mood swings it would be hard to say (usually low blood sugar and over training are more likely to be linked to mood swings) but it would not be fair to rule it out; anything that affects the brain negatively could affect mood.”
What to do?
So, considering the above, what is the solution? “Firstly, you need to develop a mindset that you can cope without drinking and that excessive sweating is a normal part of running hard. You accept that you will take fluid on when it is available, and will plan to take on enough fluid to match your needs,” says Prof Lane. But how do you develop such a mindset?
“A feature of training in the heat is that you get used to altering sensations of hydration needs. When you first start running, you feel you need a drink all of the time. After a few runs in the heat, you start adapting. Part of this adaption is psychological; you re-interpret bodily symptoms. Warm weather training is possible for some athletes but not all. Running in gyms usually involves running in hotter environments than outside. Alternatively, wear additional clothes to create the sensation of feeling hot.”
Another great tool in the fight against dehydration, and possible mood swings, is using an isotonic drink regularly. It is important that you replace the sodium and potassium you lose through sweat, so your drink needs to include electrolyte levels similar to the levels you loose. How should each individual runner know how much fluid is enough? When training, you can weigh yourself before and after a long run. The difference will be mainly fluid. There will be a range of weight loss where you feel fine. If you run at your race pace until you feel you need to drink, you can then weigh yourself to see how much water you have lost. Once you know this, you can calculate how much you need to drink. “One pound of weight loss should equal one pint of fluid intake approximately,” advised Prof Lane. “If you were already hydrated at the start of your run, your bodyweight would need to reduce by more than five per cent to have a meaningful effect.”
Are you a sweaty Betty?
So how do you know if you are one of those really salty, sweaty runners? Most of us have a good idea of whether we are sweaty runners or not (our damp clothes are a basic sign), but if you see salty deposits on your black lycra it could be a sign of excessive salty sweating. Tasting your sweat it is also a good gauge, though not an accurate guide. A sweat patch is much more accurate and can be analysed to give you a more scientific reading. However, it is also important to be aware that your sweat range can change over time, especially as you become more fit.
What is a sweat check?
At Precision Hydration they measure your sweat and tell you how much electrolyte is in and then match you with the right sports drink giving you optimal hydration. It is a simple test. No exercise is required; you sit down, have electrodes placed on your arm, a sweat sample is taken with a sweat check analyser and within 20 minutes you get your results.
For more information about sweat tests visit www.myh2pro.com
Learn more about Andy Lane’s work at www.virginlondonmarathon.com/training-centre/training-centre/music-and-motivation or www.winninglane.com
Andy Blow: www.votwo.co.uk