The Best Drinks for a Marathon

Female Athlete Winning Marathon Race
A group of marathon runners crossing a finish line. (Image: Mark Bowden/iStock/Getty Images)

Drinking and driving is a terrible idea, but drinking and running marathons is an essential combination. If you are running or exercising for 90 minutes or less, plain water works just fine. It replaces fluids lost from sweating and enables you to avoid dehydration, the main concerns for routine workouts. However, if you are running a marathon, fluid intake is much more important, and water alone isn't the best bet for optimal performance. As "Mail Online" explains, you need carbohydrates as well as water. You also need sodium, which enhances the absorption of fluids.

Before and After Race

You should drink 16 ounces of fluids two hours before the race, either water or a sports drink. After the marathon is over, drink fluids to replace the weight you have lost, two cups for every lb. Sports drinks replenish carbs and electrolytes lost during the race. Low-fat chocolate milk is preferred by some athletes. It helps replace muscle loss without adding fat, according to a study at the University of Texas reported at the Marathon Running website.

During Race

During a marathon, the Training Marathon website advises you to stop at every station to rehydrate. Sports drinks with less than 10 percent carbohydrates work well, since the carbs help you absorb the drinks more quickly. Drinks with heavy amounts of carbs, such as soda and 100 percent fruit juice, will slow fluid absorption. Don't wait until you are thirsty to top off the tank -- you could already be dehydrated. So drink more than you feel you need at every stop.

Best Sports Drinks

The "Mail Online" tested six popular sports drinks and asked Jeanette Crosland, a dietitian at the Sports Nutrition Foundation, for her verdict. Liquid Power, a brand associated with the London Marathon, was highly rated for its blend of simple and complex carbs for energy. In addition, Liquid Power contains a sweetener made of grains combined with unrefined fruit juice sugars, said to provide both an instant energy boost as well as long term energy. The other winner was Gatorade, which contains no vitamins and minerals, which might slow fluid absorption. There are no artificial sweeteners, either. Gatorade contains a healthy amount of sodium, replacing the amount you lose from sweat. The salty taste encourages you to keep drinking, a benefit for marathon runners

Do It Yourself

Dietitian Louise Beaver recommends mixing up your own sports drink, one that is cheap and performs as well as the store brands. The drink combines one part water with one part fresh orange juice with a small pinch of salt. The orange juice supplies carbs and helps replace potassium, which you lose as you sweat.

Caffeine

Coffee and other caffeine drinks have advocates and detractors. Many endurance runners drink coffee 30 to 60 minutes before a race, and research findings indicate it might improve times. A study of endurance cyclists, published in the "Annals of Biological Research" in 2013, found that caffeine affected blood sugar and lactate levels during endurance exercise, helping create a biological environment that allowed cyclists to work harder. Researchers believe caffeine may increase glucose absorption, enabling you to re-fuel muscles more quickly. Some marathon runners will drink a limited amount of soda during a marathon, expecting a quick energy boost from the carbs and caffeine However, caffeine also has side effects and can dehydrate you, which can be particularly troublesome on a hot day. In large amounts, caffeine is a banned substance and grounds for disqualification.

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