Tips for the Trail – How to Hydrate

Apr. 6, 2018

As we head from winter to spring, one of the biggest questions is always how to hydrate. We all know that proper hydration can mean the difference between a PR and debilitating leg cramps. But what is less clear is how much to drink and what we should be gulping down. And when should we drink? Does what we drink before the race matter or is it all what goes down the pipe during the big event?

We recently caught up with XTERRA Ambassador Melanie Koehl, and XTERRA Texas Regional Champ, Trisha Stavinoha - a certified specialist in sports dietetics - to get the skinny on what to drink, when, and how often.


XTERRA Ambassador Melanie Koehl’s base trail run is about two hours. Anything longer than that and she uses a hydration pack.

“If I’m running for two hours or less, a 12-16 ounce handheld is sufficient for me,” advises Koehl. “Anything more than two hours and I make sure I have some sort of electrolyte mix in my hydration pack which holds about 70 ounces. A lot of people have problems with certain ones, so it’s good to test it out before you do any longer efforts.”

Koehl adds that on races longer than two hours, “I most definitely run with a hydration pack with electrolytes and sip every 10 minutes or so to keep in front of possible dehydration. Especially in Hawaii, one will notice a higher heart rate if you are dehydrated. So I always know when I haven’t taken in enough water.”

Take in Carbs

Trisha Stavinoha, an Army Major who is also a Certified Specialist in Sport Dietetics (CSSD), advises her athletes to consume one to two grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight before a race lasting longer than an hour. She weighs 110 pounds, so she makes sure that her pre-race meal includes about 60-75 grams of carbohydrates, which she consumes in liquid form.

During races lasting 90 minutes or longer, she recommends consuming about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour plus half a liter to a liter of fluid per hour. She recommends that her athletes train with hydration and fueling to determine the amount of fluid they sweat out and how much carbohydrate they can tolerate.

“I just did a hilly marathon in the desert, and after mile six, I made sure to fill my handheld 10-ounce water bottle with Gatorade offered on the course every two to four miles,” said Stavinoha. “I trained in a humid climate but you lose more fluid in a dry climate. Knowing the environmental impact is critical to success.”

Gatorade Endurance Formula is available at XTERRA aid stations. It has nearly two times the sodium and three times the potassium of traditional Gatorade to replenish electrolytes lost during exertion.

Start Drinking Days Before

“Hydration during a long event or long training session is easier if the athlete hydrates properly throughout the week,” said Stavinoha. “Many athletes are a little dehydrated at the starting line, which is a distinct disadvantage.”

Before a big effort, Stavinoha advises athletes to consume at least three liters of fluids the day before the race.

Keep Fueling

Koehl reminds us that after the race, it’s important to keep drinking and to make sure your recovery drink includes some protein for tired muscles.

“As for after, it’s always good, as you know, to get some sort of protein within half an hour of finishing your run. A good powder or recovery shake that you keep in a Hydroflask in your car, or even just a simple chocolate milk is great!”

A few years ago, chocolate milk was hailed as the perfect recovery drink because of its ratio of 4 grams of carbohydrates to one gram of protein.

For more on hydration, read what XTERRA World Champion triathlete and coach Josiah Middaugh has to say about the subject at

Trail Run