You're feeling great on your run, having one of those days where you feel like you can keep going and going and going. You're not at all dizzy, or overheated, or hungry, or feeling any pain. All is good. After the run is done, you're loving riding the endorphin wave. Then an hour or more later, the good feelings start to fade as a dull headache moves in. What a way to ruin a perfectly awesome run!
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Headaches can be caused by a couple of reasons, and not drinking enough water during the day is one of them. "A good rule of thumb is to consume enough fluids and water-containing foods such as fruits and vegetables throughout the day that produces a bathroom break every two hours or so," says Bob Seebohar, sport dietician for the US Olympic Committee and also a Clif Bar Nutrition Partner. Time of day matters, too. If you're running later in the day, remember to keep a water bottle close by and sip it often. If you're running early in the morning, be sure to stay hydrated the night before and sip eight ounces of water 15 minutes before heading out.
Once the actual run starts, if it's under an hour or when it's cool out, hydrating during your workout isn't necessary. If you're running longer than an hour, it's hot, or you're sweating buckets, Bob suggests bringing along water mixed with an electrolyte tablet or powder like Nuun or Scratch: "Try consuming three to six ounces every 30 minutes." Running professional Joanna Murphy, an expert at the nation's largest private coaching service, CoachUp, also says to consume electrolyte-rich fruits and veggies during the day before your run; good sources include bananas, baked sweet potatoes, almonds, or coconut water.
Besides dehydration, Bob warns that low blood sugar levels can also cause headaches. "To balance blood sugar, be sure to include food sources of carbohydrate, protein, and fat before running." One to two hours before your workout, have something quick such as a fruit and nut bar, whole-wheat toast with nut butter, or a small bowl of cereal. Of course, you also want to make sure to follow your run with a nourishing post-workout snack or meal that's a mix of carbs and protein.
Aside from proper hydration and fueling, Joanna says it could be a tightness in the neck or shoulders causing the headache. Take time after your run to stretch out the neck, shoulders, and upper back — try these stretches. Then relax in a hot shower and give yourself a little well-deserved upper-body self-massage.
If exercise headaches are a regular occurrence for you and none of these tips help, it's best to see a doctor to make sure there isn't a more serious underlying issue.